Most Makeup Artists (MUAs) tend to be glamour girls from way back. Which makes me a rare type of MUA: I was a late bloomer. Although I was ultra creative and artistic as a child and would happily spend hours drawing, colouring and creating, it wasn’t until I was 23 years old that I started experimenting with makeup and had the realisation that makeup was actually an art form. Up until that point I had very little interest in it.
When I was 15 I began experimenting with concealer, mascara and a hot pink eye pencil, for when I was feeling adventurous. However my adventurous flare ended almost as soon as it began: I think I may have used that pencil 2 or 3 times before becoming too self conscious to let myself to stand out in any way.
By the time I was 18 I developed a very basic and safe makeup routine that I would stick to almost every day for the next 5 years: concealer, liquid foundation, mascara and on special occasions, liquid eyeliner along the outer upper eyelid (I tried flicking it out a few times but it didn't look quite right, so I gave up and never tried again). For my school ball and 21st birthday I wore a safe peachy eyeshadow and lipstick, and that was literally as far as my creativity in front of the mirror ventured.
I still remember the first time I watched one of my friends apply her makeup skilfully when I was 20: I just stood there watching in awe. But although it impressed and dazzled me, I never did try to do the same thing on myself: I was sure that I would mess it up somehow and I simply lacked the confidence to even try.
Every time I walked through a department store cosmetics floor I would feel an overwhelming sense of intimidation and insecurity, and quickly find the nearest exit. On rare occasions when I was feeling extra creative and confident, I would timidly look around the cosmetics isles of supermarkets, pharmacies or Priceline and try to act like I knew what I was doing. Although I felt less pressure and fear of being watched and judged in these environments, the ridiculous amount of options would soon overwhelm and defeat me.
From the perspective I now have today, it is clear that the thing that prevented me from finding my inner artist and allow herself to play and express herself, came from my complete lack of confidence and the fact that I avoided the mirror.
I avoided the mirror because every time I looked at my reflection I’d only notice my self decided flaws: my bulging eyelids, big nose, ugly freckles, lack of cheekbones, lack of a defined jawline and hideous dark circles. When I saw other girls admiring themselves in the mirror it would irritate me and I'd think they were so full of themselves. I was envious of their ability to recognise and appreciate their own beauty. Interestingly, I actually considered myself to be pretty confident and did not consider myself to be someone who struggled with issues of insecurity, self-worth and self-esteem. Sure, I knew I felt pretty shy and insecure at times, but this seemed pretty normal; I seemed to be just like all the other girls. Yet at the same time, I didn't feel united or connected to them, in fact, most girls were seen as competition.
Things began to shift when my boyfriend organised a MAC Makeup Consultation for my 23rd birthday. All the MUA did on me was a simple soft bronze-brown smokey eye but I felt like a brand new person. For one of the first times in my life... I felt beautiful.
This experience had ignited a new sense of enthusiasm, curiosity & creativity within me and I began to experiment with eyeshadows, blushes and lipsticks. The following year I stumbled upon a comprehensive makeup book and completely entranced, I spent almost 3 hours reading it from front to cover. At the time I was looking for a career change into something creative and since I couldn't remember the last time I felt so totally captivated by something, I felt this was my path and enrolled at The Academy of Makeup in Sydney later that year.
I'll admit that many years working as a professional MUA in the beauty industry took its toll on me: I was unaware at the time that I was stuck in an unhealthy habit of needing to wear lots of makeup every day. Yes, I was a "beauty professional" and had to do so for work, but I wore just as much makeup even on my days off. I was stuck in a routine, the same way all women get stuck in makeup routines: I had become used to seeing myself in a certain way.
Although makeup was a tool that helped me to start feeling beautiful, the truth is, deep down I felt ugly without it. Wearing makeup was much like wearing a mask: it felt like I was pretending, camouflaging and even cheating. And I would feel shy, insecure, and uncomfortable going into public without makeup for fear of being judged as ugly and flawed. I even refused to let my boyfriends see me without makeup.
Had I not quit my job and gone backpacking for 8 months, I don’t know how I would have been able to break free from this habit. At the beginning of the trip I was still trying to always be seen with makeup on, but by the end of the trip I was walking around hot men infested hostels and streets with no makeup (and likely hadn't even brushed my hair or had shoes on by this point) as comfortably and confidently as I would at my mum's house. I'd realised that it was my sense of self-esteem and self-confidence that was attractive, and not whether I had mascara on.
I think all women need days (or in some cases, weeks, months or even years) to just be "feral" and "let it all go". I dare you. Let your all your hairs grow. Walk around barefoot (not in all circumstances). Don't brush your hair. Let your nails grow wild and without polish. Let it all hang out. Revel in your wild womanliness and try to realise that no matter what you look like, you are still incredibly beautiful and sexy and nothing can take that away from you. And don't hide in the house like some monster: go out into the world and be 100% naturally you, and be proud.
Im not saying its going to attract all the men to you (although you would be surprised), but I think this is a great way to push through (and let go of) silly fears and an opportunity to recognise the true and natural beauty you were born with, that can never be taken away, and actually has nothing to do with the way you look.
Allow yourself to get creative in the mirror and express yourself however you want to, for you. Because it feels good. Because it is fun. Not because you need to in order to feel attractive or to convince hot boys you are worthy.
There are many paths to self acceptance, and although every woman's path is unique, I think looking in the mirror is a great place to start. For me personally, makeup helped me to recognise my beauty because it gave an insecure girl who avoided the mirror an excuse to stand in front of the mirror for a little bit longer and have a play.
But it wasn’t until I finally learned to see and be proud of my natural beauty (with no makeup on), that I was no longer a slave to my makeup bag. Instead of using my makeup to “change, correct, cover, or conceal” my "flaws" so that I could feel temporarily, artificially beautiful, I now use it to creatively play, enhance, explore, express and celebrate my natural beauty.
I love to compliment women, but much to my frustration, many of my genuine offerings of love, beauty and admiration are declined, ignored and straight out rejected. And not always because of humility: it seems that the majority of women just genuinely disagree with me or think I'm buttering them up because I want something.
Watching my beautiful fellow sisters habitually put themselves down with unkind and untrue remarks has only turned my frustration into determination to help more girls and women recognise their beauty, and inspire them to explore and express it.
Beauty is how you feel about yourself. Beauty is knowing thyself and proudly sharing it with the world. Being beautiful is to be in your truth and heart. Coco Chanel nailed it when she said “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself”. The solution to our beauty slave problem is simple: love yourself, no matter what. It means understanding and accepting yourself. By trying to live up to an ideal that doesn't even exist, we forget ourselves. So I invite you to walk back into that mirror and begin the process of getting to know yourself like never before. It wont happen overnight, and it wont be easy, but you must take that first step in the right direction. And don't be afraid to reach out for support.
Now, I do realise that asking women to take a really good look in the mirror, ask themselves the deep questions that they purposely avoid and then leave their houses confidently without makeup, is almost just as outrageous as asking a meat lover to become vegetarian, but please, I promise you: the rewards are well worth it.
Start looking for your truth and beauty as determinedly as you've focused on your flaws, and you will soon find your treasures of truth. And then the real fun begins: expressing and sharing it with the world. Not out of ego, competition or need to prove your worth, but because you know and love who you are and expressing yourself is joyful and effortless, and instead of feeling tiresome or fake, it will feel good.