There are many things in my life that I used to genuinely think I didn't deserve. Serious job offers have made me feel like an imposter, while accepting compliments from loving friends or partners was previously impossible. But my belief that I didn't deserve beauty or beauty rituals is one that has affected my self-esteem the most, especially through the years that I've struggled with mental illness and chronic pain. I used to correlate beauty with health; and so I used these routines as rewards for a good day. The bad days, on the other hand, I rejected as the dark and "shameful" times I believed them to be.
I began showing interest in beauty and makeup around the time I was graduating from high school, after being taught for years that cosmetics were all about neutral tones and femininity. A fashion-obsessed girl I was friends with opened my eyes to the world of high couture and ignited my excitement for alternative beauty through a number of blogs she religiously read.
However, I was still burdened with a number of symptoms from my chronic illness. I spent many days afflicted with migraines, nausea, soreness, fatigue, and/or intense anxiety, and consequently looked a little worse for wear on particularly symptomatic days.
Though I was having a blast getting to know winged eyeliner and purple lipstick, I thought it inappropriate to indulge in these centering and self-affirming beauty routines when I was having a bad day. What was the point of wearing makeup if I wasn't beautiful, after all?
I figured that a swipe of red pigment or a quick dusting of shimmery powder would be completely wasted on my sickly skin and ugly illness. I didn't want to be even more visible when it was already apparent that something was wrong with me, thanks to sallow cheeks, a slow limp, and puffy eyes. But since taking care of myself via beauty felt so powerful to me, rejecting it often made me feel so depressed that I wouldn't leave the house at all.
This sort of attitude was very damaging for a number reasons. For one, it was nonsensical and cruel to tell myself that I wasn't beautiful or worthy of being seen, simply because I was ill and suffered with disabilities. But regardless of logic, having a chronic illness can be an extremely frustrating and othering experience. It's difficult to feel beautiful when so much of your life already involves tremendous effort.
My insistence on banning my precious makeup on the darker days made self-care of any kind much more difficult, though. My refusal to wear my favorite lipstick or rock my brand new eyeshadow evolved into difficulty with summoning up the courage to exercise, take all my pills, or hydrate properly when my meds were making me even sicker.
Determined not to mix what made me feel good with the challenges I faced, I did everything I could not to “taint” my newfound makeup passion. And in doing so, I taught myself that my disordered body didn't deserve care, satisfaction, or the beauty routines that I so deeply enjoyed.
These days, however, I treat myself more kindly and am armed with greater knowledge and emotional support that helps me see that nothing about my health issues could ever be my fault. By depriving myself of engaging in beauty rituals on the days when I felt ill (which, in my teenhood, was just about every day), I was essentially punishing myself for being sick. This not only blocked me from having a better sense of body positivity surrounding my disordered form, but created more obstacles for me regarding my treatment.
If I didn't think I deserved a face mask — if I didn't deserve to rock funky-colored lipstick to my IV appointments — then I also wasn't worthy of other relaxing and self-sustaining exercises. And when so much of my illness required me to treat my body incredibly well, this logic created a cycle of more and more of these bad days.
At almost 22 and with over a year of relearning how to treat my body under my belt, I never go out of my way to punish myself anymore. I engage in my beauty ritual of face washing, masking, swiping, dusting, dabbing, and illuminating whenever I want to, regardless of what my symptoms are or aren't. Heck, I sometimes even save going all-out with my makeup for the symptom-filled bedridden moments when I need my products most: The days when I need loving support from a makeup kit most.
Ultimately, there's nothing ugly about my illness, my ailing body, or the resilience of my spirit and form. Everything about me is beautiful and in need of care (and extra TLC come harder times).
Now I show up for myself, brushing my favorite highlighting powder all over my face to the beat of my throbbing migraine. Because no matter how I'm feeling — no matter what I look like — I am a powerful force that deserves the magic of a beauty ritual. A little nausea or vomiting, particularly when these sorts of experiences are your everyday reality, don't make that any less true.
So on your worst days, roll over in bed, swipe some bright lippie on, and feel like the deserving and beautiful goddess that you are, aches, pains, and all.
Images: Meg Zulch