I Feel Pretty with Makeup On

I haven’t felt comfortable in my skin since I was a teenager. And this is odd to me, because when I was a teenager, I was disgusted by my reflection.

Horrified and sickened, I would gag at the sight of myself in the mirror.

I’m far from being a kid today, and I want to be confident.

Along with the many unfortunate events in my life, I think the problem with my image originated from a period in my childhood when I was riddled with acne and cold sores.

From grade six to grade eleven, I went through an awful acne phase.

I might have only had about ten pictures taken of myself during this difficult period in my life. I was trying to avoid any remembrance of what I looked like to save myself a future of massive depression.

The acne situation got so bad for a few years that I was forced, by choice, to start wearing makeup.

The makeup trick was something that I picked up from my father, who a few years earlier also suffered from acne.

We both trialed the controversial medicine to help with our condition called Accutane™. The medicine worked wonders for my father, but didn’t do much for myself; if anything it worsened my situation. My acne did clear up a few months after I first started taking it, but the side effects were far worse than the acne itself.

There were a ton of possible side effects, but the only one that I suffered from were cold sores or fever blisters. Accutane™ is said to lower your immune system allowing fever blisters to sprout their ugly little heads on your mouth and face and that’s exactly what happened to me, tenfold.

I woke up one morning for 7th grade, and my entire bottom lip had turned into one giant cold sore.

I walked into class that same morning on a sunny autumn day, holding a black winter skull cap in my hand using it to cover the entire right side of my face so no one could see the defects on my skin. I was wearing an old pair of dirty, maroon sweatpants and a stained white Super Bowl t-shirt that was about four or five Super Bowls old.

I’ll never forget the looks on all the faces of the kids in that class as I walked through the door that morning. Their stares pierced my flesh, stabbed my heart, fucked my soul and introduced me to cruelty.

I was also the new kid on top of all of that.

Shortly after that morning, I stopped the medicine and just let puberty run its course. I believe this was when my depression kicked in.

I didn’t understand why this was happening to me. My father was wearing brand new $70 Ralph Lauren Polo™ shirts and a shiny gold chain with a face full of clear skin, and I was wearing his old, dirty hand me down clothes with holes in them, with painful blisters and sores all over my face.

I deserved better I told myself. I was a good kid.

Like usual, I blamed God. I blamed God for a lot of terrible things that happened in my life.
It was my answer to anything that I couldn’t explain myself.

After I had stopped taking the Accutane™, I turned to the makeup for salvation. I was in need of some aesthetic relief.

One ugly morning, when desperation finally consumed me, I took my father’s old bottle of liquid foundation out of the medicine cabinet and stared at it for about ten minutes. I played back and forth with the idea of actually putting it on until I finally caved in.

The cap was practically sealed shut from the old, crusted makeup in the grooves of the bottle top. I twisted it off with an equal amount of nerve-racking curiosity and excitement. I brushed off the brown crust and tipped the bottle over with my fingertip covering the opening.When I felt the cool, thick liquid touch my flesh, I turned the bottle back upright and looked down at the tip of my pointer finger. The liquid was brown and shiny. The color was darker than my complexion; it matched my father’s because it was originally intended to match his skin tone and not mine. I was much paler than he was, taking after my Mother’s Irish genes.

I was determined to make it work.

After a couple of test runs and a few noticeable brown spots on my pasty cheeks, I learned how to blend it in, and I got pretty good at it. I never felt the slightest bit awkward wearing it, and it’s not like anyone could even tell that I was wearing it, or at least I don’t think that they could. I eventually bought a much lighter color of liquid foundation for myself. I purchased a bottle that said “anti-blemish” on the label to help justify what I was doing.

This was all happening before YouTube came around to show us how to live our lives.

Once I mastered hiding my blemishes, I fell in love with the idea of what the makeup was doing for me. Even though it was crippling my self-esteem and confidence, it allowed me to believe that I was happy with who I was.
It was all a lie, but I was finally in love with myself again.

I was now in the eleventh grade, playing cosmetologist during the week and drinking beer and smoking pot on the weekends, kissing the girls at the parties. That little bottle of beige cover up was my saving grace. It saved what was left of my damaged childhood.

