New York, New York, USA
May 27
The Beheld
I write The Beheld (, a blog examining our concepts of beauty, using interviews with women whose professions and passions lend them a keen insight into personal appearance; analysis of news, business, economics, and culture; beauty experiments; and personal essays.


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APRIL 17, 2012 3:35AM

Concealer: Makeup and Addiction

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Hope in a jar.

If I use the phrase "addicted to makeup," I'm usually referring to how uncomfortable I feel going out in most social situations without the stuff. The reasons I'm uncomfortable are a post of their own, but they boil down to the same old story: feeling as though what I'm bringing to the table isn't quite good enough; wanting to conceal "flaws." There are plenty of other reasons I wear makeup—and I'm pleased to report those reasons are generally more positive or at least less of a psychological downer—but as far as using the word addicted, that's what I mean. More important, that's how I most often hear it when others use the word.

Reading this interview with Cat Marnell—the beauty editor at xoJane whose extraordinarily candid pieces on her ongoing experirences with drugs are painful, provocative, and radically subjective—prompted me to wonder if there are other forms of makeup addiction. "I'm bad all of the time, and beauty products are fixing me," she told a reporter from New York. "Without beauty products, I would have never gotten through my life. I owe everything to them. They've afforded me unlimited debauchery." The interview took place on the eve of her entering rehab, heavily suggested (mandated?) by her employer; she was apparently high during the interview. "Unlimited debauchery" in that context means something different than it might to a casual user. To be blunt, it means something to be concerned about, not something to slap a extra coat of blush over.

I don't have any personal experience with drug or alcohol addiction, Two-Cocktail Makeovers being about as much of a party gal as I get. But I do know that makeup and other forms of artifice took on added responsibility when I was at my worst with my eating habits, particularly with bingeing: I'd feel so gross the day after a binge that while on one hand I wanted to disappear, I also felt like if I was going to be able to look anyone in the eye, I'd need to look as stellar as I could even if I felt sluggish and uncomfortable because of what I'd done to my body the night before. That's actually why I picked up daily eyeliner in 2009 after years of only wearing it on special occasions; it made my eyes pop, something I'd cling to as proof of normalcy when my eyes sans liner were puffy from poor nutrition.

Now, I still wear makeup almost daily—including that eyeliner that I picked up to help camouflage my problem—and, in fact, I wear more of it than I did during that time. It's not the amount of makeup that's the problem; it was the motivation. I can't say that I'd have sought help any sooner if I didn't have the mask of makeup available to me—but I know that my feelings about makeup shifted when I was at my worst. I went from approaching makeup as something almost businesslike to something desperate. And not to minimize eating disorders in the least, but in my case my problem was neither as physically damaging nor as physically evident as it is for the average drug addict.

I don't want to speculate about Marnell herself, or her experience with addiction. My thoughts here are prompted by the interview with her, but her mental health isn't the point of this post, and I'm not trying to say any of my musings here apply to her. But I'm wondering if experiencing makeup as a much-needed tool to cover one's tracks, even a sort of pass into "unlimited debauchery," is a common experience with drug users. I also wonder if it changes contextually—if women who are into a sort of "glamorous" drug scene (blah blah drugs aren't glamorous, but you know what I mean) would be more prone to treat makeup as a part of the entire experience of drug use than women whose addiction wouldn't resemble a documentary of Studio 54. And what about high-functioning addicts—can cosmetics play a key role for women whose livelihoods depend upon maintaining a drug-free image?

My experience with alcoholics and drug addicts has been limited but painful, and one thing I've taken away from various relationships with addicts is that they are fantastic liars. Makeup itself isn't a lie, but part of its intended function is concealment. In order to get sober, addicts need to stop lying—to others, to themselves. I'm wondering if there are times that makeup actually becomes an integral part of an addict's lie, to the point where an extended sobriety—or permanent abstinence—from it would be beneficial. And at the same time, I'm guessing that if there are female addicts who might take something from "makeup sobriety," there are just as many who would reap the benefits of other intended functions of makeup: self-expression, play, pride. It's hard enough for most of us to know why we wear makeup. I imagine that reentering the world without the numb cushion of using would make it even harder.

