I don’t really know how to do makeup. Blush, contouring? Not a clue. I can’t really even apply eye shadow without looking like I have a black eye. When it comes to the finer elements of makeup application, I may be a lost cause.
But eyeliner? I know my eyeliner.
In seventh grade, my mom took me to the Clinique counter at Macy’s, where a kind, middle-aged makeup artist taught me the basics – dots of concealer on my acne-prone skin, a bit of foundation, a swipe of mascara… and the eyeliner. Oh, the eyeliner.
It was the start of a long-term love affair.
I never built upon my minimalist makeup process because, in the days before YouTube, I never learned how. But every day, I applied the crowning glory of my routine, a perfectly drawn line across both lids. Eventually, I graduated to liquid liner, perfecting the art of the cat-eye.
In high school, a popular girl lamented that she couldn’t get her eyeliner to look as good as mine did. Years later, on Instagram, pretty, successful bloggers commented on my selfies to say the same thing. The world agreed: My eyeliner was my superpower. These compliments only intensified my attachment to my makeup security blanket.
I was so attached to my eyeliner that I wouldn’t leave the house without it on. If I did, it was for some quick errand during which I was unlikely to see anyone I knew – and still, I was mortified to let strangers see my naked face.
In truth, I hated the way I looked without eyeliner. My eyelids were thick and heavy-looking; my whole face seemed pallid and anemic without it. I’d never been drop-dead gorgeous, but eyeliner made me feel passably pretty. Without it, I looked in the mirror and saw nothing but ugly.
Over time, though, I became uncomfortable with my dependency on eyeliner to make myself feel publicly presentable. Most of my friends didn’t wear makeup, and I started to envy them for it. If I didn’t find them ugly without makeup, why was I so hard on myself?
And then there was dating. You know the opening scene in Bridesmaids, when Kristen Wiig’s character sneaks out of bed to touch up her makeup so she’ll look picture-perfect when Jon Hamm wakes up? That was me, but it was less funny when I did it. In fact, it felt pathetic.
It was exhausting, too, to make sure I always had my very expensive eyeliner on hand. If I forgot it, I’d make an excuse to go home so no one would see a less-than-ideal version of my face.
I hated that I hated my face without eyeliner… so I stopped wearing it.
It wasn’t immediate, and it wasn’t easy on my self-esteem. I knew, rationally, that people weren’t staring at my face in disgust, but I still felt hideous. Shouldn’t the world be offended that I wasn’t at least trying to look good?
I started slowly, a day here or there when I went without my beloved liquid liner. Other makeup helped ease me into the transition: On days when I didn’t wear eyeliner, I’d wear brightly colored lipstick instead. Eventually, when I became more comfortable with the way I looked without my go-to product, I started to feel comfortable ditching the others, too.
When I started dating someone new, I relapsed a bit. No way would he think I was pretty in my natural state! I returned to my everyday eyeliner habit – but one morning, when I was so flustered about trying to look “good” that it took me 20 minutes to apply the perfectly winged liner in his bathroom, I realized I was acting crazy. Again, I weaned myself off my addiction.
And he still thinks I’m pretty. Better yet? So do I.
Today, eyeliner feels like an enhancement but not an essential, a treat but not a necessity. I still wear concealer and mascara, but I no longer feel exposed and vulnerable when I’m not wearing a thick coat of my once-signature cat-eye liner with them.
Do I think I look better with it on? Admittedly, yes, but I’ve finally started to like my naked face. I can wear eyeliner and feel great, or I can forego it and feel just as good – and that level of confidence is the prettiest thing of all.