Why I’ve (Mostly) Stopped Wearing Foundation

Hello, dear internet friends,

Last month, I reflected on how powerful our actions can be in shifting our moods, and how I’ve come to think the same approach can be applied to any negative self-beliefs we may hold. For me, that has meant challenging my (too high) standards of productivity by choosing rest. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how a similar strategy could be used to improve one’s body image or relationship to their appearance.

I would like to devote more space on this site to body image, because I understand how impactful it can be on someone’s day-to-day life when they’re deep in struggle with it. I wouldn’t be a writer without having been there myself! But when I’m selecting my monthly topic, body image doesn’t often jump to mind, in part because it’s not as personally pressing for me as it used to be. That’s not to say I’m perfectly “healed” or never have negative thoughts or feelings about my appearance, but they don’t swallow me whole like they used to. I prioritize existing in my body and taking care of it, instead of judging or “fixing” how it looks on the outside.

Over many years, I have totally transformed my life in that regard. But how did I do it? By changing my behavior. By making new choices, over and over again, until they became habits—ways of life that positively impact me on a daily basis, with little conscious effort on my part.

A few years ago, I made a decision that was relatively small in the scheme of body-image-related changes I’ve made, but ultimately very impactful. I decided to stop wearing foundation on a regular basis. Well, not just foundation—makeup in general. Oddly enough, this decision came not long after having decided to become the type of person with a “daily makeup routine.” I had assembled a little cosmetics kit with all the “must-haves” I’d learned about from beauty YouTubers: foundation, of course, but also primer, blush, highlighter, mascara… the works. And I planned to layer it all on my face. Every single day. Even when I was just going to work with the same small group of people I saw every weekday, who had all seen me without makeup an uncountable number of times.

But why? I couldn’t tell you. When I look back at middle and high school, my motivations for changing my appearance are very obvious. I thought being capital-P Popular would make me happy, and I believed I needed to look a certain way to be Popular. But I didn’t have any similar motivations when I set out to put on a full face of makeup every day. I got on well with my coworkers. I was in a relatively new relationship, but I already knew that I did not have to look or be any particular way to impress my boyfriend. I was in the midst of a transition—stepping into a new role at work and reorienting my life around my writing goals—and I think the unsettling, unsatisfying truth is that beauty culture had so ingrained itself in my brain that I believed that new chapter in my life would be even better if I went through it with a painted face.

Of course, I was wrong. I quickly realized that all I got from regularly wearing makeup was a growing dissatisfaction with how my face looked without it. So I stopped. I knew I had to.

Now, when I say this happened a few years ago, I’m talking about pre-pandemic 2020. My decision to stop wearing makeup quickly became the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t spend much time evaluating my choice or what I hoped to get from it, other than feeling less bad about my actual face. Had I looked deeper and been honest with myself, I would have seen that the impulse to see beauty (in its culturally sanctioned, narrowly defined form) in the mirror was still there. A quick look into my Ulta account confirms this; in September 2020, I purchased a rather comprehensive (and expensive) skincare routine. Who needs makeup when you have *flawless* skin, am I right?

No, that’s not right. But the fact that I can both recognize that beauty-culture logic in my own thinking and choose to act differently shows how far I’ve come in the last three years. I don’t have it all figured out. I still hear some self-criticism over my not-so-“perfect” skin when I look in the mirror. But I am also choosing every day to act from a place of self-acceptance—mostly not covering my skin, and not spending excessive time and money trying to “fix” what isn’t broken. Taking this moment to sit back and let that sink in… I am really proud of myself for that.

I said I’ve “mostly” stopped using foundation, because I got my makeup professionally done for a major event last year and will do so once again this year. I haven’t decided if those choices are contradictory to my beliefs or not that big a deal (probably both). And I haven’t rejected all kinds of makeup. After writing this piece last year about the Jackson Pollock manicure, I bought myself some just-for-fun makeup. Eyeliner with these very fun stamps in the shapes of butterflies, hearts, and smiley faces, as well a variety of glittery products. I’m still experimenting with them and how they make me feel. By no means do I think we need to fully reject the fact that we have physical forms that we can present to world however we choose. But it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of making choices that don’t really serve us, that are based in a value system we wouldn’t subscribe to if we felt empowered enough to challenge it.

