I want to be in control of everything. I live through my color-coded planner, take actual delight in alphabetizing my address book, and I clean my apartment when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed. To convince myself that I’m in control of everything, I micromanage what seems like close-to-nothing. The world could be falling apart and burning down around me (which, have you seen 2017? Because, hello, it is.), but I tell myself that I handle it: I just refolded my pajama drawer, so at least there’s a semblance of order somewhere on this garbage planet.
But the holidays throw a wrench into routine. For the first time in weeks, many of us are allotted free time to think and to do and visit and to eat. We’re allowed to go to the mall in the afternoon, to set an automated email reply. Commute times fade into the background and responsibilities morph into grey areas. If we sleep in until 10 a.m., our lives won’t come crashing down and we won’t work fuelled by caffeine, anxiety, and the mental note that if we don’t try harder and do better, we’re going to lose it all. (Even though we obviously won’t.) We have time to breathe.
Which is stressful in its own right. As an anxious person who thrives on professional productivity, the stress of holiday-oriented “nothing” (but also everything) is the most frustrating kind. I can’t lose myself in work, in “look what I did,” in crossing assignments off a to-do list. My priorities shift to hanging out and having fun, surrounded by people I’ve known since I was a kid. And while I love my family and I love my friends, the lack of structure can morph into a mindgame by the third or fourth consecutive day.
“My relationship with makeup has evolved into mental and emotional assistant over time.”
Shortly after a particularly stressful holiday, I remember thinking about the way makeup and beauty served me as anti-anxiety tools. In the midst of feeling panicked, I zeroed in on eyeliner, on lipstick, on the way I applied highlighter. A narrative hijacked by disaster and even the quiet madness that comes with family interactions began to seem less daunting when fixating on the whether my cat eyes were even or if I’d blended my blush. The loudness of real life begins to quiet when the world briefly consists only of debating lip color. Makeup is a dream for micromanagers: a thousand little decisions, all of which demanding perfection and attention.
It’s also the ultimate battle armor — a means of suiting up to face the situations we dread the most or even to face the world on a normal day. It’s the costume we put on when we need to play the best versions of ourselves and not be the mere mortals riddled with self-doubt or anxiety (or toiling with Real Life™ problems we’re not ready to talk about yet). It’s the friend who distracts the masses from looking too closely at the signs that you’re not feeling yourself, or that everything has been a little too much. I mean, hi: it’s nearly impossible to peek behind the curtain when’s Fenty Beauty becomes the topic of conversation instead.
And of course, like everyone, my relationship with makeup has evolved into mental and emotional assistant over time. I began wearing it to feel grown up, to be noticed by boys, to hide the flaws in my face the prettiest girls in school didn’t seem to battle with. At times, I denounced it, reacting in embarrassment to how much of my relationship with beauty hinged on the male gaze, and later into my 20s, I began to reclaim it, deciding (fucking finally) that any makeup I wore would be for me.
“Makeup is a dream for micromanagers: a thousand little decisions, all of which demanding perfection and attention.”
Then one summer, my anxiety began to pick up. And as I found myself lost in the realm of what-ifs, I began to use my morning (or afternoon or evening) routines as a reprieve from thinking about how everything could possibly go wrong. I’d spend my 10, 20, and 30 minutes micromanaging what I could physically see and change with my hands. My world, while small, finally felt manageable. Change your makeup, change your life. Or at least convince yourself that you were in control of something.
Which faded into the background over the course of life’s assured peaks and valleys and, most importantly, finding a way to work that didn’t send me into the throws of anxiety or the fear of defeat. But then the holidays came last year, and as a bevy of circumstances made me feel like everything was collapsing inward, I picked my old trick back up: I may have lost someone, but for five minutes I could control the way I applied my tinted moisturizer. At least I could zoom in on how much eye shadow to apply. At least I could physically touch a product and decide its outcome. The illusion of control over things you can’t is important. And makeup helped me trick my brain into thinking not everything had to be so big.
“Makeup helped me trick my brain into thinking not everything had to be so big.”
And that’s not to say makeup is the replacement for therapy, for communication, or for what you and your doctor have decided will help you maintain your mental health. But it is a tool. And in the moments where my lack of deadlines, lack of structure, or the feeling of in-between begins to envelope my week and my mood, it helps to hang out in a small microcosm of the beauty world where, for at least a few moments, you are totally and completely in control and you decide who you’re going to be that day.
Now, watch Jaclyn Hill un-box this month’s Beauty Box: