When I was 16 I got a pretty horrific case of chicken pox which left me with marks all over my face and body. Normally not the serious when you’re a kid but complete hell when you’re older. 7 years on and I still have scars. Some are on my stomach and legs which I can hide away but the worst are on my face. There’s a huge one, the size of a planet, on the tip of my nose, a crater on my cheek and literally a hole in my eyebrow. At least that’s how I used to think of them.
I was lucky as a teenager; I never had bad acne, my skin was a little oily but never too bad, and I wanted to wear make-up but never felt like I needed it. Until the scars that is…
I began to hate my face and the way it looked. I remember buying huge sunglasses and wearing a scarf for the whole summer in an attempt to cover it up. It started my obsession with feeling that I had to wear make-up. I felt like I looked like some sort of hideous monster without it.
My everyday make up routine consisted of moisturizer, a full face of foundation, concealer, eyeliner, mascara, blush and lip gloss before I could feel comfortable leaving the house. Even then I wasn’t happy.
As the worst of the chicken pox marks began to heal, and only on the days when I was in a rush, I could bring myself to go out with just concealer and mascara. No foundation. But I never felt happy or confident. There were days when I could go without wearing make-up but I never felt comfortable with my own face.
Today studies show that almost 40% of women in the UK say they “apply face make-up at least once a day” while only 12% say they don’t wear it at all. Even kids aren’t immune; a study of US teens found some scary things. Out of 12-14 year olds, 54% use mascara, eye shadow, eye liner and eyebrow pencils, 45% use foundation and concealer, 30% use blush and bronzer, and 10% colour their hair. Of 15 – 17 year olds, 56% of them say they use these beauty products because “it makes them feel more confident”.
It’s scary to think so many kids were like me and felt the need to change the way they looked. Although I hope they weren’t all as obsessed as I was.
I hated the way I looked. Literally hated it. I could sit in front of the mirror for hours analyzing every inch of my face and what was wrong with it. I did not want my face. I would do anything to change it. Sat for hours experimenting with make-up that would change how I looked but never felt satisfied. I was never confident or happy with who I was. This carried on for the next 2 or 3 years until I left to go to uni.
I started at uni exactly the same as I’d been for the past few years, the only thing that changed at first were my friends. At school and sixth form I was constantly surrounded by girls who I would hear talking about and judging how other girls looked – girls at school, girls on tv, girls in magazines. Looking back, how could I expect to be happy when no one around me was happy with how anyone looked?!
At uni I found a new type of person. My friends were an amazing group of guys from the Photography Society. My first year I was on the exec with 7 of them who became like my big brothers. It was the first time in my life I’d really ever been respected and had real friends. There was no bitching or back-stabbing. No worrying ‘oh what if X-person doesn’t actually want to be my friend?!’ or ‘what if Y-person has been talking about me?’ Everything was so genuine and so relaxed.
When they told me they liked my photos, I knew they meant it. When they offered me advice I knew it was constructive, not meant to upset me or be some back-handed insult. Over the year, I didn’t even realise it myself at the time but I stopped wearing so much make up. I stopped wearing make up at all some days. And you know what happened? Nothing. No one noticed. I could be there in a full face of make-up or I could be completely bare-faced and no one said anything any different or treated me any different.
On time I even turned up with a different hair colour. As soon as I walked into the room Shane shouted ‘Wait! There’s something different…’ and they all sat there starring for a good 5 minutes before Dave finally figured it out: ‘Her hair’s dark!’, a few murmurs of ‘ahh nice’ and ‘wait, hasn’t it always been that colour?’ and then that was it. Conversation over. We got back to work. Brilliant!
Slowly, over the 5 years I was at uni I tried my best to surround myself with the type of people who made me feel this good about myself. The people who genuinely didn’t care how I looked, they just liked having me around.
My boyfriend, Dan, has also been a huge part in me figuring out how I feel about myself. Like all my other friends, he accepts me for who I am and how I look. I mean, it’s not like I ever hid my ‘real’ face from him. The first time we met was around 4am after a long night of wine and Kelseys. We stayed up until 7 or 8am that morning at a friends house watching clips of doctor who and me playing Catfish and the Bottlemen songs to him; I was tired and scruffy with most of the evenings make up having either run down my face or disappeared completely. The next few times we met were either at the Fresher’s Fair or in the library when I was obviously bare-faced and scruffy looking, probably with greasy hair. Somehow, through all that he still liked me and I guess if he can like the natural me, so can I?
Don’t get me wrong, I still wear make-up when I want to but I don’t wear it to change how I feel about myself so much anymore. I wear it for fun because I like experimenting with the colours or shapes or whatever, it’s like creating art on my face.
I heard stories last year about a girl at uni who was always stumbling around campus in her heels and fancy dresses with a full face of make-up. She never even let her boyfriend see her without make-up; even when Skyping she’d insist on a full face of make-up first. The boyfriend apparently found it annoying. People found her pretentious and the amount people who just saw her as a joke behind her back was scary. I can’t help but feel sorry for her.
I am so lucky that I feel comfortable enough with the people in my life to let them see the real me. I never have to hide my face or my flaws from Dan. Every day he tells me I’m beautiful – sometimes when I’m wearing make-up, just as often when I’m bare-faced. He, like most people, never even noticed my chicken pox scars until I pointed them out to him.
I still feel down sometimes. I’m still not completely confident about the way I look. I still wouldn’t ever be able to label myself as ‘pretty’ or ‘nice looking’ but I am able to say that I’m ok with my face. Walking down the street I have as much confidence wearing no make-up as I do when I’m all dressed up and fancy looking.
I no longer think make-up makes me look better or worse. I don’t think it makes me feel better or worse. It just makes me look different and that’s the fun of it. I don’t need it anymore which is why I still want it in my life.