I've always been insecure. Since my teenage years, I was hyper aware of everything: my terrible posture, the way I talked, the tiny, ever-present whiteheads that plagued my face. Couple that low self-esteem with mixed messages about beauty at home and I came to rely on makeup to hide, to literally cake foundation over my issues. Despite my background of deep-rooted insecurity, it wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I started experiencing anxiety and then eventually, graduated to panic attacks. That's when I learned that, as Beyoncé says in Lemonade, my torturer could become my remedy.
In 2016, my anxiety came to a head for my own personal reasons but it was amplified drastically by the fact that I was dating a man diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer. Each time a test came back or we had to head into the city for chemotherapy treatments, I found my fingers itching to get my hands on some makeup. He finally asked me why I needed a full face to sit in the hospital all day and I said, "I don't. I don't care what my face looks like, it's literally the act of putting on the makeup that's calming."
Wow — that was it, wasn't it? I hadn't realized that the step-by-step manual labor of my makeup routine had become a security blanket, a tool in my belt of combating anxiety. When I had small moments of panic regarding his cancer diagnosis — and even big moments of inexplicable fear that rendered me breathless and crying and suffering from a panic attack — I found solace in the very thing that used to be my crutch.
When experiencing a panic attack, it becomes exceedingly difficult to breathe. And it's not even a mental thing, really. I mean, it might be, but it feels really physical in the moment. Like your body is supposed to know intuitively how to breathe, but now it can't remember how because its in the throes of an ever-present evil.
So because it becomes impossible to breathe, therapists (and even yoga teachers and instructors of meditation or healing) will recommend focusing on breathing. Focusing on the steps of something constant. For me, that constant became makeup.
First, the primer. Then, the foundation. Next, the concealer. Contour with some bronzer, pick the desired shade of blush. What to do with the eyes today? Glitter shadow or matte? Liquid liner, under eye water line liner, or not? Regular mascara or curled to the gods bold mascara? It became this positive thing that I could manipulate, this small moment of regaining control over a situation in which I technically had none.
I no longer wear makeup for boys. Or for the office. Or for other people. Or out of feeling like it's a requirement. I wear makeup for me, how I want to, when I want to. It's not the fact that my face is dolled up that steadies me, it's the procedure of it all.
The anxiety isn't gone. It's a part of me and my experience of life. But for now, like an asthmatic armed against an attack with an inhaler, I finally feel like I have the skills to starve out my anxiety and bring myself back into the calm. And the most important part of this transformation, for me, is that it was beauty that healed my insecurities and anxieties that initially stemmed from beauty standards. How's that for turning things on their head and reclaiming the word?