Appearances are important. Although the media tends to promote the notion of ‘development of inner beauty,’ presenting oneself the best that you can both physically and mentally is baked right into our DNA, so it should be no surprise that in my teenage years, I became particularly sensitive about how I looked.
It was around that age when I started to play around with makeup. The idea of perfecting my appearance fascinated me – I discovered that I could cover up my spots, hide my freckles, and layer my pimples and splotchy cheeks with foundation. Whatever had made me insecure in the past could suddenly disappear into nothingness, and I could finally achieve the ‘flawless complexion’ that was raved about on Instagram.
Before long, I started to notice some changes in my life. Ever since makeup became a part of my life, I had experienced a boost in confidence. However, that confidence was built entirely upon masking my imperfections. I became self-conscious of every little detail of my features and felt the constant need to hide the unsatisfying parts of the world. It was like burying a secret, but one you could never part from, one that will always haunt you, mocking you for never being good enough or close enough to achieve perfection.
At that time in my life, my mother was always the person who rescued me from sinking into quicksand. Being the wise and intelligent parent that she was, she did not sever me completely from wearing cosmetics. Instead, she gifted me a well-chosen makeup item that I often overlooked while shopping at Sephora. One afternoon when I came back from school, I saw a beautifully wrapped present sitting on my desk. In the middle of the matte black packaging read the words “Kat Von D” in an embossed font that looped extravagantly in cursive. I remember stuttering a little while reading the brand name in my head, wondering if it should be pronounced in English or French, before gingerly tearing the box open. I held in my palm a liquid eyeliner, no longer than two inches in length. Grabbing a mirror from behind, I took off the lid and carefully tight-lined my eyes. The product came out with high pigmentation; the thin nib created a neat, black line above my lashes, which perfectly brought out the brown undertones of my eyes.
“You have beautiful eyes,” said a voice from behind.
I turned around to see my mother standing in the doorway. She approached my desk, tilting my chin slightly at an angle with her hand, “They appear coal-black from this angle.”
“They look more brown under the sun, almost auburn.” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “And the eyeliner only made that special feature livelier.”
I remained silent, thinking over her words while peering at the mirror to gaze at my eyes. They looked familiar – round in shape, topped with thick lashes that were curled towards the ceiling. Among the familiarity, the imperfections were also clearly visible. There was nothing to compensate for the way they slanted slightly upwards or how they always seemed watered from crying, and yet, I could not help thinking that they looked beautiful.
“You know, sometimes beauty is more about enhancement than concealing; perfection is more about maximizing your strengths than ridding your flaws,” she said. “And most importantly, everything that I just mentioned to you – beauty, perfection – none of them is truly important if one special element is missing, and that special element is you. You’re the one who demonstrates beauty, who demands perfection for herself, even when it’s impossible to achieve. Without you, nothing else matters.”
Needless to say, her words reshaped the way I saw myself. I started to allow my freckles to peek through the foundation. I stopped trimming my brows and embraced their natural thickness. Every time I looked into the mirror and saw my reflection, I was reminded that being myself was good enough. Not just good enough for my mother and me.
It’s good enough for the world.
If someone asks me someday how I became content being me, I suppose I would tell them it all started with a Kat Von D tattoo liner.