My Faux Natural Face

I must have been 10 or 11 years old when I asked my mother if it would be ok if I wore just a little bit of eyeliner to school every day. Her answer? A firm NO. I accepted it without question because this was the 1980s when pre-teen girls were expected to look like children, not like mini prostitutes, and none of my friends wore makeup. Still, I would spend hours in my room playing with the bits of makeup I had managed to collect (thankfully, I had aunts and cousins willing to indulge my proclivities). I thought I could get away with frosty pale blue liner (on the bottom lid only, this was the 80s), but I probably owe my mom some serious gratitude for preventing that fashion disaster.

Years later, I was frequently shocked when clients of the cosmetic counter where I worked told me they wanted only a very light makeup, similar to what I was wearing. “Lady,” I felt like saying, “do you know how much crap goes into creating this so-called natural face?” Invariably, I would apply subdued colours sparingly to the features of the delighted woman in my makeup chair and keep the sparkly oranges and corals for my own skin.

No Makeup (hair dyeing 2013) vs. Full Makeup (New Year's eve 2015)

No Makeup (hair dyeing 2013) vs. Full Makeup (New Year’s eve 2015)

I think my fake natural look started taking shape at around age 12. That’s when I first tweezed my eyebrows, a practice I’ve kept up ever since. The brows Mother Nature gave me are an overgrown jumble of fine wispy hairs completely ineffective in their role of framing my eyes. They had to go! In subsequent years, I became a grungy environmentalist teen. The overall impression was still very much of a natural girl in plaid and army boots, but one with rather defined arches. There were other secret rituals: I would spray the hair on my head each morning (much to the surprise of friends) in order to give it volume, and I maintained a depilation routine unusual for a tree-hugger whose legs were never seen between the months of September and May.

Things changed most dramatically after I attended makeup school. There the beauty regimen I follow today was born. The products and techniques have evolved, but the ritual remains. These days, on a Saturday afternoon when all I plan to do is go for a stroll without really caring about how I look, I’m still unlikely to leave the house without at least concealer, eyebrow powder, bronzer, and mascara on my curled lashes. I’ll often throw on a bit of black eyeliner while I’m at it (might as well). For a regular work day, there’s the added face powder, plus 3 different eyeshadows. Obviously, an evening out requires the addition of highlighters, and lip glosses or lipstick, on top of all that.


1980s Madonna: many afternoons were spent in my room trying to recreate this

Why do I do it, am I so insecure about my bare face that the thought of letting the world see my #nomakeupselfie scares the bejeezus out of me? No, not at all. In fact, there are situations in which I gladly omit makeup; many photos of plain freckle faced beach Brenda exist on the web as proof. It’s just that every morning I get to have a transformative experience. I dive into the same mindspace I’d go into when I was 9 years old and putting on Madonna makeup with friends in my room. For me, the Madonna game wasn’t about singing and dancing (though those were fun too), it was about the transformation — headbands, bracelets, teased hair (even though mine never cooperated), and eyeliner galore!

These days, the face I’m putting on isn’t pop star, it’s Professional Brenda. And I enjoy it. It’s my mental, as well as physical, preparation before going out into the world. Everyone makes choices about what’s important to them. For me, the 10 minutes I spend “putting on” my face are non-negotiable. My faux natural visage makes me feel put together and the journey from bare faced to painted up is a reliably pleasant part of every day.


  1. Ugh, makeup is the one skill I totally fail at – I was never interested as a teen and I think I missed some key formative years, when experimentation was allowed and would have taught me what to do with all that stuff. Now that I’m aging (ungracefully!), I’m interested in a “light, natural look” but have no idea how to put on any of that stuff. I think I’ll make it my “turning 50” goal – figure out how to put on the bloody eyeliner!

  2. I love the idea of makeup, subscribe to Ipsy, and spend tonnes at Sephora. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
    I begged my mother to be allowed to wear lipstick when I was 12. Of course, I left that lipstick in my pocket, which went through the wash, and then melted in the dryer – all over teh whole load of clean clothes, ruining everything, and getting lipstick banned from our house for a LONG time.

    • Too funny! I’m glad you’re not afraid to experiment even if you feel unsure of your skills. I’m slightly intrigued by the idea of a beauty box, such as Ipsy, but then I think – NO! I already have way too much makeup.

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