Why Is Makeup So Hard?

I swear, I could watch an entire lifetime’s worth of makeup and hair tutorials on YouTube, staring at these beautiful women as they effortlessly turn a rolled-up sock into a flawless chignon, or apply lipliner that somehow doesn’t make you look like a guest on Maury, and still never fully understand what blush is. There seems to exist an entire class of human who was just blessed with the ability to always make their aesthetics flawless before they leave in the morning, somehow having the time to both eat an actual meal and put their hair into a shape that looks vaguely intentional, and then there’s me. What am I not understanding?

Take concealer, for example. Apparently, you’re supposed to get this creamy skin-colored stuff that you gently blot (rub?) over your blemishes and then blend into the rest of your makeup with a foundation that matches your tone? I guess? And somehow this deceives the people around you into thinking you never had a blemish in the first place. When I do it, however, it just gives the effect of, “Hey, look, that girl rubbed a bunch of concealer over her big-ass zit.” There is no trickery here, it’s just a bunch of makeup on my face. And foundation? You can pretty much ensure that there will be a nice border around my jawline where my face goes from a matte, slightly darker cheek to a pale, blotchy neck of regular skin. Foundation is never something that will come naturally to me, nor look like that perfect Photoshop finish that I feel I should be going for.

And liquid eyeliner — what absurd witchcraft is that? Whenever I see a girl who has that perfect, delicate cat-eye with the little flick up at the end, perfectly symmetrical on both sides — I want to steal her hand-eye coordination the way Usula stole Ariel’s voice. I’ll just keep the ability to do steady eyeliner in this seashell here. But seriously, how does one manage to flawlessly follow the line of the eye, not messing up or making it too thick in one part, and getting the perfect amount of curve up on the end, all to repeat it again on the other eye? How?? I can’t believe that I am the only person for whom this task is near-impossible. It looks so beautiful in theory, and yet every time I attempt it, I essentially just look like I have a black eye on one side.

Even something as seemingly straight-forward as lipstick proves to be a labyrinth of opportunities to make myself look like a melting clown. Who is able to, first of all, apply lipstick in a way that accentuates your lips while still looking natural? Mine usually looks like a few Saturn-esque rings of rouge around the general vicinity of my mouth, only to devolve into stains all over my teeth, cups, napkins, and every other surface which with my face comes in vague contact. Lipstick seems to be a constant uphill battle to stay looking done-up and not walk-of-shame, and it’s a battle I almost always lose.

I enjoy wearing makeup, I do. I like doing my hair, putting on perfume, and generally feeling like I’m put-together for the world in front of me. It’s not for everyone, sure, but I enjoy it when I have the time. However, I am often left feeling as though there is a secret course that many other girls are all invited to in the evenings when I’m home watching TV — maybe at the Learning Annex? — which instructs them on how to do all the various aesthetic sorcery that seems so impossible. The two-minute messy bun look? On some girls, it actually looks like this sexily undone updo that is as natural as it is flattering. On me, it just looks like I passed out in a puddle of my own drool the night before and couldn’t find a comb before I left the house. Bronzer? On some, it comes across as a few areas of sun-kissed skin on an otherwise warm complexion. On me, it looks like I rubbed my face after eating a bag of Cheetos. It’s not fair.

Perhaps the best solution — to ensure that we all get a fair footing when it comes to preparing ourselves in the morning — would be to give each woman her own personal makeup and hair stylist, should she desire one. I feel that’s the most just solution, and certainly a fruitful use of our tax dollars. TC mark


image – Melissa Morris

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/pritchard.kevin Kevin Pritchard

    Girls still wear makeup? Weird.

    • http://twitter.com/alisonwisneski alisonwisneski (@alisonwisneski)

      You’re joking, right? You do understand that the girl you think looks “natural” probably put the most time into it, yes?

      • http://www.facebook.com/pritchard.kevin Kevin Pritchard

        Haha, nope. Dead serious. I mean- I get girls usually wear makeup at weddings, but I haven’t dated a girl who frequently wore makeup since high school.

    • Pao
    • HK

      Ohh that’s just not true is it?

    • Jessica

      I suspect you’re just oblivious. Girls usually wear *more* makeup to functions like weddings so it’s more noticeable, but the makeup industry is going stronger than ever.

