How Makeup Helps Me Live Well With Chronic Illness


I love applying my makeup, and I’m willing to use some of my limited energy to do so. Mitochondrial disease – one of my medical conditions – causes many symptoms, and muscle fatigue is a big issue. So, holding a blow dryer or hair straightener for an extended period is not my cup o’ tea. Hence, the pixie cut. However, makeup brushes are very light. After taming my flaming Tinker Bell strands, I sit on a stool and consider how to paint my face for the day. Will my makeup be subtle like watercolors, or maybe a sculpted look? Gazing into the mirror, I’m able to find beauty in a body that often brings me pain.

Perhaps I could save my makeup application energy for something else, but my batteries are rather faulty. Besides, continuing to do something which brings me joy feels worthwhile. I used to wear makeup to cover up the signs of my illnesses. Oh, there was so much to “fix”…dark circles, scars, pasty skin, irritation, fluctuating puffiness and more. Hiding the few visible signs of my otherwise invisible illnesses was a way of arming myself against the world. Before I had medical diagnoses, it felt like new doctors were scrutinizing me for any personal flaws.

My makeup used to be thick and heavy: a mask. Now that I’ve come to terms with my diagnosed medical conditions and found my voice, the mask is off. Today, cosmetics are a way for me to honor my body. I start with diligent skincare so that I’m comfortable with my bare face, even when I look tired or sickly. My soft and sensitive skin holds evidence of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and now there’s also evidence of how I’ve chosen to love my body. A better, natural skincare routine calms the tricky red irritation. Instead of self-consciously covering up every perceived flaw, I use makeup to enhance my existing beauty.

Does it sound conceited to call myself beautiful? Well, I’m going to risk it. As a young woman who lives with chronic illnesses, many of the words used to describe my appearance are coldly clinical or negative. Sickly, pasty, pale, tired, exhausted, ill, puffy, grey and drained are in my personal word bank. They’re never said as insults, but hearing those words can get quite discouraging. Although they’re not “wrong,” I’m also beautiful. I own the hard parts of my journey, just as I own my identity. When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who perseveres and is resolved to never give up on finding joy. To me, that’s a beautiful view.

Luminous foundation matches the “000” shade of my milky visage. Cream blush contrasts against my pale canvas, emphasizing the flushing that I used to hate. Highlighter glistens to remind me of sunshine and warm afternoons. Bronzer takes me on a peaceful tropical vacation. Mascara draws attention to the full lashes that I love, with the occasional addition of black liner. Bold lipstick makes an assertive statement, while peachy lip gloss is breezy to maintain on tough days. With every element, nourishing ingredients and a feather-light application honor the natural beauty of body.

Personally, I believe that “living well” is about seeking precious joy amidst life’s persistent challenges. As I’ve conveyed, makeup brings me joy on days when the symptoms of my illnesses become roadblocks to most other physical activities. Seeing beauty in my quirky, uncooperative body is a big victory. My hope is that everyone, whether they’re ill or facing other challenges, is able to see their beauty. Swiping a plummy tint across my lips, I can see light through the pain. May we all find our joy, see our beauty and celebrate every victory.

Follow this journey on Maria Gracefully.

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Thinkstock photo via Christopher Robbins.


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