Why I View Makeup as War Paint That Prepares Me for My Medical Battle


Walking into the unknown with an appearance to strike fear into the hearts of adversaries is a time honored tradition. From horned helmets and fearsome metal suits to spiked hair and body paint, preparing for battle has always included ritual preparation. A few moments where appearances transform average humans into fearsome warriors.

I might not be spiking my hair or painting my body with woad, but I need to be fearsome today. This disease will cower at the possibility of facing me. It’s 5:45 am. It’s going to be that kind of day. Objectively, it should be a good day. There’s always promise in a sunrise. I have an appointment for a new potential treatment. I’m still not convinced this isn’t a dream. I’ve been hoping to try this treatment for nearly a year. I check to make sure I’m alive. Yep. My leg still feels like it’s on fire. I’m alive.

I get into the bathroom and turn on all the lights in one fell swoop. My dad always used to say it was better that way. It would wake you up faster. I still do it, even though I’ve been doubting the strategy since I was 12. Bleary-eyed, I examine my face. Little lines are coming into focus around my eyes, exaggerated by the marks from my pillow. Below my eyes are dark circles that could be mistaken for black eyes. The rest of my face fights to be both dull and vibrantly red at the same time. It’s so translucent I imagine you can see the muscles below weary from another day.

I have an appointment today. A new doctor. A new hospital.

It’s time to prepare for battle.

I pick up my Wonder Woman compact and imagine myself Brynhildr, the mythological Viking shield maiden. Deep in my family tree where mythology and history started to mix, I found an identity I could wear as armor. The identity gives me further protection so I could project an illusion of who I need to be today. Fierce. Unyielding. Fearless.

I’m trembling.

I work my way through the ritual of creams and and colors designed to fake perfect skin. Each step adds a level of protection from the world, rife with bad news and untold perils. I spread foundation over my face. It begins. I grab concealer. I must erase every spot and dark circle to hide the physical signs of weakness. I powder with a vengeance. War paint needs to last through whatever comes its way. Although, I promise it no tears.

The battle will be long. I pick my colors. Everyone marches into battle under colors, right? I start with coral on my cheeks. A natural-looking flush. A perfect disguise. Beige for my lips. Blue on my eyes. Precisely applied. Little flicks of liner are little wings to hold me up. Painted on, like a Celtic warrior’s woad.

Deep breaths.

It is done. From a distance, my face looks bright, healthy and strong. Up close you can see shadows of the circles I tried to cover the way you can see remnants of a pencil mark that can never be fully erased from a piece of paper. It will have to do. It’s enough to make me feel strong enough to make it.

Sure, this all may seem a little hyperbolic. And maybe more than a little over the top. Being sick will do that do you. Every time you have an appointment, you need to steel yourself in case you get bad news. Because it is almost always bad news. A treatment didn’t work. You don’t qualify for the clinical trial. You’re the wrong kind of sick for a new medication.

Research tells us that much of our world shapes our behaviors and attitudes. Everything from our language to the way we adorn ourselves. I call it war paint because this is truly a battle. And it makes a difference. The same way wearing a suit for a phone interview or smiling on a phone call can change your demeanor, so can painting your face. It can make you feel as tough as you need to be. It can make you feel strong enough to fight.

After my last injection left me worse off than before, I decided that I was done with the bi-weekly spine injections. The anesthesia hangovers were killing me. The steroids were making me mean (and ravenous). It wasn’t working. If it keeps going this way, I won’t be working. I can’t be looking at turning 34 and at the end of my career in the same time frame. I just can’t.

I need this armor.

If I look sick, then I am sick. If I look pained, my body has become disabled. I’ll risk my mascara running and giving me away. Because I’m not going to cry. I’m a warrior. I made myself into one.

Getty Image by mudbabyphotography

This story originally appeared on Even Curiouser.


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