A good portion of my mornings are spent trying to figure out a weather-appropriate and commuter-friendly outfit that communicates whatever nuanced (or not) version of my personality I want to project. I can leave the house in “jeans and a T-shirt” and be fine, but I feel at my best and most ready to charge forward into the exciting or terrifying unknown when I’m head-to-toe dressed. I’m sure we all have our version of this. Maybe for you, it’s washing your hair or brewing a pot of coffee.

For many women, it’s putting on makeup.

With Duality Month in mind, I spoke to three women who wear a full face of makeup every single day: liner, eyelashes, shadow — the works. In the same way a well-considered outfit makes me feel put together and confident, makeup, to these women, is like a coat of armor. We spoke about this coat of armor (two of them said makeup made them feel like a superhero): what it’s like to put it on and what it’s like to take it off. Below, they explain how wearing makeup makes them feel while revealing who they are as two different versions of themselves.

Zena Hanna, 31

When did you get into makeup?

I was in my early twenties. In high school and college, I didn’t really think about it. My mom wasn’t a full-face-of-makeup type of woman. She had perfect skin and for her it was all about the skincare — still is. My sister never wore any makeup either, so for me, a natural face was the only thing I knew.

Honestly, I started wearing full coverage foundation because I had a lot of facial hair and it made me super insecure. I’m Middle Eastern, so it was just something that ran in my genes! I felt like my facial hair was so bad that I’d wear turtlenecks and just cake on makeup because I was embarrassed by it. I’ve since done laser and my confidence has definitely gotten a boost.

What’s your relationship like with makeup today?

I love it. I love the femininity that surrounds it; I love the connection to other women when we talk about makeup or beauty tips. Also, makeup just makes me feel put-together.

I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a tattoo artist. She’s always decked out in the coolest jewelry, rings on rings, a septum piercing — and no makeup. (She looks beautiful. We all do. There’s no such thing as an ugly woman.) She thinks it’s funny that I don’t do my nails, don’t wear jewelry, none of those things — but that I do wear makeup, and feel weird without it. I was like, “Yeah, but what if you left the house without your jewelry?” And she was like, “Yeah, I would feel weird.” That’s part of her identity and look. Whether it’s makeup or jewelry or clothes or shoes, it’s just another form of self-expression.

Tell me about your daily makeup routine.

I put on SPF tinted under eye cream, then NARS foundation. I try to just use one drop because I don’t want to have a caked-on look. It’s full-coverage and it does a pretty good job. Then I blend it all together.

A friend of mine who works at L’Oréal gifted me the eyeshadow palette I used today, but I never normally wear eyeshadow; I just put bronzer on my eyelids. Then I put on my eyeliner that I’ve been using for… I don’t even know how many years. It’s NYX. I never wear mascara because I hate taking it off. Then I do bronzer — right under my cheekbones and blend it in. Just one streak of the bronzer shade from Kat Von D’s contouring kit. (I couldn’t be bothered with the full-contour thing for very long.) After bronzer, a touch of blush, and then highlighter. I just got the Rihanna Fenty highlighter. It’s amazing. Then I mix it all together.

I always used to wear red lipstick for events, but the lipstick would rub off and I’d be too lazy to reapply it. But then I went to the Glossier store and I got Generation Z in Zip. It literally feels like Chapstick, stays on and it’s super bright.

My whole routine takes me five to seven minutes, and I try to keep it as low-maintenance as I can.

When do you go totally bare-faced?

At the beach. And even then, if there’s a tinted something, I’ll put it on because I want an even skin tone. If it’s the weekend and I’m just going somewhere local, I’ll leave it. When I travel I don’t wear as much makeup. Especially if it’s somewhere hot.

Makeup on or off, you’re still you. What would you say to someone who argues otherwise?

I think we have the freedom to do whatever the hell we want. You’re not wearing a mask [when you put on makeup]; you’re still very much visible to the entire world. If you feel like you want to hide, then you can address that in your own way with makeup too. But if makeup is someone’s [form of] self-expression, then let them do that. They’re not harming anybody.

Wearing red lipstick makes me feel really feminine. I feel sexy, and I don’t otherwise feel sexy all the time. If you don’t want to wear it, that’s great. You don’t have to. It’s amazing and commendable that you feel completely comfortable as you are in your own skin. That’s awesome and that’s something that we can all aspire to, but we also don’t have to.

