Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Concealer: Makeup and Addiction

Hope in a jar.

If I use the phrase "addicted to makeup," I'm usually referring to how uncomfortable I feel going out in most social situations without the stuff. The reasons I'm uncomfortable are a post of their own, but they boil down to the same old story: feeling as though what I'm bringing to the table isn't quite good enough; wanting to conceal "flaws." There are plenty of other reasons I wear makeup—and I'm pleased to report those reasons are generally more positive or at least less of a psychological downer—but as far as using the word addicted, that's what I mean. More important, that's how I most often hear it when others use the word.

Reading this interview with Cat Marnell—the beauty editor at xoJane whose extraordinarily candid pieces on her ongoing experirences with drugs are painful, provocative, and radically subjective—prompted me to wonder if there are other forms of makeup addiction. "I'm bad all of the time, and beauty products are fixing me," she told a reporter from New York. "Without beauty products, I would have never gotten through my life. I owe everything to them. They've afforded me unlimited debauchery." The interview took place on the eve of her entering rehab, heavily suggested (mandated?) by her employer; she was apparently high during the interview. "Unlimited debauchery" in that context means something different than it might to a casual user. To be blunt, it means something to be concerned about, not something to slap a extra coat of blush over.

I don't have any personal experience with drug or alcohol addiction, Two-Cocktail Makeovers being about as much of a party gal as I get. But I do know that makeup and other forms of artifice took on added responsibility when I was at my worst with my eating habits, particularly with bingeing: I'd feel so gross the day after a binge that while on one hand I wanted to disappear, I also felt like if I was going to be able to look anyone in the eye, I'd need to look as stellar as I could even if I felt sluggish and uncomfortable because of what I'd done to my body the night before. That's actually why I picked up daily eyeliner in 2009 after years of only wearing it on special occasions; it made my eyes pop, something I'd cling to as proof of normalcy when my eyes sans liner were puffy from poor nutrition.

Now, I still wear makeup almost daily—including that eyeliner that I picked up to help camouflage my problem—and, in fact, I wear more of it than I did during that time. It's not the amount of makeup that's the problem; it was the motivation. I can't say that I'd have sought help any sooner if I didn't have the mask of makeup available to me—but I know that my feelings about makeup shifted when I was at my worst. I went from approaching makeup as something almost businesslike to something desperate. And not to minimize eating disorders in the least, but in my case my problem was neither as physically damaging nor as physically evident as it is for the average drug addict.

I don't want to speculate about Marnell herself, or her experience with addiction. My thoughts here are prompted by the interview with her, but her mental health isn't the point of this post, and I'm not trying to say any of my musings here apply to her. But I'm wondering if experiencing makeup as a much-needed tool to cover one's tracks, even a sort of pass into "unlimited debauchery," is a common experience with drug users. I also wonder if it changes contextually—if women who are into a sort of "glamorous" drug scene (blah blah drugs aren't glamorous, but you know what I mean) would be more prone to treat makeup as a part of the entire experience of drug use than women whose addiction wouldn't resemble a documentary of Studio 54. And what about high-functioning addicts—can cosmetics play a key role for women whose livelihoods depend upon maintaining a drug-free image?

My experience with alcoholics and drug addicts has been limited but painful, and one thing I've taken away from various relationships with addicts is that they are fantastic liars. Makeup itself isn't a lie, but part of its intended function is concealment. In order to get sober, addicts need to stop lying—to others, to themselves. I'm wondering if there are times that makeup actually becomes an integral part of an addict's lie, to the point where an extended sobriety—or permanent abstinence—from it would be beneficial. And at the same time, I'm guessing that if there are female addicts who might take something from "makeup sobriety," there are just as many who would reap the benefits of other intended functions of makeup: self-expression, play, pride. It's hard enough for most of us to know why we wear makeup. I imagine that reentering the world without the numb cushion of using would make it even harder.

14 comments:

  1. Very interesting thoughts to ponder this morning. I'm always so interested about the psychology behind makeup, mostly because to me, it is something fun, even artistic. A new way to experiment. Maybe it sounds as if addicted as well!

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    1. Even that--the fun, artistic angle--has a psychology to it, don't you think? There are a lot of ways to create beauty in the world, but there's a particular draw to cosmetics, sort of a project of the self...

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  2. I wear makeup so seldom...that actually people are shocked to see me in it. Congrats on the HuffPo post!

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  3. "Might as well face it/ you're addicted to blush."

    Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

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  4. "And what about high-functioning addicts—can cosmetics play a key role for women whose livelihoods depend upon maintaining a drug-free image?"

    I'd never thought of it this way before but that's a really good point. When I was engaged in my lifestyle of "unlimited debauchery," I depended heavily on make-up to cover the acne that developed from never washing my face, to put some color in my face, to hide the circles under my eyes, and to combat my dried-out lips. I looked a hot mess without makeup, like someone who was obviously abusing drugs, and I couldn't have that.

    I still wear make-up, but not nearly as much now that I am healthy and substance-free. I don't feel like it's quite as necessary, as I look healthy without it. I don't need to fake "healthy" any more.

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    1. "I don't need to fake 'healthy' any more"--this made me think about how much of addiction is about fakery. Like with drinking--I'm a social drinker, I don't have to falsify how much I drink (or don't drink) in order to be socially acceptable, and I don't have to fake sobriety when I'm not sober because I don't fear judgment, because the worst judgment I fear is that I got a little wiggly one night. But the people I know who have had problems faked all of those. Hmmm.

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  5. I never thought about makeup from that angle! I have always responded with some bewilderment to magazine articles about "how to use concealer/blush to disguise that you feel awful at work!" because, if you FEEL awful, why wouldn't you want to LOOK awful so maybe they'll sent you HOME? But if the illness is from an ongoing addiction...maybe that is what all those articles are, sort of secretly, actually addressing & I just didn't GET it. Hmmm. *ponders*

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    1. Heh, I love the thought that the articles have a secret agenda, ha! I'm so with you (I once put pink eyeliner on when I was sick because I knew it would make me look like hell and sure enough, my bosses were all, "GO HOME." I needed a mental health day and was too young to recognize that I could just take one if I really needed it). I'd be surprised if those articles were a covert shout-out to addicts, but I'm also guessing that people reading those pieces who know they'll have a regular need for such concealers are paying close attention to 'em...

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  6. I was actually having a conversation with a friend about this just the other day... what 'defines' addiction. Beauty products came up, along with all of the 'usual suspects' (coffee, sugar, etc). I wish I would have read your article before having that conversation, because as usual, you have said everything I wanted to, but so much better! :) Even if one does not consider makeup 'addictive', there is the thought of 'covering up', and not letting reality show through for what it is. Interesting perspective on this!

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    1. I was just addressing this above to Caitlin--the role of deception in addiction. I've never known an addict who was truthful about the problem at hand, and I'm wondering if the inherent function of makeup (concealing) creates a weird space for it where it's okay to be forthright about its use and application? Like, if I'm an alcoholic I've probably lied from time to time about how much I'm drinking, but because makeup isn't seen as an addictive substance there's a freedom to discuss it?

      But then, I'm thinking of the one time of my life when I really and truly would not leave my house without makeup--in college I had a sudden swell of bad acne, after years of having just run-of-the-mill teen stuff. It was horrible, and the thought of being seen without makeup just sucked, and sure enough, that was the time of my life when I also was very careful not to let anyone see how much makeup I was using. I didn't wear any color makeup (eyeliner, lipstick), I think maybe because I was hoping my caked-on foundation would look "normal," as though I were just born that way. So I was arguably addicted to the foundation but was indeed hiding it. Hmmm, there's another post in here somewhere!

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  7. Ooh, so much interesting stuff here. I'm also now thinking about the big overlap between the worlds of addiction and the worlds of body art (piercings/tattoos). NOT to feed stereotypes, of course, but I've known many alcoholics/addicts who were also very into this stuff. I think it often gets painted as a form of self-mutilation and maybe there's something to that -- the pain factor with tattoos and piercing sure, but we all know other forms of beauty work can involve a fair degree of pain! But now I'm also thinking about it as a form of concealment and even a kind of lie, like you explore here.

    But as you say, there are so many benefits to makeup exploration -- self-expression, play, pride -- and I see that with other forms of body enhancement, too. So there's definitely a lot of nuance here...

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    1. Oh wow, absolutely--I'm so glad to hear you mention this because indeed there is an overlap between body modification and addiction. (One of my clients is a tattoo magazine so despite having no intimate experience with it, I read about it a lot, and people are pretty frank about the connection--more often a connection with healing and treatment, the idea being that it's a displacement.) Which makes me wonder if one can "displace" worse addictions with makeup? That seems like a stress but there could be a connection in some way too.

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