When I say “the power of make-up”, I am probably coming from a slightly different angle to some of the other beauty bloggers and vloggers out there, many of whom have done transformative videos showing before and after uber-glam make-up applications. Why do I approach it from a different angle? Because I suffer from multiple chronic disabling health conditions, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome hypermobility type being the main one. EDS likes to bring along some friends, and it’s unusual to find a “bendy” who doesn’t have multiple diagnoses.
For those of us who are chronically ill, and also for the many people who suffer from skin conditions ranging from acne to psoriasis to hyper pigmentation or vitiligo – not to mention others battling mental health issues – make-up is like armour. Make-up helps us feel ready to deal with the way that the world sees us and our conditions and gives us a defence against everything that society throws at us as a result. With make-up you can not only be whoever you want to be but also whoever you need to be to survive. It’s not unusual for chronically ill/disabled people and those with skin conditions to have suffered extreme bullying because of the way they present to the world, all thanks to the very body or skin they were born with and have no control over. Make-up allows us to build confidence and to fend off the jibes and the comments because it gives us the ability to appear well – other people’s “normal”.
Hiding our illnesses and looking “normal” helps many people feel able to carry on. The onset of an illness is a huge change in our lives and we can feel as though we are no longer the same person, especially with serious illnesses like cancer which can affect one’s appearance greatly. A person’s identity can seem to have fallen away along with the clumps of hair. When we have a serious or chronic illness, every time we see people – even strangers – they seem to feel the need to point out how ill or tired we are looking. How pale we are these days. Painting on a “normal” non-sick face avoids the endless comments and reminders of our condition, just as for a cancer patient wearing a well-chosen wig avoids disclosing private medical information to all and sundry.
It’s a fairly a well-known fact that looking good can improve the way we feel on the inside. When we suffer with a chronic pain condition, we can wake up feeling like we’ve had ten minutes sleep (when in reality it may have been anywhere between 8 and 10 hours!) and looking absolutely wretched. Yet we know that we absolutely have to carry on and do XYZ tasks – and in this situation it is very helpful to have the tools that make-up provides. A bit of base and concealer later and the dark circles are covered, a touch of blush puts the colour back into one’s face. We can, for a short while, pretend not to be sick. It is possible to fake wellness, and this actually helps the way we feel on the inside even if only a little bit.
Small beauty rituals provide coping mechanisms for anyone and everyone. When we go through rough patches such as losing a job or even the death of a relative, a little self-care and pampering is good for anyone. Equally, when going into a work meeting or interviewing for a new job a fresh coat of lipstick can provide one with a confidence boost and help us feel ready to face it.
To say that make-up is “not feminist”, “just about vanity” or “only for men’s benefit” when it helps so many women (and men too) to feel better about themselves or their condition – it can even help manage pain levels – not to mention providing a livelihood and simple enjoyment for many is to me a bizarre statement showing very little understanding of women (and some men). If a person chooses not to wear make-up, to “embrace the skin they’re in” and the look they were born with naturally, more power to them. But to moralise at those of us who choose to use make-up for many reasons far more complicated than simply wanting to stare into a mirror like a modern Narcissus is badly thought out and shows a kind of ‘health’ or social privilege. Not all of us were lucky enough to be born blessed with a natural skin or look that the world at large finds acceptable, or that people (friends and strangers) don’t feel the need to comment on in a way that negatively affects our self-esteem. Step into our shoes and you will find that it quickly gets old when people are constantly pointing out how pale and ill we look, that we must need more sleep with dark circles like that, or how “disgusted” they are by our medication-induced acne.
In another post I’ll cover products I use to help paint on my normal “non-sick” looking face.