Deception As Defence

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

A couple of days ago, I surprised myself by doing something I have never done in the 10 years of my professional life. It took me by surprise. And it lasted throughout the time I was doing said activity. And it might have permanently changed how I see myself.

What did I do that warrants an entire blog post?

I wore makeup. To work.

And yes, I have been working from home like those of us who can afford to do so.

My mental health has been crappy for a while now. I don’t know where to go or who (if you’re a loved one of mine, no offence! It be like that sometimes!) to turn to, I have started depending on surface-level coping mechanisms, one of them being makeup. It has now become part of an elaborate morning ritual that helps me get ready for work.

So the day I started wearing makeup, I was up earlier than usual. I completed pranayama and metta meditation when usually I have time for only one of them. And I still had time left on my hands. I remembered I had some Zoom calls lined up where the camera had to be on. I usually don’t care, I show up with messy hair and Zombie FaceTM. I mean, we are all so deep in this working-through-a-pandemic thing that no one really cares anymore. But these calls were with prospective employees, and I didn’t want them thinking I am being overworked (my workplace is pretty amazing). So I decided to look un-dead that day.

Until then, I’d only worn makeup when I had to interview guests for YouTube videos or podcasts. And the makeup had always been undetectable. But that day, I was going to look alive. I didn’t know how makeup would help me achieve that, but I was going to try anyway.

Are you unwell?

So I started off with a freshly washed and moisturised face – what makeup experts call a ‘clean base’. And then on went the foundation. And then the eyeliner. And then the kohl. And then the lip colour. If you are a makeup expert reading this, yes I have zero clue about what order these things go on my face. My apologies. And no, I am too lazy to use concealers and blush and highlighters. Or mascara or eyebrow fillers. I am doing my best, okay?

Another first: I was gentle with my skin. I used feathery touches (a phrase I picked from Makeup YouTube) for all of the application. It felt like a meditation in itself. I usually scrub my face with face wash and rub my towel to get it dry, so this felt…painstakingly slow.

I wore a bold reddish brown lip colour (Chambor shade ‘Burnt Earth’ is such a beautiful colour, in case you want to know). The foundation gave a sort of glow to my face, and my eyes took on a healthy glint, too, thanks to the kajal and eyeliner. I know it worked, because my parents’ expression changed when they saw me. They’d seen me trudge around the house, hunched, defeated-looking (probably), regularly forgetting to shower or comb my hair. And then here I was, stepping out and looking… like I had my shit together.

I am sure you have all heard this joke where a woman forgets to wear kohl to work and all her coworkers ask her if she is unwell. I think my parents wanted to ask me that when they saw me with a full face of makeup. I decided I won’t answer the question hanging in the air.

When was the last time you visited a salon?

I was really proud of nailing the look. I wanted confirmation, though. What if I actually looked like a clown?

I promptly took a selfie and sent it to a group chat with people experienced in the makeup department.

“Good. Do your eyebrows.”


Zoom is kind enough to not highlight ungroomed eyebrows, so no, I’ll keep them unkempt.

I checked on the Zoom camera, just in case. My eyebrows looked fine. They were so on trend, I could’ve made Deepika Padukone jealous of how thick my brows were (Nah, JK. She’s a goddess and nothing can beat her brow game).

But most importantly, my makeup had passed the test. They said ‘Good’. That means it’s good to go.

Smoke and Mirrors

I was the one asking questions, I was the one doing all the judging, but I was as anxious as ever over the calls. Staying indoors for more than a year and minimal interaction with fellow humans have caused a spike in social anxiety. But I have the advantage of a face that lets on nothing. Very few people in my life get to see me be expressive. I keep a poker face in any situation, and it was no different this time. The makeup probably made my face more unreadable. Or it magnified every micro expression. I am not sure. EoD, it worked.

I found myself getting into work mode once I finished doing my makeup. So in addition to having a designated work space that will be as far away as it can be from the bedroom, wearing makeup is one of those things I have started doing to make that mental demarcation between ‘home’ and ‘work’. Taking off makeup after work hours helps me unwind. Or make the mental shift to ‘home’ and not obsess over the overflowing to-do list at work.

I usually mask my depression with smiles and humour and mild chirpiness. I am so good at this, that when I get comfortable enough around someone and let the pretence slip, it takes them by surprise or confuses them. With remote work, the need to put up such a show has diminished. And I am not sapped at the end of the day like I used to be, when we all did this thing where we went to an actual office. But these camera-on meetings take some of that comfort away from you. My virtual version of ‘smile, joke, be chirpy’ is now makeup. Coupled with average internet connectivity and bad lighting, no one at work is going to know you didn’t sleep a wink the night before, or that you had a weeping bout that lasted into the morning. Oh, what a blessing!

Men have entered the chat

I am not privy to what men do to prepare for a date, but women do a lot of things. Or are expected to. Grooming, makeup, outfit-shopping… A few years ago, I got asked by a friend why I wasn’t wearing makeup when I told him about an upcoming date. I asked him if he’s ever worn makeup on dates.

I mean, really. Why should women do something to please a man they are meeting for the first time? Shouldn’t we be caring about whether this person is likeable at all?

Granted, men look good without even trying. But how much of that is our conditioning? Men are allowed to be unkempt. They aren’t expected to stay groomed. Women have to always look our best. Not one hair out of place.

And then there are men who want to tell you what you should do with your face. And for reasons I don’t understand they think their opinion matters. I’ve been advised by men to wear makeup, apparently it makes me look good.

And then there are other men who have questioned my choice of lip colour with the intensity of a cop interrogating a suspect. Like calm the F down, the world doesn’t revolve around you. And if a guy thinks you wear makeup to attract the attention of the opposite sex, run away from him!

I have come to the conclusion that most men see the whole makeup thing as some sort of mating dance. I’d like to let you know, on behalf of all of us who wear makeup, that it was never, is not, and will never be about you or your brethern. This is not to say women never use makeup to look attractive; but it’s more do to with upping our confidence levels. That does not mean all of us do it just to get your attention or that of any member of the male species. Enough with the insecurity and inflated egos already!

Who am I?

I used to go out of my way to avoid makeup. There are three reasons for this: (1) It is expected of me, and there is no way I am going to give society the satisfaction of watching me toe the line, (2) I was (still am) too lazy for it, and (3) I want to be as invisible as possible. I can’t handle attention, even if only for a few seconds. I wear loose-fitting clothes, my hair is always in a bun or a ponytail, my clothes are never vibrant… If I could I’d melt into the wall during meetings and parties.

These three reasons still hold good for other areas of my life: dressing up, grooming, looking good, getting married… you get the drift.

So what does it mean to the lazy rebel in me, now that I have embraced makeup? What does it mean to the socially anxious woman in me who flushes red when the spotlight is turned on her? Should I continue wearing makeup even after the pandemic is behind us and we all start to work out of a *gulp* physical office space again? It helps with keeping up the facade, but it also means I am conforming to traditional notions of femininity.

I guess I will cross that bridge when it comes. For now, I am going to order a mini MAC Ruby Woo – the red lipstick that all of the world loves. I want to see if I can pull off a red lip.

1 Comment

  1. So what does it mean to the lazy rebel in me, now that I have embraced makeup?
    Perhaps the lazy rebel is growing up?
    What does it mean to the socially anxious woman in me who flushes red when the spotlight is turned on her?
    Quarantine isolation ‘cures’ social anxiety?
    Should I continue wearing makeup even after the pandemic is behind us and we all start to work out of a *gulp* physical office space again?
    It’ll mean getting outta bed a shade earlier though.


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