It was late February and Lent was quickly approaching.
Lent is a season of fasting and deep reflection that mirrors Jesus’ 40 days spent fasting in the desert in anticipation of the hardest test of his time on earth: his radical, self-sacrificial death on the cross. For many Christians, the practice of giving something up is meant both to remind us of the immensity of Christ’s sacrifice and to keep us rooted in spiritual disciplines that help us let go of material things and focus on what matters.
I had been feeling guilty about a few recent expensive makeup purchases and had some eye irritation as the result of a new eyeshadow, so makeup was on my mind. It seemed like the natural thing to give up. I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, not because of any moral stance but more out of a sense of lazy-ness. I also have easily irritated eyes, so heavy eye makeup is out of the question. When I told a few friends I had given up makeup for Lent, the response was mostly: “Do you even wear makeup?”
But see, this test wasn’t about others’ perceptions of me. It was about my perception of myself, right down to the core of my identity.
What I Learned When I Gave Up Makeup for Lent
1. Makeup is a security blanket
One of my friends, an older woman named Mary, passed away a few weeks ago. When I got the phone call, the first thing I thought was “I wish I was wearing makeup.” The shock of grief hit me square in the face and I just wanted to wrap myself up in something and feel safe. Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that makeup was about security, but I guess I felt like, if everything else was going to be wrong in the world, at least my pores would look small. It sounds trivial, but I can see how it’s mixed up in lots of legitimate emotions.
2. People don’t notice your flaws the way you do
Aside from one rather observant – and absurdly critical – volunteer, no one commented on my face at all. If I mentioned to a friend that I had gone makeup-free, they would universally tell me that they hadn’t noticed a change. Of course, I could see the minor differences, but that eventually stopped bothering me as time wore on.
3. Flaws are human, and I shouldn’t have to apologize for them
When I was a teenager, I remember reading an article in a fashion magazine on the topic of the best concealers. The author measured the efficacy of the product by how “awake” she looked in meetings after a long night of work the day before. It occurred to me then that the burden shouldn’t fall on her to look perfect if she was being overworked. If you’re tired, why aren’t you allowed to look tired?
Seeing my skin without makeup made me acutely aware of the way my skin reddens when I’m nervous, the largeness of the pores around my nose, and the dark circles I get when I haven’t slept well. It was oddly freeing to accept my skin in that state, to call it good.
4. My body tells me what it needs
On a related note, being able to see the sunburns and pimples and dark circles made me want to do right by my skin by treating my whole body better. I focused on getting rest, drinking water, and using nourishing skincare products to improve my skin rather than covering up the issues. I also tackled some recurring health concerns by making sure I was getting enough protein and taking probiotics. I feel much better because I learned to pay attention.
5. It’s ok to have rituals
One of the things I missed the most about my daily makeup application was the ritual. I liked being able to focus in on my skin, paying attention to the nooks and crannies of my face as I applied powder and blush, carefully curling my lashes before applying mascara, and tracing my lips with tinted balm. But I got my tattoo about a week into Lent, so the process of caring for it became a new ritual.
Framing my routine as a ritual made me more observant of the other little things that help me start and end my days, like boiling water for pour-overs and herbal tea, applying lotion, even shaving my legs. These tactile things we do add a great deal of meaning even when they mostly go unnoticed.
So what’s the game plan now?
I wore makeup on Easter morning and it felt weird. I had expected to love the return to normalcy, but I actually felt less like myself with makeup on after all of those days without it. For now, I’ve eliminated tinted moisturizer, powder, and eyeshadow completely. I’ve reintegrated light blush and my beloved Glossier Boy Brow. I’ve found that my lashes stay curled all day if I don’t add any mascara, so I’ve said goodbye to mascara, as well.
It’s really satisfying to have arrived at this place of confidence and renewed self awareness. Until the last week of Lent, I was still complaining about going makeup-free, but now I feel good in my own skin. And, though I know it shouldn’t be about others, it’s satisfying to know that people who care about you really don’t care if you’re wearing makeup or not.
Related Reading: 7 THINGS I LEARNED WHEN I STOPPED WEARING MAKEUP FOR 3 WEEKS, Terumah
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.