    • Jye

      That’s the perfect response! I spend more time using makeup to look “natural” than I do if I were to say have a full face of makeup, glitter and all. I’m not speaking for ALL girls, but I’m sure most girls are really flattered that you think they don’t have makeup on.

      The whole look-like-you-have-no-makeup-on thing is what takes the most time. I can cake a ton of makeup on for a girls night out, because makeup is expected, 5 minutes tops, but during the day (or rather the Monday morning after a tough weekend) I need to look alive! So I spend about 5-10 minutes just prepping my skin, and a whole 10-15 to make sure the concealer has covered everything and then my base, then I start the liner and mascara. I have to make my self look mature enough to work in my office (I look like a 16 year old (Asian genes helped too) in an office with people’s age averaging 40), but still natural.

      So yes, most girls wear makeup, even if they say they don’t, they probably still have concealer, tinted moisturizer or mascara of some-sort on. But quite frankly, I LOVE MAKEUP. I have issues with wanting to own all colors, types and brands. I own anything from a $2 mascara to a $60 lipstick… but I also have a side job as a licensed esthetician…..

    • KL

      Guys still make underhanded comments about girls’ choice of adornments? Weird.

      • N

        relax KL.

  • tiff

    this.is. amazing.
    I salute you Fagan.
    the part about eyeliner is pure genius.

  • http://twitter.com/rachelanyaa rachL (@rachelanyaa)

    it takes a shit ton of practice
    i did cat eyes every day for 6 months with the guidance of make up artists before i stopped looking retarded.
    and remember… when in doubt, blend more!!

    • http://twitter.com/rachelanyaa rachL (@rachelanyaa)

      oh and never underestimate the power of quality brushes.
      2 final words…. cream eyeliner.

      it will change your life.

      • Lindsay

        CREAM EYELINER! Yes. A thousand times, YES.

    • http://mangopeels.wordpress.com quantumtheory

      yeah i know, my girlfriend always used to complain her cat eyes never look nice but with practice, it looks totally gorgeous now :))

  • Diana F

    I feel exactly the same! Ahaha loved it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jackieshoes Jacqueline Rae Shuman

    LOL. This is hilarious. But if it’s any consolation – I’m a girl with superior makeup application skills and I wish I could write half as well as you do. You win some you lose some!

  • A.


  • http://jcpart.co.uk Jordan

    i wish i could teach you!

  • tnpb7d

    Skip the foundation. It does more harm than good. Stick with a daily, oil-free moistureizer with SPF. Your skin will thank you for it by producing less blemishes. Its a vicious cycle. For everyday, skip the eyeliner and just use mascara. For special events, use a pencil liner and smudge into your eyelash line for an easy smokey look. And toss out the lipstick. Stick with a lip stain and a tube of chapstick. Make-up should accent your features not hide them.

    • Aria

      1. Unless you’re using a foundation that doesn’t agree with your skin, or you’re not taking it off completely at night, foundation does not harm you.
      2. I think woman should wear whatever makeup makes them happy. If we want to wear eyeliner during the day- great. If we want to wear lipstick- who cares?

  • http://belledemoiselle.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/repost-thought-catalog-waxes-lyrical-on-makeup/ Repost: Thought Catalog Waxes Lyrical on Makeup | belle demoiselle

    […] it is for your reading pleasure. All credits to Thought Catalog I swear, I could watch an entire lifetime’s worth of makeup and hair tutorials on YouTube, […]

  • http://whitecoralbells.blogspot.com Dawn

    I learned by somehow miraculously getting a job in the cosmetics area of a large department store… they expected me to pick up make-up application as I went, and I actually had to do some of it on PAYING CUSTOMERS.

    I still can’t do a perfect cat-eye, but I can do a five-minute “natural” look that includes (*le gasp!*) mascara~ and on me, it looks amazing. And this is coming from someone who usually hates her face. That said, it took 12 months of on-and-off practice and following around some true experts at work before I felt comfortable with most of the basics, and I’m surprised some of my ‘customers’ didn’t run screaming from my eyeshadow application.

    My best advice to you re: lipstick? Either find a tinted gloss that you love (if it smears all over it will generally look clear-ish and not embarrasingly pink/red on your teeth) or look into a lip stain worn with or without a clear gloss/chapstick over top. Lip stains are awesome because they stick and don’t wear off on everything, and they come in loads of colors so you’re sure to find one that works for you. I have a Stila lip stain in Pomegranate, which is horribly dark if you slap too much on but one or two quick swipes gives you impossibly amazing lips. With makeup, less is more!

