The Day My Make-up Bag Became My Pencil Case

By Fatimah Amirali

To be honest, I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know if it was a subconscious decision to somehow physically manifest the change in my mindset. But I’m glad it happened. Because the day my make-up bag became my pencil case was the day I truly became myself.

I remember the days in which I was testing a natural face, and I still remember how people reacted to me. Most people thought I was sick. That something had happened to me. That the dark circles under my eyes were somehow a commentary of a hard and suddenly traumatic life. The truth was that nothing had changed. Pimples often occupy my forehead, my skin is not flawless, I am usually sleep-deprived and, even when I’m not, dark circles dominate my eye sockets.

We are told that unless our face is masked and our blemishes covered, we are not beautiful. Unless our faces are colored, we are not as beautiful as we have the potential to be. There is a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on this very belief: that we look better and can feel better if we cover our blemishes and color ourselves pretty (or dizzy). We become obsessed with the way that we look, the amount that we weigh and the way that we dress. The number of compliments that our beauty warrants becomes an indicator of how accomplished we feel, and being ‘ugly’ is worse than being stupid. It is an obsession and addiction in every sense of the words.

I would tell myself that I was wearing make-up for myself, not for others. But the damning truth is that every time I wiped my face away, I would see the blemishes and cringe at my own face without the self-inflicted photoshoping. And I did not feel better about myself; I felt worse. I had to rely on paint to feel comfortable with my own face. When I quit the madness, I began to appreciate myself in a different way. I can’t say that I’m in love with my blemishes or dark circles—but I can say that I’m now okay with the face that stares back at me every day. Because that face doesn’t matter to me anymore. I am my writing; I am my accomplishments; I am my own person devoid of the beauty of my face. This is a person that needs work, but it’s a person that does not rely on her face to determine her worth.

Now, when I wear make-up, I’m told how amazing I look. And to me, it’s insulting — because how I look with my blemishes and my imperfections is who I am. The woman I am without the mask is the same woman I am with it — but that mask makes a difference to people. The question we never ask is ‘Why? What difference does it make if you can see that my face is discolored? Does a face consistent in its color make me more worthy of admiration? Why is the inflection of admiration in “She’s so pretty” so much greater than in “She’s so accomplished”?’

I’m not here to say that when I wore make-up I was incapable of being intelligent (or that I didn’t own a pencil case). But I am here to say that wearing make-up or subscribing to the cosmetics industry was not an expression of my individuality, nor will it ever be for the majority of us. It was an expression of my conformation. It was an expression that I had succumbed to a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on the self-consciousness of women worldwide who are expected to look a certain way and to become flawless in a way that no woman naturally is. It was an admission that I preferred the way I looked unnaturally; that what was natural to me was somehow ‘less’. An admission that, with make-up, I was somehow ‘more’. After all, why would I wear it if it truly meant nothing to me and if I truly believed that it made no difference?

When I began writing this, I wanted to find statistics on the cosmetics industry and how women’s self-image is related to the industry’s boom. Then I realized that there was no need. Every woman who reads this will know exactly what I’m talking about because being seen without make-up is somehow a source of embarrassment. Our self-consciousness peaks when we have no make-up on. If we’re seen without make-up, or post pictures without make-up, we crave compliments to assure ourselves that we are ‘naturally’ beautiful, and that although we wear make-up, we don’t really ‘need’ it to be beautiful.

The day that my make-up bag became my pencil case was the day that I finally gave myself some agency and some self-respect. It was the day I realized that it’s what I write and do that matters, not how I color my face or my image. When I refused to wear make-up, I refused to let my face or physical imperfections matter, either to me or to others. My physical imperfections are not my choice, but my other imperfections are.

I used to complain about women being objectified, but I would objectify myself. I used to tell myself that it’s what is on the inside that counts, but I would pay more attention to my pimples than my pride. Then I realized that a flawless face will not tell you of a flawless soul and the blemishes on my face will tell you nothing of the blemishes on my heart.

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” (Qur’an 57:20)

Fatimah Amirali is an aspiring writer from Vancouver, Canada with an interest in politics and religion. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia in English and Religious Studies.

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