It wouldn’t be until years later when my face was clear of acne without the help of makeup. It was shocking when I first noticed that I was acne free. I started my daily morning routine the same way I had been doing for years. I woke up, showered, got dressed and opened up the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and grabbed my cover up. I dabbed the makeup in a few random spots, and as I started to blend it into cheeks and forehead, I noticed that there were no more blemishes to hide.

I was acne free. I remember almost coming to tears out of pure disbelief and joy, and I also remember not washing the makeup off my face.

It had been years at that point; I felt weird without it. The next day I left my face alone, no makeup, but I kept my makeup in the medicine cabinet just in case.

Even with my skin cleared up, I still couldn’t stand the sight of my mirror image. I suffered through years of self-torment while enduring public stares and laughs.

My father even made me wait in the car one day while he went to a store to shop.

He said that he didn’t want to “be seen” in public with me.

It’s been well over a decade since my acne crisis, but let me find the tiniest of red blemishes on my face while getting ready for work in the morning and I’m pulling out my wife’s most expensive cruelty-free, vegan makeup and applying it to my face

It’s not that I miss wearing makeup; I just miss feeling comfortable in my own skin.

I’m trying to get there again, but this time, sans foundation.

Photo Credit: rutlo Flickr via Compfight cc








Richard DeFino

Ricky De Fino grew up in New York City and currently resides in Buffalo NY. When he isn’t writing about his anxiety and his crazy Bronx upbringing, he enjoys watching countless hours of television with his wife Andrea, cat Bebe and dog Zeke. Two years sober, good coffee and veganism keeps him sane. His work can be found in Two Cities Review, tNY Press, Purple Pig Lit, Dialougal and Cycatrix Press.

8 thoughts on “I Feel Pretty with Makeup On

  1. Mary Rowen Reply

    Ricky, this is the first piece of yours I’ve read (I think) and I can’t tell you how much it resonates with me. As a teenager, I suffered from “normal” acne until I started binging and purging. Then, my skin went straight to hell. Your description of the day with the terrible cold sore reminds me of some of my teenage days. Even worse, I’d pick at my skin–part of the eating disorder/anxiety issue–so the sores/zits on my face healed very slowly. Always, makeup was my salvation. I literally couldn’t imagine life without it. When I finally got healthy (about 15 years later) I was overjoyed when I learned I could go makeup-free, and did for many years. But like you, my insecurity about my skin has never disappeared. Now, any time I get a blemish or any other type of facial irritation/cut, etc., I immediately reach for the foundation. In fact, I recently had a very bad cold that left the skin under my nose red, torn, and bleeding in places. It’s healing slowly, but I’ve been using much more makeup than usual recently. It makes me feel better about myself, and I think that’s the case with lots of us. I’m glad you still have your safety net, and that it helps you. We all need as much help as we can get these days. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Richard DeFinoRichard DeFino Post author Reply

      Good morning Mary. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m sorry that you shared such similar, if not worse experiences. Every winter I deal with your recent experience with the cold and the red, bleeding irritation under the nose. It really does hurt! And yes, the safety net, I will keep that with me for the rest of my life! Thank you again for your words,

  2. Dave PacaillerDave Pacailler Reply

    Thank you for sharing this deep, emotional story. I too, wore makeup as a teenager to hide my acne. Although the severity of my acne was much less, I can certainly understand and sympathize with the desperation.

    1. Richard DeFinoRichard DeFino Post author Reply

      Hi Dave. I’m sorry to hear that you went through the same thing, it really takes a toll on you as a kid and like most bad memories or experiences, it never seems to go away. Thank you for sharing your words.

  3. doriowendoriowen Reply

    Ricky, as usual, every piece you write is relevant and so full of YOU. Hah, don’t ever think that girls weren’t using makeup during these God forsaken puberty years for the same reason–I had an uber strict mum, went to Catholic schools (no makeup ever!) but your story brought back memories of pulling out my coverup in school bathrooms. Interestingly, I had a conversation with one of my Thanksgiving guests about men wearing makeup. He was about 29, and did, and asked what I thought about it. I say, I don’t believe anything on the label limits makeup to one gender. Puhleeease. Let’s everyone do whatever makes us feel good about ourselves! xoxoD.

    1. Richard DeFinoRichard DeFino Post author Reply

      Hi Dori! Thank you for the kind words and I agree, we should all just do that we want to feel better. Some of these barriers need to be broken down. I also went to Catholic school for a short time, what a drag, too stick! I hope you have a great day.

      Thank you again!

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