  • Jamie

    Liquid liner is actually pretty easy to use if you use regular pencil liner beforehand (which is WAY easier to wipe off). Create the shape you want with the pencil, then trace over it with liquid liner. Plus that adds staying power.

    I feel ya on the lipstick, though I’ve found it much more manageable with a lip brush. It’s what makeup artists use.

    I was also told by a makeup artist that you shouldn’t use foundation until 40+.

    • Mara

      I do this too with my eyeliner. It also helps to start out by making dashes on your lashline and then connect them instead of trying to do the line all at once.

  • acsalonga


  • JL

    Sit in front of the mirror. Practice, fuck up, wipe it off and do it again for a few hours. You’ll learn quickly. You just probably skipped over that whole part of 12-15 year old teenage girl life.

    Also for the liner it helps to pull the corner of your eye outward toward your ear so that the lid is taut–makes for much easier lining.

    You also probably think you look weird with whatever makeup you have on because you’re conscious of it and therefore notice it more. Took me a few years before I realized I didn’t actually look that weird with lip color on, I just wasn’t used to it.

  • Rae Rae

    I agree! I wish there was some night classes to take where they teach you hair & makeup. Doesn’t matter how many tutorials I watch. It never ends up like that.

  • chelsea

    this is funny as hell but on the side, i used to be exactly like you in every way when it came to makeup. until i went into the mall and walked up to the bobbi brown counter and signed up for a free full makeup tutorial (granted i ended up purchasing over $100 of their products out of sheer excitement) but the woman showed me everything and its changed my life. its not so hard once you know how to do it the right way

  • Deb

    I keep my makeup very simple. I have fair skin and some freckles and I think it looks better if I just have a small amount of foundation. A little bit of eyeliner close to my eyelashes and minimal amounts of eyeshadow and mascara. I find that if I try to recreate the looks that I see in magazines, I just end up looking like a clown or that I have a black eye. I love this article, it’s something that most people don’t talk about. And guys don’t realize how much work it takes to look “natural.”

  • TheGreenDoor

    The only part of this that I can actually do is the liquid eyeliner. I’ve perfected it. But the whole concealer-pimple-cover-up thing is beyond me. I wish i could figure that shit out.

  • Sylvia

    this is exactly me…i have every single one of these issues.

  • Sara

    I have literally no idea how you find this difficult.

  • maybeemily

    I miss cat marnell reccomending makeup for me to fall in love with.

  • Katherine

    PRAISE! Hallelujah! Finally someone to identify with. As a high school student, (a rising senior at that) it sucks to see that even the freshman have better make-up application skills than me. I think we both missed the “tell-all make up secrets” memo.

  • http://www.charlsiekate.com charlsiekate

    Go to a Trish McEvoy counter at the mall – they will give you a make over, and the makeup artist will do each step on one side of your face, then talk you through it while you do the other side of your face. It’s super helpful – I go back about once a year for re-instruction. Having someone talk you through it after just having watched them do it is really great. The makeup isn’t cheap, but it lasts a long time, and it is something you can build on.

  • Andreea

    same here -.-

  • LuckyStars

    I have never understood makeup. I can apply mascara, powder, and . . . that’s it. Everything else I try to apply ends up looking completely overdone – like stage makeup. Probably because my only experiences learning how to apply makeup were for plays and musicals.

    Then again, I’m 24 and only wear lotion, a bit of green-tinted powder, and mascara, and seem to have succeeded in getting the jobs and boyfriends I want so far, so I don’t think I’m missing out on much.

    • Sara

      Goodie for you.

    • Aria

      Well, aren’t you just swell.

  • Jessica

    As for the concealer and foundation, try pulling back a little from the mirror before critiquing yourself. You’re looking at yourself more closely in the mirror than anyone except a makeout partner would do in real life so maybe that’s why you notice it so much? You’re also more aware that you have it on, so you’re more likely to judge it imperfect than others. It’s just like almost anything else we judge imperfect about ourselves: no one else really notices.

    I’m with you, though. I usually just wear foundation and mascara because I can’t apply anything else in a way that i think looks okay. Work on embracing your beauty :-)

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