"Makeup Made My Anxiety Manageable:" 5 People on Using Makeup for Self-Care

How personal expression through makeup helped five individuals find self-love, happiness and a sense of identity

Self-care might be an Instagram buzz word that gets tossed around with increased frequency, but it’s more than a passing trend. According to Psych Central, self-care encompasses any activity that aids in mental and emotional health. And in these fraught times of political and social unrest, self-care—in all its forms—is more crucial than ever.

While makeup is sometimes written off as frivolous or superficial, for many people it’s a major part of their self-care routine that allows them to both manage their mental health and career stressors, and connect with their cultural heritage, sexuality or gender identity.

We spoke to five people who explain, in their own words, why their makeup ritual not only helps them take care of themselves, but feel like their truest selves.

(Photo: Courtesy of Kay Gallinger)

Kay Gallinger, 24, @europamilkshake
Student, Toronto

“I started wearing makeup when I was 14 or 15. Growing up and being socialized as a straight boy, I never felt like I could access makeup from a feminine perspective. Then a couple years ago, I met my mentor and adopted drag queen mother, Tiger Lily, through a queer youth theatre program in Toronto. She helped me find power in my queer feminine qualities, and she gave me tips on blending, using lipstick as blush, contouring and gluing eyebrows for drag shows. Since then I’ve been able to own makeup as a form of expression and self-care, presenting myself the way I want the world to see me and the way I want to see myself.

“A lot of my hyperfeminine, big, bold makeup looks are inspired by drag queen and leather communities, and the history of trans women and trans femmes. I love bringing that queerness into my science lab at school by wearing makeup there, in an environment that is typically academic and stuffy. You can use makeup to help make gender an exciting, playful, more expressive thing.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Yasaman Gheidi)

Yasaman Gheidi, 28, @lilmoonchildd
Blogger, Vancouver

“My first experience with makeup was when I discovered goth makeup. Everywhere I went, people [stared] at goths—and growing up as a Middle Eastern person in Idaho post-9/11, I was already being stared at in the same way. Goth makeup became a part of my identity, and that was the first time I got to know makeup and used it to define who I was.

“When I first created the #insideoutchallenge in January 2017, (where I paint one half of my face to represent what it looks like to live with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder), I wanted to challenge people to be more kind towards [those with mental illness], to be more empathetic… and to not judge it so much. I felt that mental health wasn’t taken seriously because it’s something people can’t see, and when people can’t see pain it’s hard to relate to it. So I decided I would create this challenge in an attempt to get them to understand that it’s a real thing.” [More 1,800 people have participated in the #insideoutchallenge on Instagram since Gheidi launched it.]

(Photo: Courtesy of Ayla Shiblaq)

Ayla Shiblaq, 22, @harammami
Student; Toronto

“I never really cared about makeup throughout most of my life. Then, before senior year of university, I was working two jobs, an internship and [going to] school. I found myself burned out. I was having anxiety attacks three times a week. One day I’d just had a shitty day, so I sat down and pulled out videos of this British YouTuber called I Covet Thee. I went into an eight-hour black hole of watching all her videos. When I came out of it, I felt calm. I discovered the ‘no-makeup’ makeup trend, [realizing] this definitely works for me. I don’t always feel great, but the idea is maybe if I can make myself look great, I’ll feel a little better. Makeup made my anxiety a little bit more manageable, and having that part of my routine that I could have full control over, adjust and play with and [match] my mood was a huge comfort to me.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Eden Rohatensky)

Eden Rohatensky, 26, @etc_makeupandbeauty
Musician, web developer and writer; Montreal

“I got really serious about makeup when I started my musical project Also Also Also in 2016. At the time, I was in the process of coming out as non-binary and trying to figure out what that meant in terms of my appearance. Now, wearing makeup is a way for me to be way more comfortable with my gender identity—being able to restructure my face, focus on the parts I really enjoy, like my eyes. If someone looked at me without makeup, they’d probably just see a white girl, but I’m not a girl. It’s really hard to showcase myself in a way where my queer identity becomes clear, and being really exaggerated with my eye makeup, using neon eyeshadows and fake lashes, is a way of projecting it.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Nabiha Paracha)

Nabiha Paracha, 23, @np_mugz_
Student, Toronto

“I was born in Pakistan and moved to Toronto for school when I was 19. In Pakistan, most women don’t wear makeup unless it’s their wedding day, otherwise it’s labeled as ‘promiscuous’ and has negative connotations in our culture. So, coming to Canada was the first time I really encountered makeup. It allowed me to represent myself in a different way. When I was young, people would say that I was a tomboy… I thought that acting like a boy was what made you powerful. Once I came to Canada, I embraced myself and realized that you could be feminine and still be strong.”

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