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An Ode to Makeup by a Woman With Invisible Illness

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I find makeup incredibly empowering. Makeup artists are, in my opinion, essentially magicians. They take canvasses of living, breathing flesh and create works of art. Some people dismiss makeup as superficial. To me, the transformative power of makeup is something incredible. I never did my makeup for anyone else’s approval — it was always for myself. It boosts my confidence, my mood, and (as I am by no means skilled with makeup at all) if someone else does it for me, it creates the sensation of a more polished, poised self. It is like a costume that you can wear every day, a means to project a mood and constructed self to the world. Feeling glamorous? Smoky eye. Festive? Glitter.

Makeup has become more important to me since I got ill. On bad days my complexion can accurately be described as “ghostly,” and the constant dark circles under my eyes scream “I woke up like this” in the most unflattering way possible. My illness may be invisible, but my outer self can often do a good imitation of how exhausted I feel inside. Makeup is my shield, a way of projecting the illusion of health to both myself and the rest of the world.

There are days when getting dressed is a big demand, let alone putting on makeup. However, on days when I can handle it, I have my routine condensed to the bare minimum. It is constructed to yield the best results for the least amount of energy expenditure possible. I wear concealer and powder, maybe some foundation and eye shadow if I’m feeling energetic. Then there are my holy grails, my prize possessions: eyeliner and lipstick.

It’s the lipstick that I cling to the most. Regardless of how exhausted I am, red lipstick makes me feel somewhat like I have my act together. No matter how dark the circles are under my eyes, even if I’m wearing a hat to distract from the fact that I didn’t have the energy to brush my hair, if I am wearing red lipstick I feel like I have created some semblance of vitality. There is an illusion of effort that accompanies a bright lipstick. It distracts from the rest of my face; the ghostly pallor becomes porcelain skin, the shadows under my eyes don’t stand out so starkly. If you see someone wearing a red lip, it invokes the idea that they have spent a great deal of time on their appearance. In fairness, most of the time they have. Conversely, I can put lipstick on in less than a minute; sometimes it is the only make up I have the energy to apply. It is my secret weapon. It is my projection to the rest of the world of a healthier self. It is also a reassurance to myself that while yes, I feel awful and yes, I have looked better, I am still fighting.

Makeup is my shield. Makeup lets me look better than I feel. It invokes a reminder of a girl who wasn’t always sick, who would go dancing with her friends and come home as the sun rose. It is my armor against a situation I have no control over. It is a situation that often has me crying quietly, black streaks of eyeliner running down my face as I mourn the life I used to have, anxiety about the future rising up in my throat until I feel like I can’t breathe. Then I get up, fix my eyeliner, gently wipe away the traces of tears with creams and powders, and put on my lipstick. They say “fake it ‘till you make it,” and this is my small way of reminding myself that I am fighting this, rebelling against the condition that has left me so constantly exhausted, so consistently disheartened and so terrified about my future. It is my battle cry, my affirmation that I will continue to fight this until I am better, or until I can at least manage my symptoms.

Superficial? No. It helps me to be strong.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this — do you have any routines that help you to feel better on tough days? An item of clothing, a piece of makeup, something you use as a way of boosting your mood? Let me know in the comments!

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 12, 2016
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