Follow Zena on Instagram @itszenahanna

Ty Lazauskas, 25

When did you get into makeup?

I grew up listening to David Bowie, and then the mid-2000s, the mall-emo thing happened. I got into this type of makeup when I bought my first My Chemical Romance album. Back in 2005, dramatic eyeliner was a big deal, and I saw people of all genders rocking makeup on MTV. It destigmatized the idea of makeup for me, and I had to have weird makeup like the glam bands and MySpace scene queens. I distinctly remember when I told my mom I couldn’t go to the eighth grade dance because I couldn’t find red eyeliner anywhere. I did crazy dramatic stuff and got sent to the principal’s office all the time. I was just like, “I’m going to wear bigger and bigger makeup until they don’t let me into class.”

What’s your relationship with makeup today?

I suffer from chronic illness, so waking up in the morning and seeing how tired I look bums me out. But when I put on makeup, I feel like I’m putting on dramatic face paint to deal with my day. I don’t really have a lot of control over how my body looks because chronic pain took that away from me, but I do have control over how much I put on my face or how I do my hair. Makeup makes me feel invincible, like I can be out in the world and people will see as I want to be seen. It makes me feel like a superhero, I guess. It helps me cover up how tired and painful my life is.

One of my best friends recently told me that skincare and makeup is witchy, and it’s so true. It sounds dramatic, but sometimes in the morning I’ll light a candle while I’m doing makeup and it feels ritualistic, in a way. I’m looking at my own face for 30 minutes and watching it transform from tired to fabulous and I really enjoy the process. Sometimes, when I’m really tired, I don’t, but I would say that 90% of the time I really enjoy the time it takes [to do my makeup]. I know there are shortcuts, but I don’t want to take them.

Tell me about your daily makeup routine.

I wake up at 5 a.m. every day and it takes me 20 to 30 minutes to do my makeup. Sometimes I’ll see something new on Instagram and I’ll try it. I got really into the last season of America’s Next Top Model and there was a girl who had fishtail eyebrows; I was doing that for a while, so that would add five or ten minutes.

I usually start with foundation, then I contour. Then I put on two to three different types of eyeliner. Then I bake, which is when you press loose powder under your eye in a triangle. It helps keep your under-eye makeup in place. Then I do brows last while I’m waiting for my mascara to dry. I don’t do lipstick every day just because I drink a lot of coffee. My coworkers will look in the dishwasher and be like “Okay, Ty, we know you’ve had four cups of coffee today because there are four cups with purple lipstick on them.” So I’ve cooled it with the lipstick. It’s 20 to 30 minutes start to finish.

I used to work in a doctor’s offices, and they would make passing comments about unprofessional makeup — but then I just got a new job. In my office now… nobody really cares. They’re all really sweet, artistic people so they don’t really care what I wear or what I do, so I’m really lucky in that regard. My makeup is only a pain at work when we’re shooting on a rooftop in the summer and by the end of the day it’s a little melty.

When do you not wear makeup?

I think more people in my life have seen me naked than barefaced. Like, I think there are people who I consider to be best friends of mine who’ve seen me without makeup twice. But if they do, it’s usually at my place and we’re doing face masks or something. It rarely happens. Even if I’m going to get groceries, I am done up. One of my best friends who’s a tattoo artist, she painted this quote for me and stuck it on a wall at her tattoo shop that says, “If you’re going to run into your ex, be wearing black lipstick.”

I’ve taken one picture of myself without makeup on, ever. So for this shoot, it was weird to be around people I’m just meeting and take everything off. Because of my illness, without makeup on, I’m more likely to hear people say that I look sick or tired, so when I am not wearing a full face of makeup, I feel more vulnerable. I would honestly rather go to the grocery store in my underwear than go to the grocery store without makeup on.

It’s kind of like David Bowie. He was never on stage without a getup. I won’t leave the house until I’m wearing makeup.

Makeup on or off, you’re still you. What would you say to someone who argues otherwise?

Makeup makes me a different person in the same way that wearing business clothes might make someone a different person than they are at home in pajamas. People are more confident when they wear their favorite outfit or nice underwear.

