I Found Self-Love (And Empowerment) When I Had To Go Makeup-Free

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I Found Self-Love (And Empowerment) When I Had To Go Makeup-Free

Lisa Sadikman

A week before Mother’s Day, I woke up with a puffy, goopy eye. I blew it off because that’s what moms do, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t pinkeye. Two days later there was a small, tender lump on the outside of my upper eyelid.

After much poking, prodding, and googling, I figured out I had a chalazion, which happens when the glands in your eyelid get blocked and the natural oils are trapped. The bigger it gets, the more it looks like a ripe zit you’re just dying to pop. Google said don’t do that. The ophthalmologist agreed. She told me to apply a warm compress five times a day, wash my eyelids with baby shampoo twice a day, oh, and absolutely, positively not wear any makeup around my eye.

I know there are far more important things going on in this chaotic world, but the prospect of going makeup free with a juicy red bump taking over my eyelid kicked my anxiety up a notch. There are lots of things IDGAF about, but apparently forgoing makeup when I have an unsightly lesion on my face isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, it was clear I needed to take care of myself. That meant following the doctor’s orders, however difficult that might be.

I don’t do a whole lot of makeup, but giving up my concealer, mascara, and occasional eyeliner wasn’t easy. I didn’t see the point of blushing up my cheeks when my eyes were obviously bare and sporting a bright red beacon. I pared down my routine to moisturizer and sunscreen, wore my sunglasses outside and inside like a total diva, and tried to hide behind my too-long side bangs.

But I couldn’t keep that up for long. I wish I could say I didn’t mind my friends’ surprised looks when they noticed my swollen eye or the way my kids were both intensely curious and totally grossed out by it. I wish I could say the nasty lump on my eye didn’t bother me at all because I’m in my 40s and IDGAF.

I can’t say any of that.

Instead, leaving my face au naturel made me nervous. Without makeup, everything was on full display, including the horrible, no good, very bad eyelid bump. I couldn’t hide away my under-eye circles and sallow cheeks. I couldn’t make my eyes look bigger or my skin look less splotchy and more smooth. I couldn’t magic away a poor night’s sleep or the mental load with my trusty concealer. The truth was all over my face and now everyone was going to see it, including me — and it was about time.

Wearing makeup can be empowering. It gives us confidence and makes us feel beautiful. It can transform us from everyday moms into glamorous women, or it can simply lift our weary spirits when we need it most. Wearing makeup can be a way of taking care of ourselves, but for me it had become a way to cover up how I was really feeling.

If I concealed the under-eye circles and pinked up my cheeks, I could ignore my exhaustion and worry. If I mascaraed my lashes, maybe no one would notice my dry, chewed on lips. You know how they say fake it ‘til you make it? I’d been doing a lot of that. I’d been pushing my anxiety under the blush and eyeliner, the concealer and eyeshadow.

Nothing made me more down in the dumps, though, than that damn chalazion. I spent several hours every day for the next six weeks laying a moist heating pad on my one eye while listening to S-Town. I also spent a good deal of time examining my bare face in the bathroom mirror. After a week or so, I got used to my naked face with its light spray of freckles across the forehead and extra smile line etched into my right cheek. I noticed the difference in my skin when I managed a decent night’s sleep or when I remembered to take my iron pill.

In the mornings, I looked at my unmade face in the mirror and thought, “What you see is what you get.” Sometimes I saw a rosy-cheeked, rested me. Other days, I saw a woman in need of 24-hours alone in a dark, quiet hotel room and several green smoothies (or mimosas, whatever). I took those days more slowly, honoring my sadness or frustration, my stress or fatigue. Paying attention to what I needed became a habit.

After almost two months, the chalazion showed no signs of going away. Joy!  

The ophthalmologist drained the bump leaving a tiny lump of scar tissue. I’m cleared to wear makeup again, which is great, but now I’m actually doing okay without it. I don’t mind showing up exactly the way I am, no matter the state I’m in. I’m not saying I’ll never wear makeup again — it’s much too fun to give up for good — but for now I’m enjoying my bare face. It feels empowering, and for once I feel quite comfortable in my own skin.