I’ve always been covered in freckles. I’m a fair-skinned, auburn-haired, blue-eyed freckle face. While people have begun to like freckles, that wasn’t always the case. As a kid and teenager I was generally self-conscious about them.
No one was using freckle pens. No one was using filters or airbrush to add them to photos of themselves. Tan, untextured, unspotted skin was the beauty standard, so growing up, I saw my freckles as a flaw. When I started to wear makeup, that was reflected in the way I did it. I’ve never used a ton of makeup in general when I started wearing it as a teen, but foundation was the one thing that I felt really naked without. It was just powder from Bare Minerals, but I used enough to “soften” my freckles make them less obvious. I felt most beautiful when I was wearing it—not when I wasn’t.
I’m now in my mid twenties, and my self-image has definitely improved. I’ve learned to love my skin, my looks, and myself as a whole. I like using makeup, because it’s fun. Until recently, I didn’t think I was using it because it felt in any way necessary. As 2020 wound down however, I thought more deeply about why I use makeup. I thought about how I love to use different colors on my eyelids, accentuate rather than mask my features, and express myself. It hit me then that I didn’t feel that way about one thing I was still using most days when I’d be around people: foundation; face makeup. It was always the part of makeup-wearing that I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t enjoy putting it on, or the feeling of it. No matter how light or heavy the product I was using was, it always felt constrictive. It felt like a mask. There didn’t feel like there was any fun or art to it (though I do acknowledge that some people really like contouring), and it honestly just has always felt like a chore, as opposed to the fun of using eyeshadow, mascara, and lipsticks. Acknowledging this made me realize that I wasn’t wearing it for my own pleasure. I was using it because I had been taught that’s what a woman does. That’s how I am to look professional, attractive, and put together. That was really uncomfortable for me to see in myself, because I had thought I’d left all of that bowing-to-societal-expectations behind. I thought of myself as empowered, and yet if I was around people, I generally covered my face in something I didn’t enjoy wearing, for their benefit.
I decided to cut that out of my routine. I wanted to go into 2021 with the mindset of unapologetic self-honoring. This is similar to self-love, but it’s deeper. It’s not just loving yourself. It’s recognizing yourself, and respecting your own wishes. It’s bowing to yourself, and no one else, and allowing yourself to only have practices in your life that spark joy, growth, and centering. So I chose to go forward only wearing makeup the way I want to: as if I’d never been told what it’s supposed to be or look like. I also decided that rather than focusing on how I could make my skin look good, I’d start focusing on how I could make my skin healthy and feel good.
So I used up the last of my cleansing bars and traditional cleanser (traditional meaning yes—zero-waste, vegan, and natural ingredients, but still being made of many ingredients and working like any other cleanser), and chose to stop buying them. Knowing my skin, I came to the conclusion that simplifying would be best for me. My skin looks its best when I’m camping, in the summer where I go long periods without wearing makeup (because I’m swimming a lot), or when I’m traveling (I often don’t bring makeup with me because I tend to do adventure travel). During these times, I generally wash my face with just water before bed and in the morning, and that’s all. So despite that being not what we are “supposed” to do as modern women (because let’s be real—how many of our Instagram feeds are filled with influencers’ face washing videos and cleanser recommendations?), I chose to just go with it.
January was spent bringing my intuitive living mindset to my skincare routine. Rather than overcomplicating it, I just chose to pay attention to when it thrives, and whether it’s “what’s done” or not, I’d let it thrive. So I started washing my face with just water before bed (and when I showered). When I wore heavier makeup (generally meaning I was wearing eyeliner), I used coconut oil that I always have on hand to remove it more fully. Then after I followed it with my typical skincare routine (that I had learned to simplify back in spring of last year), consisting of a spritz of natural toner (apple cider vinegar or witch hazel water, depending on the needs of my skin that day) and a serum that I made myself from oils that complement my skin (sea buckthorn oil, argan oil, and castor oil mainly). This meant that I went from using a lot of ingredients on my skin, to maybe five total (not including water, natural toner and the oils). It was much simpler, and best of all, it was what my skin was telling me it needed.
While that sounds beautiful, at first it was a challenge emotionally. I felt very vulnerable when I’d have days when I’d get a few zits or the circles under my eyes were dark. I had to give myself a lot of pep talks through that first month, because not only had I been told there was one acceptable way to wear makeup (full face, no matter the style you’re doing it in), but I had been told certain things were “flaws” and best covered. I felt naked and insecure some days without those things masked, but I kept to my decision of listening to my body and skin.
Eventually, I started to just feel whole because something hit me one day when I saw about 30 posts in a row on Instagram of photos of people with plastic-looking skin. It felt cold and soulless, and it hit me: Zits. Dark circles. Pigmentation. Dryness. Bumps of any kind. None of these are acceptable, and yet they’re all intrinsically human. Humans have skin textures. Humans sometimes don’t sleep the same amount of seconds every night. They have a range of skin tones, experience a range of temperatures and climates, and spend time under the sun. This is a part of being alive. This is a part of getting to breathe and eat and exist on this magnificently blue planet. Our skin, our natural skin, is a testament to that miracle. My skin is a declaration of the fact that I get to experience this, and it’s beautiful.
Seeing my naked skin as a result of something as beautiful as existence on our precious Earth made me feel closer to myself. I started to treasure my skin and every “imperfection” of it. It suddenly felt absurd to imagine covering it up. Who would want to cover up magic like that? I definitely don’t anymore. My skin looks healthier as I’ve learned to love it more, because using less products has now paid off. My skin cleared up, zits are now a rarity, and it’s glowing. I’ve given my skin enough time to adapt to not being stifled by so many ingredients, and now that they’re fully purged, simplicity can finally show what it can do. I have found that my skin looks even better than it ever did with makeup on. When I do get a small zit, instead of continuing the cycle of covering it up and causing more zits to occur, I let it be. It has been liberating, more affordable (I’ve saved hundreds of dollars just since the year started because of this), and wholesome.
I feel so empowered by my natural skin. My freckles make me feel connected to the sunshine. My purple circles under my eyes remind me that I’m a night owl who is deeply in love with the moon. The textures and bumps on my skin remind me that I’m alive. I wouldn’t want to change any of it. They’re not flaws to me anymore. They’re just me, and that’s amazing. That mindset is allowing my skin to thrive, and I can’t imagine ever going back to covering it all up. There’s nothing wrong with people who like to wear foundation and enjoy the art of contouring, and your makeup routine and habits are nobody’s business. But it’s harmful to say there is only one way to wear makeup, and for people to promote unnatural, un-human skin devoid of any texture as being what’s normal, and it’s an unhealthy beauty standard. You are beautiful if you wear face makeup, but you’re also beautiful if you don’t. That’s the bottom line, and doing all of this has finally let that fully sink in.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn