BY QIANA D’MELLO

Similar to how I’ve always viewed fashion as a form of liberation and self-expression, for me, makeup holds immense storytelling powers. It plays a pivotal role in influencing how we perceive ourselves, as well as how we can artistically project an image. Makeup is omnipresent; a key component of the narrative that transcends beauty. It has cast a shadow over my coming of age and milestones, resulting in a relationship that can be described as nothing short of transitory and dynamic.

After several years of trying, I don’t wear makeup.

I wish I could say it’s because I read a life-changing article on how cutting down my daily makeup routine every morning would make me more efficient. I am not trying to make a bold statement by boycotting unethical, controversial makeup brands and it would be a lie to say that I feel completely comfortable in the skin I am in.

Makeup trends often evolve as frequently as fashion trends, given the proliferation of social media’s role in revolutionizing beauty communities around the world. Makeup is often used as a tool to accentuate and highlight features, but can also be used as a mask, allowing us to hide behind the visage of artificial liquid and powder. I was very self-conscious of my smile growing up so I would avoid lipstick all together to avoid drawing attention to my lips. Embarrassed by my large eyes, it was easy to skip out on eyeliner and mascara. I would desperately do anything to neutralize any of my more prominent features in order to go unnoticed and blend in. 

Although I outgrew these insecurities and learned to embrace my defining features, this self-doubt never truly disappeared and instead manifested itself in more complex situations as I grew older. The personifying qualities of makeup allowed me to pose more introspective questions that became increasingly challenging to answer. 

This summer, I worked the classic Bay St. 9-5 and still found myself scrutinizing my makeup choices – did I want to look effortlessly flawless so no one knew I pulled an all-nighter or wear hot pink lipstick that perfectly complimented my outfit?

My personality – and mood – is exemplified in my style and being in my first internship conflicted with a lot of preconceived notions I had about who I was, what my strengths were and where my passions lay. Initially fearful of my changing goals and outlook on life, I instead decided to internalize and embrace this unanticipated ‘mature’ dimension and incorporate it into my aesthetic. As my personality is continually shaped by my decisions, makeup increasingly empowered me to allow multiple facets of this evolution to manifest in a new found perspective – and subsequently progressive beauty routine.

I used makeup to portray an image in a professional setting of who I aspired to be – bold and confident, while simultaneously being mindful of my authentic self. Bright colors and sharp contour are evocative of power, and makeup taught me to embrace who I truly was. Showcasing my softer features by avoiding these trends spoke to the underlying theme of finding strength in being a listener, and emboldened me to allow my creative, artistic side to flourish. The symbiotic relationship between allowing my experiences to define me, and my individuality making an impression on my work, was enabled by what I see as a modern impetus for empowerment – makeup.  

My relationship with makeup is also reflective of my upbringing. Having grown up in two countries and having had the privilege of travelling extensively exposed me to historical affiliations with beauty, enabled by cosmetics. The way people interface with beauty products varies around the world. This speaks volumes to cultural intricacies, and further alludes to attitudes and collective societal views on presentation, status and constructs of fluid femininity and beauty. When in Toronto, I seek inspiration from trending looks on social media, have a penchant for heavily lined eyes, exaggerated eyelashes and bold colors when in India and the Middle East, and feel more comfortable au naturel when travelling through Europe and Asia. The nuances in beauty standards all over the world allow me to honor my heritage but also maintain a sense of belonging to a larger, international community. Makeup has played a significant, powerful role in influencing centuries of tradition, in addition to being a way for me to navigate my multiple, overlapping identities. 

There is significance in my diligent skin care routine – not because it is important to do so, but because it is marked by fond memories of my mother instructing me, as I peered into a mirror on my tip toes with her by my side. My appreciation for mascara grew, not because I wanted longer eyelashes, but because I would watch my beautiful, intelligent older cousin apply it every morning and I wanted to emulate her. I don’t particularly love eyeshadow, but the fond memories of sneaking into my friend’s mother’s makeup bag and swatching everything undoubtedly curated my affinity for sparkly eyeshadow. When I look at nail polish, I reminisce waiting for my younger brother to fall asleep so I could paint his nails and run away when he noticed. While my relationship with makeup has been influenced by my inner demons and damaging mainstream beauty standards, the essence of this connection is founded in a culmination of overwhelmingly positive and transformational memories. 

Makeup can do a lot of harm and inadvertently isolate certain people from conventional beauty ideals if the story it tells isn’t inclusive of all audience members. I often felt alienated from makeup from a very young age and frustrated when entire palettes of eyeshadow wouldn’t appear on my skin because of my darker complexion. While I struggle with my undertones and beauty trends that cater towards accentuating certain features, there are many narratives intertwined with makeup other than my own. 

“Literally, I got bullied for 9 years about my eyebrows and got called caterpillar girl. Then, Cara Delevigne came into fashion and made it cute. Where were you when I was in the 8thgrade?”

“Nude lipstick! What’s that?”

“Highlight…sometimes just doesn’t work for me”

 “I used to cover up my freckles and get angry at full coverage makeup. I no longer see them as imperfections, but additions, like a natural tattoo.”

Makeup is something that still intimidates me as it can be a vehicle for internalizing many of my insecurities. Now, I view it as a way to showcase my originality. Just like your hometown or favorite sports team characterizes you, makeup has helped shaped my identity. Pivoting back to my internship, makeup was my ‘super suit’ this summer. I love that teaching a younger girl how to apply eyeliner can be a tradition passed on from cousin to cousin. I feel like most of us can bond over the progression of our application skills and laugh about it. Just like riding your first bike, walking around with awful eyeliner or foundation three shades too deep is a rite of passage. 

I am happy to declare that my ‘relationship status’ with makeup is no longer ‘complicated’, but ‘evolving’. I hope that the 14 year old girl rummaging through her mom’s makeup drawers before going to the movies with friends and looking for the ‘easiest way to do smoky eyeshadow’ on YouTube would be able to see how her perception of beauty will progress and continue to constantly fluctuate. While my relationship with makeup doesn’t define me, it’s hard to say it hasn’t played a large part in influencing my self-image. Makeup is an embodiment of the components of my constantly evolving personality and ultimately, the vehicle through which my personal relationship with beauty has progressed. 

Qiana D’Mello is a guest contributor for MUSE. If you have a story you want to share, submit it to us.