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The first time I wore liquid foundation, I smeared it all over my face like it was moisturizer. I was on spring break my freshman year of high school and my best friend was giving me a makeup lesson. I regularly wore eye makeup, but was clueless about the rest of my face.
My friend and I stood in front of the mirror, using our hands to apply the cheap foundation, then brushing loose powder over our faces.
Now, obviously, the application method was inexpert. But as someone who has struggled with acne, seeing it covered up was a game changer for me. In addition to bad skin, I also have blonde eyelashes and eyebrows, so I’ve always felt more comfortable with a face full of makeup.
That is, until I learned how to actually do my makeup well.
Turning to the internet for help
I continued to apply foundation with my hands until I was in college. After seeking out some tutorials on YouTube, I learned about using a sponge — and about wetting it before applying foundation.
Freshman year, my roommate suggested I fill in my eyebrows since they were so light. She and I had different eyebrow shapes, so I looked up videos to help me learn to fill in my brows with a style I liked.
I followed Michelle Hinkle (then, Michelle Aguilar) on Instagram because we had mutual friends and I had gone to high school with her then-boyfriend, now husband. She was in beauty school at the time and ran a with a few tutorials. I loved the way her eyebrows looked, so I watched her step-by-step video and practiced using an angled brush to give my brows some shape and life.
Hinkle is a professional cosmetologist now, and in a phone conversation, she praised YouTube and social media for creating access to the beauty industry that previous generations didn’t have. Tutorials played a huge role in her path into cosmetology.
“You’re able to literally look up your eye shape, your skin tone, your problem areas — it’s a step by step,” Hinkle said.
That’s exactly what I did as I was learning. With the help of videos, I tried my hand at contouring, dabbled with setting powder, and basically studied how to do any makeup trend that caught my eye.
In a phone interview, Jessica L. Collett, a social psychologist who is currently a professor and vice chair in the sociology department at UCLA, agreed with Hinkle, saying that online platforms like YouTube and social media have provided access to information like never before. And the cool part is that anyone can create content and tutorials for others to consume.
“It’s not just some beautiful woman on a TLC program showing you how to apply makeup,” Collett said. “It’s somebody who has bad skin, like a young girl thinks that she has, and she’s showing her how to do this.”
Finding my “look”
I’ve gone through a few different makeup phases. There was a brief stage where I was doing a massively thick eyeliner wing accompanied by bottom eyeliner. I call it my Taylor Momsen phase. It was not a good look for me. But it’s who I felt like I was at the time.
During my call with Collett, she referenced the work of sociologist Erving Goffman and the presentation of self. What I do with my makeup looks is called impression management, when “people manipulate their appearances to appear as who they really think they are,” as Collett put it.
“If you’re comfortable, you’re going to feel pretty no matter what.”
Collett says we are constantly managing our appearances. The way we look is something we can control to an extent, and people tend to treat others better when they look put together, she adds.
Rachel Kraus, a professor of sociology at Ball State University, echoed this sentiment, saying “there’s opportunity that comes along with looking put together.”
Basically, it’s pretty privilege.
Not only do I feel prettier when I have makeup on, I also enjoy the creativity that comes with it. I subscribed to BoxyCharm and Ipsy a couple years ago, and that’s really what solidified my love for makeup. Every month I receive new products that I might not have chosen on my own.
BoxyCharm comes with a new palette each month, which kicked off my bold eye look phase. I started watching unboxing/try-on videos to see how other people used the products, and I learned how to do some fun eyeshadow looks that I knew I could recreate because I had the necessary tools.
Every month I watch . Doing that, I started thinking about “less is more” as an approach to makeup. Yes, she does bold looks in these videos, but she also starts with a bare face. I’ve watched her apply each part of her makeup and she doesn’t always go all out. Often, she doesn’t wear eyeliner or just does a subtle liner look.
I’m a huge eyeliner wearer thanks to my blonde lashes, as I mentioned earlier. But this beautiful YouTuber I was watching each month looked great without it, and I noticed other women who do makeup tutorials weren’t always finishing off with a wing either, so I started trying more looks that didn’t include eyeliner. I still felt pretty and didn’t feel like my face was naked.
The beast that is Beautube
Obviously, not everything within the beauty space on YouTube is positive and empowering. There’s tons of and plenty of makeup artists getting . But I don’t invest much of my time or energy into Beautube.
Some people have favorite YouTubers who are their go-tos, but I’m not loyal to any one channel (other than my monthly fix of KathleenLights BoxyCharm videos). When I first started getting interested in makeup, I would seek out specific types of tutorials, and I didn’t care who was doing them. Now that I know how to do the basics, I prefer to get most of my beauty content from makeup brands on Instagram.
This way, I see curated feeds of different, diverse makeup artists creating looks with brands I like and support. I’m more invested in the products than the people showing me how to use them.
I also like to browse my Instagram Explore page and my TikTok For You page. During one of my recent 2 a.m. scrolls, I learned a new way to that highlights the face better. Social media has made beauty lessons insanely accessible, which is especially awesome for people who don’t have anyone in their personal lives to teach them.
Of course, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. The digital beauty industry comes with the ability to generate plenty of self-esteem issues as well. Ring lights and false lashes go a long way and can make you question why you don’t naturally look like some of the people you see in makeup tutorials. But, if you seek out makeup artists and videos that feel attainable, you can really learn a lot.
Learning that less is more
I still love to create bold, fun looks with my makeup, but I’ve realized that while I like having a full face of makeup, I don’t need it every time I leave my apartment.
Honestly, I’m not sure that I can 100 percent credit makeup tutorials for this, because styles change; women typically wear less makeup as they get older; and the pandemic has certainly altered my relationship with makeup. But I think a huge factor is that I was able to seek out skills I wanted to have and have gained confidence and control over my appearance. Seeing other women rocking less makeup definitely gave me a confidence boost to do the same.
The best part about makeup and the seemingly endless amount of beauty content out there is that you’re free to experiment and find what works for you. Makeup and beauty are subjective and personal. I’ve learned to figure out what makes me feel happy and beautiful.
That’s what Hinkle tells her clients to aim for when they come in to get their hair or makeup done. She advises doing what you’re comfortable with and not getting discouraged by Pinterest looks gone wrong.
“You don’t have to follow anything step by step,” Hinkle said. “If you’re comfortable, you’re going to feel pretty no matter what.”
Unless I’m running a quick errand or going on a walk where I’ll be wearing my mask the whole time, I don’t often go out without makeup on. Even when I go over to my friends’ apartment — and they’re the only people I’ve hung out with since March 2020 — I still do my makeup. Some days that’s just concealer, brow gel, and mascara, though. I just feel more like myself when I have makeup on.
Collett says this could be because young women have come to see makeup as part of their wardrobe, and we can literally feel naked without it. It also has to do with the fact that I see myself in pictures and in the mirror, and I typically have makeup on in those instances. Collett says we don’t spend a lot of time looking at ourselves without makeup, so that done-up version becomes who we think we are and how we imagine ourselves.
But my version of who I think I am requires less makeup than it used to, because I know how to cover my acne while still making my skin look and feel hydrated. I know how to brighten my eyes and make my lashes look fuller and longer without relying on a thick black swipe of eyeliner. I know that lightly filling in my eyebrows with a shade that matches my brow color and then brushing some tinted gel over them looks much more natural than the thick, dark brows I sported in college.
Maybe my next self will feel even more comfortable in her own acne-scarred skin, but for now, I like where I’m at.