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Interesting. I've always told myself that I wear makeup to make myself look better. But, really, maybe we do just use it to hide what we don't want others to see? Are we, literally, just putting our "face" or our "mask" on to hide our shortcomings, shame, addictions, etc.? To this day I know women who came of age in the 1970s who refuse to wear makeup as an act of rugged individualism. But, me? I can't break the old habit. R.
Really interesting connection you've noted between make-up use and addiction. When I was bulimic in college I blew-dry my naturally wavy hair straight and panicked if it rained because my hair frizzed. Now I go out without a lot without any make-up but when I catch myself in the mirror without undereye concealer I wince.
I have worn make-up every day for nearly 30 yrs. I even put it on while in labor before I went to the hospital to have my daughter. I suppose if someone were to take my make-up away from me, I would act like an addict. I must have it. I feel sick if I don't have it and it makes me feel better to wear it when I'm gives me the illusion I'm well when I look in the mirror. I can be forever beautiful with my make-up and no one will ever know how truly ugly I am.
Autumn,consider me an exρert on concealer...Concealer and a liρstic that works triρle as a liρstick, as a rouz and a mascara is the five minute outfit that members of my family can do without.Black circles,sadness,fear,anxiety...and,oh,in five minutes such a desquise,such a healthy and successful looking...all made by the magical concealer..Rated with such a connection..Best regards.
Life is much simpler without the need for artifice, and that includes make-up. When I think of all the time and money I've saved, and all the foolishness I've been spared, because I didn't participate in a lot of pointless feminine rituals (the endless shopping and fussing over appearance, etc. — those things that benefit merchandisers more than me) I feel most fortunate. It's been good to be one of those "women who came of age in the 1970s who refuse to wear makeup as an act of rugged individualism."

However, I "had my colors done" (thereby optimizing this red-head's best asset almost effortlessly) and I dye my hair (but only so it looks "natural." I guess I'll have to stop when I get too old to carry it off — geriatric blondes look ridiculous.).

It just goes to show that even the most rugged individualists remain products of their time.
I second what Brunhilde said. Just try it. You might find you like the freedom.
Hmmm. I never thought about in this way. I did, however, spend most of my adult life feeling naked without the minimal amount of makeup I did use: eyeshadow, liner, mascara, blush and lip color. The idea of even going to the grocery store without at least the blush and lipstick was abhorrent. When I decided to retire at age 55, I also decided to change my vain ways. I let me hair go gray. I forced myself to walk the dog and work in the garden barefaced. And I stopped chemically straightening my ethnic textured hair. Each time I took one of these steps, I felt more liberated. No one seemed to notice, except for my hair. I have never had more compliments on my hair, which turned out to be an interesting blend of charcoal gray to bright silver (who knew???) Yes, I think they are all addictions and they are almost as difficult to shake as drugs and alcohol.

"Hope in a Jar" -- I have no problem going out without makeup...until I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wince. Loved the analogy and the catchy photo title.
I think a lot of women are screwed up about makeup because they're told as little girls, on the one hand, that it's dirty and bad and bad girls wear it to get laid, and on the other hand, it makes you sexy and beautiful. And if adverts are telling you this latter message, and mom is pitching the former, who's right? It helps a lot to give up on both those sources of authority, and I'm sick and tired of people saying, "Oh, but that's hard." Buck up and grow the fuck up. Makeup, no makeup, who gives a shit. I mean, Cat Marnell? Really? Really? What in the world would possess anyone to give a crap what this type of person has to say?
I know one can be addicted to make-up. I've worked as a cosmetician and have seen it. Women have actually told me they're addicted to it and have to have the latest item whether they'll actually use it or not. I wear it everyday. I put it on routinely just as I would my socks. I don't think that means I'm addicted. Interesting article.
A little make-up never hurt anyone. A lot makes people think you look bad under the subterfuge. Better to put make-up on before having a chance to binge as a prevention. You may not want to mess yourself up with excess food and , even worse, purging, if you look pretty. Include hairstyle around your face and jewlrey. Good luck!
I agree with Deborah Mendez-Wilson, although I've always thought of makeup as an enhancement. Added sparkle. Though the camouflage is there for sure, especially when one has spots, etc. Interesting piece indeed.
Makeup, hair treatments, jewelry, fancy clothes and shoes, are all a waste of time and money. The money and time are needed elsewhere in my life!