The Real Power of Makeup


At least, for me, anyway.


When I first got to Harvard, I would do my makeup every day. At the bare minimum, I’d wear some BB cream, fill in my eyebrows, throw on some concealer and mascara and be out the door. Other days I’d go all out with a full face of makeup, taking hours to blend in my eyeshadow just to sit in lecture for an hour and go back to sleep in my dorm room.

I wasn’t doing it to hide my face, or to make myself more attractive to other people. I wasn’t even doing it because I enjoyed the process of doing my makeup (because let’s be real, when you don’t work out, holding up a beauty blender can make your arm get sore quicker than you’d think).

I did my makeup every day back then because I took comfort in the act of taking care of myself. I felt better about my life when I was putting effort into my appearance. Every shadow applied, every sweep of my contour brush over my skin, every mark I made on my face made me feel a little more put together and a little more in control of my life.

I’ve come to notice a pattern in my daily habits.

When I’m feeling better about myself, I wear makeup. I take the time to coordinate my eye makeup with the color of my dress. I match my lipstick to my mood. I transform my skin into a canvas and turn my features into works of art. It’s not necessarily an act of using makeup as a crutch, it’s more an expression of the fact that I am capable of caring for myself.

When I’m not feeling good about myself, I don’t wear makeup. During those periods of my life, it’s all I can do to roll out of bed in the mornings and take a shower. I am unmotivated, unhappy, and uncaring. I don’t have time to do my makeup when I’m too occupied with hating something about myself or my life to spare a thought for my appearance.

Ever heard of wearing your heart on your sleeve? I wear it in the wings of my eyeliner, in the glitter on my eyelids, in the gloss on my lips.

I wear it in the undisguised dark circles under my eyes, my uneven skin tone, and in the scowl on my naked mouth.

I find that I really have to be in a good place to give a damn about my face. However, I haven’t always been that way.

In high school, I would wear makeup when I wanted to impress other people. At Model Congress competitions I would torture my hair into neat curls with a hot iron and paint my face to calm my anxiety.

In middle school, I’d use makeup to cover up my acne and fit in with my friends, who’d all use it for their own reasons, too. I was terrible at makeup back then, but I was always very pleased with myself when I’d smudge eyeliner on my waterline, wear foundation two shades too pale, and straighten my bangs so that they’d cover half of my face.

Makeup means something different for everyone. I’ve heard it compared to all sorts of things.





At different points in my life, it has been all of those things for me. Other times, it has been none of them, or only some. Regardless, the seasons change, good mental health comes and goes, and I wear my makeup with pride…or I don’t. And it’s fine either way.

This year I’ve been in a no-makeup kind of mood…for two months. Which is hard to reconcile with when I look at pictures of me from just this past summer, with my cheekbones highlighted to the nines and my eyelashes so long they could catch a breeze.

It only makes sense to me when I come to terms with the fact that I don’t feel like crap because I’m not wearing makeup. Rather, I’m not wearing makeup because I feel like crap.

And wow, that is hard to wrap my head around.

I feel like there’s always been this feeling in the back of my mind that makeup was supposed to make you feel better, that everyone knows you’re hiding your real face, that everyone thinks makeup is a crutch.

Harvard has taught me many things, but one of the most important things has been nothing, not makeup, not food, not my friends, and certainly not partying; will make me feel better unless I want to feel better.

Thus, my enjoyment of those things has always been based on how willing I am to enjoy anything in my life. What’s the point of wearing pink blush if I’m feeling gray on the inside?

I guess my main message here is this.

Makeup is powerful, not because it disguises who you are or lets you show your face to the world. It is powerful because you shine through it, look out from under it, and it can amplify the effect that wanting to live your life to the fullest can have on your appearance. It is power because it is a choice to take care. And it is wonderful, at least for me, anyway.

Alaya Ayala ‘21 ( is continuing to chronicle the ways that Harvard has shaped her perspective, even outside of class.

Check out this interesting article on BB creams!