I understand that in the face of a multibillion-dollar industry, my decisions about makeup may seem tiny, but I also believe that we often underestimate our sphere of influence. You never know who in your orbit may be inspired or even subconsciously influenced by the actions you take. I hope that you can find the power to explore what choices are best for you, but I also want you to take to heart the potential your choices have for being a ripple of good in this world.

It can be hard to go against the grain. I find it easier to do when I realize I’m not just doing it for me, but for all of us.



One Small Step

Hello, dear internet friends,

It’s a gray, rainy day as I write this. The kind of day that makes you want to curl up with a blanket on the couch and zone out with a book or TV show. Admittedly, I’m feeling extra-inclined to succumb to the sofa because that’s where I’ve been all week. I’ve been feeling under the weather, and for me, the hardest part of being sick is usually not the day (or days) I feel the worst—when it very much makes sense to snuggle up and do nothing—it’s the transitional period at the end. When I’m feeling better enough that I know it’s time to resume some of my normal activities, but I still haven’t recovered my usual level of energy. There’s an inertia to being sick that I find very hard to break. But the only way to do it… is to do it. Get dressed, have some coffee, and—to whatever degree is reasonable, given the circumstances—start acting like I’m feeling better. That’s what I’m doing right now, and I have to admit, while I’m not feeling 100% recovered yet, I’m feeling better than I would have predicted when I woke up this morning.

A couple months ago, I wrote about my “ghost” self, or the so-called “perfect” version of me that I have often measured myself against in my mind. Ever since then, I have been thinking about how we can reduce the shadow such comparisons cast over our lives, and two words have kept repeating in my mind: “behavioral activation.” To note, behavioral activation is a psychology concept—specifically, a treatment approach that can be utilized in therapy; you can learn more about it here—and I am not a therapist. But what it means to me is that the actions we choose can have a profoundly positive impact on our mood. Emotions can be incredibly sticky; patterns of thought, even more so. It can also feel really hard to choose a behavior that seems contrary to our current mood state. But doing so can often have an outsized positive impact, at least in my experience. No matter how down I’m feeling, mo matter how swamped in a negative thought cycle I am, if I have plans to hang out with friends or family, I never cancel. I don’t like to break commitments I’ve made, but I also know that spending time with those I care about always makes me feel better. I don’t even need to bring up what’s on my mind. In fact, I think it’s generally better that I don’t, unless of course the explicit purpose of getting together was seeking support. Getting out of my head and focused on those around me is enough to lift my spirits. It may not solve the underlying problem—if one even exists—but it certainly puts me in a better mindset for dealing with it later.

So, a little positive action can help transform a bad mood. It can help with getting through those lingering last days of sickness. Could it even help with defeating our ghosts, with overcoming the voices that tell us we’re not good enough? Because you can’t easily think your way out of those challenges, at least in my experience. I logically understand how unhelpful and, more importantly, unkind it is to compare myself to some idealized version of me. I know that I haven’t gained anything from the comparison. In fact, I think there have been many times I was so stuck on being just like her, I lost the opportunity to come up with real, creative solutions for overcoming challenges and achieving my goals. I was too fixated on following the “perfect” path she laid out. I know all of that, but still, she’s hard to get rid of. She does a very good impression of me, and sometimes, I mistake her thoughts for my own.

The last couple months have given me an interesting opportunity to contend with my ghost self in new ways. At this point in my life, she’s mostly eased up about how I look, but she’s wildly more productive than me. And in the last couple months, I haven’t been able to be as productive—certainly not as much as her, but not even as much as I typically would be. I need to work slower. Do less. Take breaks. And what that’s made me realize is that not only do I not need to “earn” breaks or a slower pace, I don’t even need to fully convince myself that I deserve those things. I just need to give them to myself. I just need to take the action that I know is right for me, in the actual life I am really living. And I truly believe that if I can keep doing that, keep making the choices that are best for me even if they don’t look “perfect,” over time my ghost self will dissipate. She’s already looking a bit fainter to me.

It’s great when we can change our minds from the inside out. But sometimes, it’s a whole lot easier to act first and let our beliefs follow.

If any sort of negative self-belief has been haunting you lately, I hope you can think of one small step, one tiny action you can take this next month that would contradict it. Little by little, we can make big changes that way.