Feeling Myself (ft. Makeup) Part I: Beauty, Identity and Introductions

feeling myself

It’s not a stretch to say that women of color have our own fraught relationship with beauty and coping with imperfection. Despite the beauty industry’s globalization, America’s collective obsession with k-beauty trends, and the fact that the purchasing power of the black community is more than a trillion dollars annually, we live in a culture that tends to value Euro-centric standards of beauty. In this series entitled “Feeling Myself”, I’d like to take a look at the cosmetic bags and brains of a diverse group of future power-players and really hear what these young women have to say about beauty and identity.

As much as I like to call myself an intersectional feminist, at heart, I’m a bad feminist who can only explain cognitive dissonance by wringing my hands and screaming in my best Liz Lemon voice, “being a human woman is the worst! Because society!” And that’s all the explanation anyone should ever need. I could go into dialectical rhetoric and bring up Alice Walker texts I furiously googled beforehand in order to prove certain points, but it doesn’t feel quite necessary at the moment as I’ll be taking a more empirical approach to these theories.

I believe I should forward this with a breakdown of who you’re talking to and why I’m Feeling Myself.

I’m a cisgendered nineteen-year-old Korean-American girl. Monolids but with the “hidden double eyelids” only other Asians can perceive. Thin but nearly driven to tears trying on jeans at a Hollister. Able-bodied, able-minded, hair that white and Chinese people see as straight but Koreans will describe as “curly” because the concept is relative, I suppose. By the way, my eyes are football-shaped, not almond-shaped.

But I still feel gross unhappy things that I’m not necessarily “entitled” to feel.

If it sounds like I’m on the defense here, I am. I’m almost always aware of the privilege my appearance brings me. No employer will ever tell me that my hair is unacceptable or “unprofessional.” People don’t tell their children to stop staring at my wheelchair. I know, I know, I know, I know my life is exceptionally good and that I’m incredibly fortunate.

But I still feel gross unhappy things that I’m not necessarily “entitled” to feel. Because <wrings hands> society.

Skincare is quite a production, but all in all worth it.

Ever since the Glossier Invisible Shield sunscreen came out in all its beautifully packaged glory, I’ve been trying to be more conscientious about wearing sunblock. I’m so glad sunscreen was able to rebrand itself. I bet its agent was super pumped. I’m very scared of cancer. I use this very bougie sunscreen from Face Shop on my face for a cooling effect.

I used to be pretty low-maintenance about skincare. My skincare routine consisted of my dermatologist-recommended Cerave cleanser and moisturizer in the morning and at night. I used Onexton (benzoyl peroxide + clindamycin) in the mornings and prescription tretinoin at night, though I used Differin gel before, which was also effective. I regularly picked at my face and would only remember to treat it with a hydrocolloid bandage sometimes. I never wore make-up or covered up blemishes until last semester and at senior prom. I still mess up my face sometimes by picking at it, but I’ve tried to curb that habit.

I’ve been a victim of both eczema and skin-picking for many years, so my fingers are an absolute wreck. I keep forgetting to put lotion on them. My mom’s HG hand cream is this shea butter stuff from L’Occitane and I’ve also been prescribed a steroid to stimulate skin growth which I don’t really put on because I’m too lazy. In elementary school I used to put on these gel gloves to sleep after putting on lotion and medication on my hands, and as effective as they’d be at preserving moisture, it would make my hands smell absolutely disgusting when I woke up.

feeling myself

I’ve recently incorporated the occasional Korean face mask and my set of serums into the mix, so we’ll see how it goes. I found that the Ordinary released serums with the same active ingredients as Glossier except at a much lower cost, and I appreciate that as a brand, as they seem to be transparent about their motives. [Super Pure (redness/inflammation) dupe, Super Glow (Vitamin C) dupe, Super Bounce (moisture) dupe.] I’m also trying to give my face that dewy look that is so trendy among the youths and using my medication less frequently, alternating between the retinol and benzoyl peroxide every day.

I’m supposed to shower every other day, but there are times when I don’t do that because I’ll just get tired. It’s uh, not optimal. I’ll admit that to myself. So just warning you: if you see me in a hat, there’s a good chance I did not shower the previous day. Most people don’t notice, or at least they don’t say anything. I don’t drink, so there’s a plus. My skin’s probably thanking me for that. But I’ll also be totally willing to go to class in the morning without washing my face if I’m in a rush. I’ll just wipe the crust off my eyes, put on a pair of running shorts and run out the door. The commute might be better next semester because I recently bought a pair of joggers. An hour will not make a difference in terms of oil production. I put on a hat. It’s fine. No one in my 9 am Chaucer class cares.

Fortunately for my skin and unfortunately for my psyche and wallet, I’ve also absorbed a bit of that urgency for physical self-improvement.

The Makeup Bag Deep Dive and other observations.

Both my medications have a drying effect, so there’s a bit of visible peeling every now and then. The dryness is visible when I put makeup on, unfortunately. I try to avoid a sort of caked-on look because I don’t quite need full coverage, so I use the Glossier stretch concealer and the skin tint. I’m trying to find less expensive dupes for them once I run out, though. I’ve also bought a primer and a setting powder (which I also use to matify a red lipstick) to make sure that it all stays on and doesn’t become too oily. I don’t use the setting powder that frequently, though.

I don’t really know how to do makeup looks. I suppose my cat-eye is respectable, but I don’t do it frequently because visible make-up aside from tinted balms make me feel a little self-conscious. Whatever it is, it’s the same reason I don’t like it when I’m wearing shoes and I can hear the heels click. I don’t want to draw attention to myself in that way, maybe because I have a very young-looking face and all that feels like an unconvincing pantomime of adulthood. Maybe when I’m really feeling myself, I’ll do a red lip and wear it with sweats and go for a bike ride.

Other than that, I see makeup as a game where you get to paint yourself fun colors. I’m a bit experimental within the confines of my room. I’ve struggled to accomplish this graphic eyeliner and Arabelle Sicardi’s rainbow face tutorial. The graphic eyeliner was a real bust, but the rainbow tutorial made me look like a cast member of The Lion King, so it worked out alright. When I first saw that picture of the graphic eyeliner on Tumblr, I was so happy because her eyes looked so much like mine and it’s difficult to see that specific sort of hooded monolid in the beauty world. I can’t really follow the same procedures as a double-eyelidded person to get the same look. I don’t really like the idea of creating a cut crease for a pseudo-double eyelid because it looks a little strange on me. I’m still gathering up the spunk to wear purple lipstick or interesting eyeshadow things.

I think I’ve become much more self-conscious of my face because since I entered college. I’ve sensed that the people around me were a bit more concerned with their appearance. It makes sense. The stakes are higher and many college students are sexually viable adults who need to appeal to a certain demographic. Fortunately for my skin and unfortunately for my psyche and wallet, I’ve also absorbed a bit of that urgency for physical self-improvement. I’m not sure what to make of it.

I’ve never been one to look at a celebrity or influential figure and think, “I want to make my nose and eyes exactly like hers.” Before entering college, I’d never met anyone who was openly dissatisfied with their looks. But freshman year, I was inundated with other people’s fundamental discontent with their weight, breasts, noses, in a way that I never had before. It forced me to question the relationship between self-empowerment, the male gaze, and what right I even have to question other people’s dissatisfaction in the first place.

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Also published on Medium.