This is what happened when I stopped wearing eye makeup for two weeks. Life got different.
I experimented with my first cat eye in fifth grade. The thin, black line corrected my downturned shape and widened my naturally narrow set eyes. I didn’t know that at the time, obviously, because I was twelve and barely understood basic principles of geometry. I knew enough to see the difference in the way I looked and felt, though. I never considered myself “naturally” pretty, but my black liquid liner gave me the confidence to take on the world.
As I aged, wearing eye makeup became my signature. Whenever I took a temporary break from neon and glitter to wear neutrals and brown liner, my friends would lament that I simply didn’t seem like myself. And I’d even agree. These breaks were very far and few between — one day here and there over the span of a couple of months, mostly to give my contact-wearing eyes a break. But forget not wearing any eye makeup at all — I can’t remember a time I left the house with totally naked eyes — that is, until a couple of weeks ago.
I came down with an allergic reaction. A severe allergic reaction. A reaction that not only prevented me from wearing my contacts in my bloodshot eyes, but also caused the skin around my orbital bone and lid to swell and break out in a painful rash. My corneas itched and my skin felt like it was burning with the heat of a thousand tiny suns. Definitely not a cute look. I visited doctors twice, and one prescribed me steroids and the other drops and a topical cream. Both doctors agreed I should stay away from wearing eye makeup and contacts until the sensitivity went down.
Besides the grotesque situation that was happening around my eyes (and some hives opportunistically popping up on my body), I felt fine. I wasn’t about to lock myself in a dungeon, waiting until I no longer resembled Quasimodo, so I made the decision to go about my life without even the tiniest trace of mascara. Empowering, right?
For most people, this wouldn’t be a big deal. For most people, it’s probably even the norm. But for me, it took courage. My eyes are naturally small and very almond. When I smile, they tend to disappear altogether. I have hooded lids and downturned corners. Even with my makeup, my eyes have been the subject of many inappropriate jokes. I may laugh them off on the outside, but I’ve internalized these comments in my own personal Rolodex of self-hate. Objectively, I don’t hate my eye shape, but somewhere along the lines someone told me I should.
A deeper matte color has always lifted my crease. A lighter shimmer on the lid created depth. My liner opened up my eye shape and made my sparse lashline look fuller. Without these things, I felt like I had lost my doll-like, wide-eyed sex appeal. I lost my aesthetic — the one I’ve grown so very familiar with. I was forced to wear my glasses during this time, too, which was a whole other adjustment. I’m terribly near-sighted with really poor vision, so my Coke-bottle glasses and thick lenses only made my tiny eyes look even smaller.
Every single person I know made a comment about how seemingly non-existent my eyes were. Friends, family, strangers on the street all had something to say. My coworkers thought I was a new hire. My best buds remarked that they never “noticed your eyes were really that small.” The same NYC cat-caller that I regretfully pass every day didn’t even call out after me (which, in reality, was actually a blessing).
The most surprising situation happened at my local Starbucks, though. The same Starbucks whose baristas had complimented my aesthetic in the past, asking if I was a model (yea right) and occasionally awarding me and my pretty eyes with free drinks. As I waited in line to order my drink, smiling with the same warmth I try to bring to every human interaction, the barista peered up at me from behind his cash register and unenthusiastically said “what do you need sir… I mean, ma’am?” SIR?! Had removing my eyeshadow somehow made me less feminine? And, if so, that’s total BS. WTF society.
I’m back to wearing my eye makeup now. I’m sporting contacts, glitter, and very apparent false lashes as I write this. But now I can’t help but wonder if the people I interact with are more pleasant based on my physical appearance rather than my personality. I love wearing eye makeup, but my razor sharp wit is what I prize over my razor sharp cat eye.
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