When I say that makeup is my war paint, I say that with absolutely no exaggeration.
Before I explain, I need to break down two important things: I am mentally ill and I am brown (Desi to be exact).
I’ve suffered from anxiety since high school and depression kicked in during my undergraduate years at university. A few years ago, I would have been able to make a timeline of the events that led to my illnesses but I can’t do that anymore. It’s a big blur and perhaps a part of me is grateful for it, as it can be too painful to try and trace what resulted in my conditions.
To complicate matters even more, I don’t take any medications. As a child of Desi immigrants, I was pressured into silence regarding my mental illnesses and wasn’t allowed access to professional help. Since I couldn’t discuss my feelings openly, I had to find other ways to cope. That’s when I got creative. After dabbling in painting, an unexpected path to healing appeared: The process of applying makeup.
Applying make-up went from being an ordinary part of my daily routine to a source of healing in the form of self-care. During an exceptionally difficult period of crying myself to sleep every night, I wandered into the makeup aisle of my local drug store early one morning. Impulsively, I purchased so much makeup that I was sure I’d regret it later. Then the cosmetician told me how nice my skin was, which prompted me to buy an additional primer.
But the regret never came. You can say I fell for her sales tactic, but the relief I felt when I put those products on my skin was well worth it. Taking twenty to thirty minutes each morning to carefully apply my war paint helped me get through my hardest moments. Doing my makeup was soothing and it boosted my self-esteem.
Makeup helped me see myself as a woman of color in a more positive light. On YouTube and Instagram, I began seeking out videos of women with darker skin tones share stories about how makeup helped them love their complexion. I found a common ground with other brown women who felt beautiful despite the industry’s Eurocentric beauty standards.
Just using a foundation that was the right shade for my skin tone was empowering. For many years, I had internalized the message that fair skin was better, and so I bought foundation that was a shade or two lighter than my skin. I would also ask the cosmetician how to contour my nose to make it look thinner. This was before I became aware of my self-hatred.
As a child, I watched my white friends apply Fair & Lovely, a cream with “colonization” as its main ingredient. For me, a woman of color who falls in the middle when it comes to the skin color spectrum, learning to love my features instead of seeing them as flaws, was a radical notion. Especially since my mother called my skin color ‘cleaner’ than hers, which fed my mental illness from a very early age.
Today, I feel at home in my skin and my self-confidence has skyrocketed. I take pride in the melanin given to me by my parents, inherited from a long line of Desi culture. I don’t wear makeup because I am insecure about my features any longer. Instead, I wear it to proudly highlight my skin tone and thick, dark eyebrows. I still suffer from anxiety and depression, but wearing makeup is one form of self-care that has helped me appreciate parts of myself that I used to hate.
Now I feel just as good wearing a full-face of makeup as I do being barefaced. Taking it off at the end of the day can be just as therapeutic as putting it on, because the entire process of presenting myself through makeup, is healing.