'My imperfections are something I had to learn to be comfortable with, because I didn’t have any other option.'alisa santikarn for varsity

For those of us with sensitive skin, going bare faced is not a rebellion: it’s self preservation. I have the kind of eyes that, with too much mascara, puff up; that, when any kind of makeup remover is used, are sore for hours. I have the kind of skin that – once it has come into contact with any kind of ‘skin-perfecting makeup’ – dries up, tightens, breaks out, flakes off. My skin will respond dramatically to remind me that, no, you are not allowed to cover up.

I never really felt comfortable wearing makeup until I started to separate it from femininity

It felt weird being a teenager and not wearing makeup. Everyone around me was. I felt young and like I stuck out for not wearing it. Then again, I had other reasons for not investing in makeup: I thought it was too feminine for me. In a comedy roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter, Alex Borstein described something that really resonated with me: how her mother has “always been this beautiful Hungarian queen and I felt that spot was already taken in our house”.

I wasn’t as extreme a tomboy as Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who shaved her head and wore boxer shorts. But I did go through a long phase where I would never touch a dress or a skirt. That slot, I felt, was already filled in my family, ten-fold. It was also filled by the girls I saw around me – friends from dance classes, from school, my neighbours. I wanted, then, to be different.

So, as well as my skin absolutely rejecting makeup, I went through a long phase when my tomboy mindset rejected it, too. Makeup, to me, reflected a certain type of femininity that I just didn’t want any part in: women who want to get dressed up, to be extravagant, to be seen. I liked wearing trousers, trainers, and took pride in wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs.

'Makeup, to me, reflected a certain type of femininity that I didn’t want any part in'juliet babinsky for varsity

It’s a phase a lot of girls go through, and one plenty of us move away from – that, or our tomboyishness manifests itself in different ways. I started reaching for skirts and dresses eventually, but even then still reaching for boxier silhouettes – any shape that wouldn’t instantly betray me as feminine. I’m still like this today, to a certain extent: tight dresses make me squirm, I would always choose a jumpsuit over a dress, I enjoy shopping in the men’s section. This has all become instinctual.

I wear makeup for these small moments of enjoyment – moments I can have alone, without others' impressions of myself in the back of my mind

I never really felt comfortable wearing makeup until I started to separate it from femininity. Makeup isn’t only for women, it isn’t always worn to command attention, and it isn’t always worn to hide imperfections – although these are all valid reasons to wear it. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might want to put it on, either regularly or from time to time. Now, I wear makeup for enhancement, but also for excitement, colour and flair.

I love experimenting with coloured eyeliners – I delight in matching my eyeliner to my clothes. I wear mascara because it opens up my eyes. I love the look of highlighter in the sun. I wear gold eyeshadow a lot because it makes my eyes look greener, which I find a really interesting effect. I love adding white eyeshadow to the inner corners of my eyes because it looks cool.

I wear makeup to achieve these small moments of enjoyment – moments I can have alone, without having other people’s impressions of myself in the back of my mind. I’m wearing it for me, to interest me, to excite me.

In the grand scheme of things, though, I still rarely wear makeup. I read online reviews for the makeup products I use, and mine always last so much longer than most, because I just don’t use anything daily. My skin still hates foundation, but my eyes have got better at dealing with mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner. Sometimes, to avoid the pain of makeup remover, I’ll leave my eye makeup on overnight, prolonging the inevitable.


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Sometimes, having sensitive skin feels like a blessing: I could never succumb to the pressure to cover up my imperfections – acne, freckles, dark circles, weird patches of redness – because doing so would literally hurt. Instead, these imperfections are something I had to learn to be comfortable with, because I didn’t have any other option.

Sometimes, now, I like having a spot on my lip, because it adds something new to an unchanging face. I find it amusing (if a bit gross) when skin flakes off my face. It took some time to get here, but I’m content with the way I look without makeup; makeup just adds something extra.

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