It’s like the saying, “Confidence comes from within”: If I don’t personally think I look my best, I’m less likely put myself out there. I’m less likely to talk to strangers or engage with people when I don’t have makeup on. And I don’t think that means I’m two-faced. I think everyone has things like that. Confidence ebbs and flows throughout the day. For me, makeup is a booster. Something my therapist says all the time is, “We have no control over the things we feel, but we can control how we react to them.” And I feel that makeup helps me react to things better. It helps me be more deliberate. It effects how I engage in conversations with people and who I choose to talk to.

What’s it like when you take your makeup off? What’s the literal process like, and what’s it like emotionally?

When I’m lazy, I’ll just use a face cleanser and I’ll still have half my eyeliner on and say “fuck it.” But I try to have a pretty exhaustive skincare routine because as I said before, skincare is witchy and I’m really into it. I try to do the two-step method where I do an oil cleanser and then a foaming cleanser because it’s the best way to get rid of makeup. And then when I’m feeling it, I like to do a face mask afterwards. Sometimes I do three face masks. And then after it all comes off and I put moisturizer on, I feel like a fresh new person. The feeling of wearing makeup is second only to how it feels to put on a shit ton of moisturizer and go to bed. I just feel like, “I’ll be so beautiful in the morning!” It’s the promise of a beautiful tomorrow — I feel like rarely that’s the case, but it feels that way.

Follow Ty on Instagram @sp_aceghost

LaShell Kao, 35

When did you get into makeup?

High school is when I started to wear makeup, but I started wearing a full face within the last couple of years.

What’s your relationship like with makeup now?

I don’t want to say it gives me confidence, because that sounds like I don’t have confidence without makeup, and I don’t think that’s the case. But it just prepares me for what’s happening. It gets me ready. Did you ever see Breakfast at Tiffany’s? When Audrey Hepburn’s character says, “A girl just can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick” at the end in the cab — I feel that way. If I’m about to meet someone and I’m terrified, I check my lipstick and make sure everything’s in place.

I think I’m the same person with or without makeup on. Who am I with my makeup on? I want to say a superhero but I feel like that sounds kind of cheesy. That is kind of how I feel. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind.

Tell me about your daily makeup routine.

I wash my face, then put on sunblock, primer, and foundation. I wear Makeup Forever because it matches my skin tone. And then I contour. Then I use an eyeshadow palette to do the look I want depending on how I feel and what I’m doing [that day]. Sometimes on weekends, if I don’t have anything to do, I’ll test out new looks. The false eyelashes are recent. I saw people complete their looks with eyelashes on YouTube and thought it looked amazing. The first few times I felt ridiculous, and then it took so long to do and it was a pain in the butt, but now, I pop them on quickly and I feel kind of weird without them. Now that it’s getting really hot though, I may have to stop.

I know a lot of people who don’t like the process of putting makeup on. I really, really do. I sit down, I have everything laid out. It’s very ritualistic. And I won’t leave the house without having my makeup done. I’ll go to the store or something like that [without it on], but if I’m going anywhere else, I will not leave the house without it.

I wake up at 4:50 a.m., but that’s just so I don’t have to rush. I have to be at work by 8. I can do my makeup in about 40 minutes. I once saw a girl on the train do her entire face of makeup and I thought it was amazing. For me though, it’s very private. I don’t even like putting lipstick on in front of people. It’s a private thing to me.

What’s it like when you take your makeup off? What’s the literal process like, and what’s it like emotionally?  

Honestly, as soon as I get home, I take it off. I just take a shower and wash it all away. In my house, I’m barefaced all the time. I kind of feel like: Okay, we’re done with this day and it all goes down the drain. I wash my hair and everything and I just let it go. I’m happy to take it off at the end of the day. Not that it’s a burden, but at the end of the day, I’m happy that it’s done.

Makeup on or off, it’s still you, but what would you say to someone who says otherwise?

I do have a fear that someone will say, “You wear makeup because you have low self-esteem,” or something like that. But that’s not the case. It’s just fun. That’s it. It’s like art. We wear clothes to make us feel better. Our faces are kind of the same.

Follow LaShell on Instagram @dottie_hills

Photographed by Grace Rivera.

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