“But you don’t look sick.”
A statement so many people with chronic illness are tired of hearing. Say that to someone with a chronic illness and what they’ll really want to do is slap you upside the head and say, “That’s because I spent 20 minutes perfecting my face this morning!”
Honestly, we all know makeup can turn anyone into a beauty; that’s what it was invented for! A little foundation can hide some blemishes and even out your skin tone. It’s amazing what eyeliner and mascara can do to bring out your eyes. And your choice of lip color is a subtle way of saying, “I’m off to work” or “I’m ready to party!”
But what if you get to the point in your chronic illness where you just don’t care what you look like anymore?
*raises hand* That would be me.
I’ve regularly worn makeup since I was 12. Once I started doing my own stage makeup, I learned how to tone it down to an easy beauty routine and appropriate look for a 6th grader. (Foundation, eyeshadow, mascara, and Lip Smackers lip gloss!)
Once I became an adult, I wouldn’t dare leave the house without makeup on. Even if it was a weekend and I wasn’t going anywhere, I would still put some foundation on so I wouldn’t entirely hate the sight of myself in the mirror. I even used to wear full makeup when I worked night shift at the hospital. But it wasn’t long before my night shift and weekend (no matter which shift) beauty routine was demoted to a ponytail and some foundation.
Then I started to get sick.
December 2015. I specifically remember feeling out of place at work because I was wearing my “casual” weekend clothes on a weekday day shift: khakis and a merino wool top. But I had been in too much pain that morning to care as I dressed myself. Even though I was rounding on the general pediatrics floors that day, I knew my white coat, which fell just below my knees, would hide most of my outfit anyway. It was also a ponytail and foundation day, although I may have managed some mascara. My pelvic pain had me stuffing a ThermaCare heat wrap into my panties to provide some relief as I stood on my feet rounding for several hours. At this point, the source of my pain was unknown, but a few days later, it was proven to be four ovarian cysts, a gift from two failed cycles of Clomid. What joyous news. Such were our fertility struggles at the time.
Then 2016 happened. My migraines were so frequent that on the days I did manage to drag myself to work, the thought of looking presentable was honestly laughable. Ugly ponytails and foundation were my “beauty” mask. (And no, I’m not saying ponytails are ugly, but since my hair was so short at the time, the ponytail was just a little knob that looked quite strange.) For awhile I managed to keep full makeup going when I worked second shift, having more time to prepare myself before heading into work. But before long, it was strictly ugly ponytail and foundation at all times.
Fast forward. There was the one day I laughably tried to go back to work last October six weeks after my brain surgery. It took me hours to get ready because I was so fatigued, a warning sign I was told by my doctors to ignore. (That was a huge mistake.) Since that disastrous day, I haven’t worked in 14 months, and I’ll be officially out of a job any time now. I rarely leave the house anymore. So I’ve certainly gotten out of the habit of even attempting to look presentable. As a result, on the rare day I do leave the house, I’m wearing glasses, zero makeup, and sweats. Aside from washing my face, no beauty regimen at all.
And quite frankly, I don’t care.
Why should I care what other people think? Why should I feel that I have to put stuff all over my face just to keep from horrifying the general public? Do I truly offend people by showing my natural face?
Ok, time for some raw pictures to prove my point.
This day, in March. Somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to drive myself to a doctor’s appointment. I wore my migraine prevention glasses from Axon Optics because it was a sunny day. But no make-up on this face. Do my acne spots offend you?
This day, in April. I actually put my contacts in because I was having a surveillance MRI and I wanted to be able to see while I was in the tube with the noisy gremlins. But no makeup. Why bother? I’m actually not even sure I brushed my hair that day. Eh. (But I have General Pit, my happy pituitary squishy, because I was found to be tumor free!)
This day, a Sunday in January. If you want to know what depression looks like, here’s an example. My POTS was out of control with no help in sight for another six months. I had just woken up, hence the bedhead. Unwashed (don’t freak out, it was only two days. I remember taking a shower after taking this picture.) Really no need for makeup for this sad face. And I wasn’t trying to look sad; that’s just how my face set itself back then. I cried a lot in those days. Almost every day.
Another winter Sunday. Not leaving the house, so why do I need the makeup?
Yes, I know my face is lopsided, as the geneticist so kindly reminded me. I’ve been self-conscious about it since 8th grade. He’s presuming I had Bell’s Palsy at some point, but I have no memory of such a thing happening. It would have had to have occurred in 7th grade (12-13 years old) based on my school pictures. He also said my eyes are wide-set (what does that even mean?) Do geneticists exist to tell you how much you don’t look normal?
But if there’s one unique thing that has come out of being sidelined from the world due to chronic illnesses, it’s that I’m no longer ashamed of my face without makeup. Am I pretty? No, but why should I care? I’m 31 and happily married. For the most part, my skin thanks me for the reprieve of my current “beauty regimen” of just washing my face once or twice a day. Also, my eyelashes have actually grown longer in the months since I last used mascara or any eye makeup for that matter.
To my fellow chronic illness ladies: if keeping up with makeup is your thing, go for it! If it makes you feel better about yourself, do it. I know it’s a sort of ritual that many women find comfort in; I know I used to.
But remember: you have nothing to prove to the world. You don’t need to pretend to have your life together when you don’t.
For me, my makeup rebellion is my way of saying to the world, “Yes, I’m sick. I have chronic illnesses. And I don’t care what you think.”
And for the very first time in my life, with regards to how I feel about my appearance, that’s the absolute truth.