Make-Up and It's Affect On Self Esteem


For some people going make up free isn’t an option, for others it’s no big deal. In 2015, when I first began to challenge myself to not wear make-up it was extremely difficult. My appearance related anxiety began when I was very young. At about 12 years of age I started wearing make-up and at 15 I developed a mild eating disorder. My appearance has always affected my self esteem, and not in a good way!


When I left my job to start a business I began to feel vulnerable and exposed. I turned to red heals, straight hair and concealer to give me frequently needed boosts in confidence. Make-up became a part of my every day ritual and I rarely put myself out there unless "I had my face on".

I began to need make-up and this made me feel uncomfortable. My job is to help women develop a healthy sense of self and confidence and I was beginning to discover that make-up was a massive barrier preventing so many women from increasing their self esteem and feeling truly beautiful.   

I wanted to explore what it would be like to become MY own body image advocate which, for me, meant I that I would treat myself in the same way I would treat my future daughter or best friend – with love and kindness. It meant that I would try to be the woman that I was searching for on Instagram - a woman who was comfortable with her appearance, less self conscious and more compassionate.


Was it possible for me to feel as beautiful without make up and I did with it? The honest answer was I didn't know, because I never tried.


Outward appearance can have an impact on our self esteem, but I was beginning to crave something so much deeper. Often times, we don’t even realize how much it affects us until we are not wearing it. Imagine it’s Monday morning, and you’re running later for work so you throw on your clothes and even though you intended to put your make up on in the car, you forgot to bring your make-up bag with you. You feel different, don’t you? Maybe you make less eye contact or say no to your boss when he asks you to join a meeting? Chances are, you feel less confident because you aren’t wearing any makeup.  

Our personal reasons for wearing make-up will all be different. Some women will choose to wear it because of how it makes them feel, some women will wear it for other people, some use it as a creative outlet, passion or source of joy but some women will wear it because they think their face looks better with it.


When make-up is a choice it can feel like an empowering and creative outlet. But for a lot women this choice is veiled by a lack of self-esteem reinforcing a belief that we only look good with it. And that we can only feel good, if we look good.

Women who are more self-conscious may tend to wear more makeup, and judge themselves to be more attractive when wearing makeup, so they might act more confidently and the people they interact with may respond to that confidence in a more positive way. This self fulfilling prophecy may reinforce the belief that we look better (are better!) when we wear make-up. 

Within the body positive community 'privilege' refers to the idea that if you have what society and culture deem as beautiful – height, thick hair, clear skin, thinness etc – you are more socially acceptable. 


I know that my decision to go bare faced is not the same as someone who suffers from chronic acne or scarring but I know that my feelings are still valid (as are yours). 


But sometimes I feel that my experiences are perceived by others as inferior - that my appearance related anxiety, eating disorder or challenges aren't the same because of this privilege. For such a long time my decision to wear make-up, exercise or dress a certain way was because I felt I had to do these things before I could feel good about myself (happy, successful and beautiful). Because society and culture made me feel like I was't enough the way that I was. 


My feelings of worth, value and beauty were tied to my appearance but my appearance was a construct – my face was painted on, my hair was styled, my outfits were selected based off what was trendy at the time. Beauty meant one thing, and one thing only... how I looked on the outside!


I am extremely proud of the steps that I have taken to challenge myself. I believe that as women we are more than able to make decisions related to our own bodies, how we express our creativity and our femininity. I just want to feel empowered by my decision to wear make up or not. I wanted my decision to come from a place of self assurance, confidence and most of all, compassion!


When you decide to ditch the make-up you have to start to look inside yourself for the confidence you thought only make-up could provide. There is something so incredibly powerful about discovering how to remedy negative body image, low self-esteem and low self-confidence from the inside, OUT.


Don't get me wrong, I love getting a new foundation or mascara as much as you. However, I now believe I don't need them to feel good. I don’t believe that make up makes me any more valuable, worthy or beautiful.

I believe that relying on beauty boosters will reinforce low esteem because it allows us to present ourselves in what ever way we chose. It empowers us to hide behind and erase our perceived weaknesses and flaws. And whats worse is that we're becoming very comfortable with these fake realities! 

However, in saying this if putting on makeup makes you feel less self-conscious or relieves any appearance related anxiety than I think it is OK to use this boost to kick start your confidence building journey. However, for A LOT of women we use (and rely) on make-up to hide our perceived flaws and present perfectly curated versions of ourselves and this is where where we begin to develop negative associations to make-up. 

Before you apply your make up ask yourself "Do I need this or do I want this?". And if your answer is derived from want, you must then ask yourself "Will I still feel good with out it?

Forming an unhealthy relationship to make-up will only steer you further and further away from truly connecting with your authenticity, value and worth. A sense of self that cannot be found with concealer, mascara and bronzer. A sense of self, freedom and confidence unlike anything you have hoped for is bare faced, raw and unedited.

Your self-esteem is not contingent upon make-up and your capacity to feel (and be!) beautiful extends far beyond perfectly contoured cheeks, fluttering eye lashes and full lips.  


If you would like to read my 2015 blog about my Make Up Free Challenge, click here.


Sarah is a life coach and motivational speaker. As the co-founder of The Better Life Project and creator of L-Schoo, she’s the “go to” life coach for anyone feeling stuck in a rut, lacking in confidence or struggling with low self-esteem or body image. Sarah offers life coaching and mentoring services and works with clients in person in Dublin, Ireland and over Skype around the world.

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