As someone who has made a living in retail or supplying the retail world with staffing, it was pretty standard to say I always wore makeup. For the former it was a requirement to wear makeup, and the latter just being professional considering the bulk of our clients were in the beauty and fashion sector. Most of my friends can confirm I have been a lifelong product junkie, and I had the collection to prove it.
I distinctly remember the first time my mother bought me an issue of Seventeen magazine when I was in grade seven. Jennifer Connelly was on the cover, impossibly beautiful and looking fashionably perfect for the Back to School September issue. I pored over that magazine endlessly, reading every article. I was noting all the tips, admiring the fashion choices, making mental snapshots of how I might look if I had the right tools. It was all I could do to wait for the next issue to materialise at the Stuart Ellis drugstore downtown in Collingwood. A lifelong love affair with magazines was born, and with it an endless fascination for beauty products and skincare. The promise of transformation and change was a siren call I could not resist.
As a teenager who had the double whammy of both glasses and braces at one stage, I looked to beauty products to soften the blow. Needless to say I had varying degrees of success. My girlfriends and I experimented with the calamity that is chalky frosted pink lipstick, the frankly pointless white eyeliner on the lower lid waterline and never-to-be-forgotten coloured mascaras that were the height of ’80s cool. Through trial and error we learned the ways of proper application, and our magazines helped us navigate those treacherous waters.
Skincare was my next drug of choice. No teenager wanted problem skin and my mom duly got me into Clinique. I became a vocal proponent of sunscreen. I decided one thing I could control was trying to have decent skin. The knowledge that preventative measures would benefit me decades later became my mantra. I was wearing daily sunscreen back in high school, utterly convinced that the choices I was making then would yield results later in life. For the most part that’s been fairly true, but I still look at myself critically in the mirror and wince at the lines slowly creeping up in the eye area. I became the go-to friend when people wanted to know what was good for their skin, and was often told that I should advertise because I could REALLY rave about something new and rattle off the features and benefits. My finger was on the pulse of what was new and the next big thing.
When I used to work at the Esteé Lauder Companies I had the joys of a staff discount. And I would use it for both a monthly order allowance as well as the allocated number of items at the staff shop. Anyone would blanch at the sheer volume of products I had and continued to acquire. It was hard to pass up getting 75% off things that just about every woman would love to have in her beauty arsenal. I passed on generous amounts of products to family and friends, things I had in duplicate or just didn’t need another one of. How many pinkish nude lipsticks does one person need? How many fragrances can you actually use before they go off from sitting on your shelf looking pretty but possibly being neglected to a more popular bottle?
My everyday MO was always an eye look. Foundation was never my thing. I could never really stand anything plastered all over my face, but a little well placed concealer goes a long way. Maybe a pop of colour on the cheeks and some lipstick or gloss when the mood suited me. I never really did much in the way of ‘styling’ my hair. It’s always been a very average just off-centre side part. If I let it dry naturally I get waves. If I blow dry it goes straight unless it meets my lifetime foe that is humidity. Occasionally there is a perfect storm of ‘air drying meets humidity’ and I get copious amounts of ringlets.
While I have continued to love finding out about the latest in skincare and the developments that make us look better, I’ve gotten away from the merry go round of the makeup world. Every spring and autumn another colour collection comes out, and yet most of us wear the same types of colours once we’ve found our wheelhouse. I’m letting the millennials enjoy the wackier stuff and some of the ludicrous looks that trend on Instagram and TikTok. So long electric blue eyeliner. Buh-bye Chanel blush in grey (yes, actual grey) that wants to mimic shadows on your face in the name of contour.
I had sensed a disturbance in The Force for some time. Some celebrities were eschewing makeup entirely (Alicia Keys), others were posting just woken up selfies. There were makeup-free hashtags proliferating. I guess it’s a backlash to the current and seemingly unstoppable trend for full on face contouring, ‘baking’ your makeup on (I’ll let you all look that up), and very elaborate looks that have become normal for the Insta-generation. Everyone needing to be camera-ready and always hitting those filter buttons.
Once lockdown began, I revelled in waking up and not needing to get the makeup on. To be fair I was quite ill for a few weeks also, but it just became more normal to see myself steadily with no makeup on at all. Not even mascara- something I would never have the left the house without. I even allowed myself to sit in the sun and catch some rays, let the Vitamin D get its groove on. I haven’t coloured my hair in over 6 years which has led to it being much healthier. I now also wash it less using a conditioning wash or co-wash product which is sulphate free and immeasurably changed my hair condition. Heck, my bestie in France and I had to calculate the last time a bra was even necessary when you’re not leaving the house much.
What I’ve discovered is that it’s been very freeing to see myself in the mirror and a myriad of video calls without feeling self conscious about having nothing on my face but some sunblock. Not even concealer. I’ve come to accept what I look like without any artifice and I’m not unhappy with what I see. I’m definitely not as hard on myself. I’ve been out to the odd pub, had friends over, gone to the shops for groceries, and the thought of putting makeup on hasn’t even crossed my mind.
I did a clear out of products in a huge trunk that I had forgotten I even had sitting there. Edited everything down to things I would actually use, not hang onto just in case. It felt great to be left with a clean palette of items that will get used again once I’m back in the workforce or have something social to attend (which for now seems unlikely anytime soon).
Simplifying the routine has had the unexpected effect of affording me more time to actually spend using the skincare potions and treatments I have amassed. It’s let me see myself in a different light, letting go of unfortunate teenage hangups that have lingered with me for too long.
I continue to spread the gospel that is sunscreen, and hope that I can continue to try and age gracefully.