I Only Love You When My Makeup is Off


I started wearing makeup in freshman year.

I progressed from messy winged eyeliner, to carefully plucked and filled-in eyebrows, to trying to find the right shade of foundation for my skin. By the time senior year rolled around, I was showing up to school with a full face of makeup.

The reasoning I started wearing makeup was always unclear to me. I remember being amazed by YouTube videos in my middle school years, though at the time my peers didn’t really wear makeup—we only adorned mascara and glittery lip gloss for school dances, or awkwardly caked concealer on acne-infested skin. But what was so rare in Taiwan was a teenage right of passage in America. I constantly saw makeup in American TV shows and movies, every teenager flaunting perfect skin and perfectly curled lashes. While I now know that isn’t realistic, my thirteen-year-old self didn’t. I wanted to look like that.

My mom never wore much makeup while I was growing up. Even now, she only indulges in tinted moisturizer and a brow pencil when she goes somewhere formal. But when I began displaying an interest in makeup, she picked up primer, foundation, eyeshadow, and lipgloss for me from the drugstore. Puzzled by the variety of makeup products, I took to YouTube tutorials to figure out what best enhanced my facial features.

The fear of letting people see me without makeup became genuine. Today, I still find myself apologizing to my friends when I show up in public without makeup. Leaving the house bare-faced is unsettling; my uneasy vulnerability feels like I’m missing my wallet.

I’ve never been comfortable with how my face looks, in part because my features are a rebellion against East Asian beauty standards. I've been ridiculed by my peers for looking “too dark,” for my stubborn eyes, crooked nose, and oversized mouth that all seem out of place on my face.

Growing up in a predominantly Caucasian environment amongst American and European classmates, questions about “why I look different” felt personal. At the time, I didn’t know how to deal with it. Juvenile comments about my appearance bothered me more than they should have.

I distinctly remember the first time I took my makeup off in front of one of my high-school friends, who I met after I’d started wearing makeup. It was pouring rain that day, and I had yet to discover the wonders of waterproof mascara. Out of necessity, I took my makeup off. As the wipe moved across my face, the wall I’d built up crumbled.

Oddly enough, I didn’t feel bad about I looked; I’ve since realized it was because of how kind she’d always been to me. By surrounding yourself with people who make you feel comfortable in your skin, you become more at peace with yourself. A true friend, after all, won’t mock the way you look without contour or concealer.

I know I love a person, both platonically and romantically, when I can be bare-faced around them. When I can be comfortable in my own skin both metaphorically and literally around them. I don’t want to say that I only know I love a person when my makeup is off, but I’ve dated and been friends with people I didn’t feel comfortable with at all, and the idea of letting them see me without makeup terrified me.

Now, I find myself wearing less and less makeup. When I started going to college, I swapped out fifteen-minute eyeshadow sessions for eating better and devoting more time to skincare. Both have resulted in more self-love and more self-confidence.

More concretely, though, I now find myself constantly surrounded by kind-hearted and genuine people—and I know they wouldn’t care if I was bare-faced or smokey-eyed.


By Wen Hsiao

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