Alicia Keys, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Hilary Clinton (albeit during her concession speech)…and now me. For the first time since I properly discovered the transformative qualities of make-up, some 15 years ago, I've had a hiatus.
Here’s the situation. I am a beauty editor so part of my job is to use the products I write about. And, don’t get me wrong, I love it. But, I was faced with an opportunity: I had two weeks booked off for a family holiday and it occurred to me this was the first time since the days of long lolling university summer holidays that I was going off the grid. I had no big nights out to get dolled up for, no colleagues to impress, just my family and any comments they made about my jet-lagged skin to contend with.
More and more women and putting down the make-up brush, and yet the beauty industry is experiencing astronomical growth. Valued at £9.77 billion (in 2017) in the UK, a lot of what is powering the change is the growth of interest in skincare. Brands like Fenty may be disrupting the cosmetic counters, but the real drive in consumption is because of specialist, independent brands like Glossier, Sand & Sky and The Ordinary, which make the epidermis their premium concern. But, what's the point of the non-stop treadmill of cleansers, exfoliatiors, retinol, AHA's, moisturisers and serums if we continue to slap on foundation?
Like a safety blanket, I packed my make-up bag. Each bottle had their lid’s diligently taped down and anything that could possibly break was swaddled in padding. When my alarm tilled at 6 am and I set off for the airport I was barefaced and stayed that way for 14 whole days. Over the course of the next fortnight, I realized two things in no particular order:
1. My skincare regime makes more of a difference than any make-up possibly could.
I think I used make-up as a lifeline, a bandaid for being lazy at looking after my skin. But, having a consistent and reactive routine that relies on the foundations of cleanser, micellar water and moisturizer was all it took to get a glow without daubs of highlighter.`
2. It’s brave.
It may sound silly, but living in a society that puts pressure on women to fit a certain ideal, rebelling against it albeit in a small way can push you out of your comfort zone. Having spent over a decade seeing myself in a certain way, I had to reacclimatize to what my face looked like without mascara, without bronzer, without a hint of lipstick. Once I got used to seeing those bags and felt ready to claim them as my own, I felt liberated.
Frankly, the conversation around female beauty standards is changing. Helen Mirren, as the face of L’Oreal, hit back at the concept of ‘anti-ageing’ products and Alicia Keys has been vocal about giving up this toolkit for good. Even brands are reconsidering the spokespeople they use for campaigns and championing diversity in a way never seen before. Just this week, Zoe Kravitz wrote on Instagram, ‘Apparently, I am one of the first/ few brown women to be the face of a couture fragrance. Wow. Let’s keep it keep it goin sisters’ about her new role as ambassador of Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium. What I did wasn’t radical or even exceptional and was certainly made simpler by society's changing attitudes, but I learnt about myself from it was for me.
While I have gone back to using make-up regularly, I’ll always value the break I had. By going cold turkey I got to know my face again, I saw how it had aged, how it looked first thing and in the harsh lights of public transport. It taught me to be easier on my face, to care a little less about outside expectations and care a little more for myself.