If there is one thing about my appearance that I cherish, it is my makeup. My mother, a staunch feminist with cropped hair and easily irritated skin, never wore or owned any makeup. She preached against it, never even letting me paint my nails, so perhaps it was the taboo nature of the object that fueled my fascination bordering on obsession. To the four, five, six-year-old me, makeup was the mark of a real woman. My father loves to tell stories of me begging for a makeup, pleading "every real woman has a compact in her purse! "

Thinking back on it, however, it might not have been the forbiddenness of the makeup that fueled my interest. No, perhaps it was simply my human nature to wish to paint my face. After all, since the beginning of human civilization we have been creating and wearing makeup. The earliest recorded use of it was the 1st Dynasty of Egypt. In the arid deserts both men and women used makeups to hydrate their skin, avoid wrinkles, hide their pores, smooth their complexions, shelter their eyes from the sun, keep away bugs, and to hide their body odor. Egyptian women also used soot to draw the infamously seductive Cleopatra eyeliner around their eyes. To the people of the Nile, being flawlessly attractive was the best way to get close to the gods.

Chinese, Greek, and Roman civilizations were equally interested in makeups. The Roman philosopher Plautus wrote, "a woman without paint is like food without salt. " All three civilizations strived for pale faces. The Chinese painted their faces while the Greeks and the Romans used leeches to drain their blood. In the European middle ages pale skin was also highly valued as, it was a sign of wealth. Poorer women spent time under the harsh sun tending to crops while rich women stayed indoors. Leeching was also popular in this period; however, less extreme measures were also used to boost beauty. Women, as well as men, darkened their lashes and eyelids with soot, and used natural dyes to ruddy their cheeks.

Perhaps, then, it was my human instinct kicking in when, at the tender age of twelve, I began to use makeup. My peers and I were beginning to enter puberty, and a collective fervor began within all of us, a deep desire to be accepted and attractive. I acquired an eyeliner pencil from my best friend and spent my mornings lining, again and again, the shape of my eyes. I remember coming down every morning, desperately hoping my mother would not comment on my outlined eyes. She rarely did, probably preferring to ignore it rather than get in a fight with me.

My career as an amateur makeup artist took off one fateful day during my freshman year of high school. I was given the task of cleaning out the upstairs bathroom closet, which, after going unsorted for years, wasn't very functional. To my surprise, amongst the empty bottles, dust, and trash, I found a beautiful treasure: a green and white Clinique makeup bag, smelling of dust and old-fashioned perfume, filled to the brim with slender tubes, pastel containers, and mysterious objects whose contents filled me with a deep curiosity. My mother, in some sentimental grief, had saved her mother's makeup bag. I sunk to the floor, holding my breath as I took out each object one by one. Many things were spoiled or dry, but to my complete awe, her compact was almost full of creamy foundation, many lipstick tubes were next to untouched, and her blush puff was still clean and tucked in the bag. My pulse rising with excitement, I dashed back to my room, intent on beautifying my round face.

The specialized, expensive, synthetic, makeups I used that day, and that I have used every day since then, are radically different from the often homemade and simple solutions used for most of human civilization. It was not until the turn of the 20th century that makeup began its real evolution toward its modern manifestation. After briefly disappearing from the Western world during the Victorian era (when it was associated with prostitutes and actresses), it returned with a flourish, thanks in part to Max Factor. Of Polish origin, Factor immigrated to the United States in 1904. He sold his cosmetics at the 1904 World's Fair before moving to Los Angeles and getting a start in Hollywood. Factor was presented with a unique problem. Stage actors used grease paint to provide a beautiful and flawless face. However, this makeup was only suitable when the audience was far away from the actors. Grease paint had to be applied thickly, tended to crack, and was all around unsuitable for motion pictures, let alone average women. Factor set about perfecting makeup that could be thinly applied and would move with the actor's face. He was very successful, and his new makeup caught on like wildfire, first in Hollywood and then in the rest of the United States. It was Factor who coined the phrase "makeup, " which he drew from the phrase "to make one's self up. "

Max Factor and his brand, now known as CoverGirl, went on to create the "Color Harmony Principles of Makeup, " which dictated which places on a woman's face to accent and with which tones and shades. This guide, now completely integrated into our culture, was what I followed as I began to develop my makeup style. Throughout high school I flipped through thick style magazines, ripping out ads, reading the "how to " sections, analyzing eye-shadow styles, and attempting to copy them the best I could. I taped pictures of made-up women to my walls. I spent hours standing in the makeup aisle at CVS, examining product after product, picking out concealers, eye shadows, lip glosses, eyeliners, eye brow pencils, blushes, bronzers… I didn't do any of it correctly right away, but over my high school years I developed a distinct makeup style. I plucked my eyebrows into a dramatic arch (or mutilated them, as my mother said the first time she saw them) and began lining them with a supple brow pencil each morning. My eyes were defined with expensive liquid eyeliner and accentuated with sassy wings whose dramatic flips lengthened over the years until they created an almost inhuman effect. I applied various shimmering shadows to my eyes, deepening the sockets, accenting the brows. I wanted intensity and drama. I wanted class. I wanted femininity. I wanted beauty.

My senior year of high school, however, things began to change. I have always liked to think of myself as an environmental activist, and that year I decided to become one, officially. From November of 2011 to August of 2012 I was constantly on the go. I went to protests all over the Mid-West and East Coast, attended conferences, listening to speakers elaborate on topics such as mountain top removal mining, energy policy, hydraulic fracturing, and climate change. I lobbied in Washington DC and in my state congress, held up signs at rallies, surrounded the White House, marched through the streets, and did yoga at Occupy encampments. In this new and exciting environment I was surrounded by some of the most authentic, compassionate, driven, and aware people I had ever met. They were human beings to the core: completely comfortable in their unaltered human skin.

It was the women struck me the most. Many of them did not shave their legs or armpits, did not pluck their eyebrows, let curls be curls, did not hide their pores, left their eyes unlined and their lips pale. They were makeup-less, un-obscured, glittering human beings. For the first time in my life I was presented with an alternative to the flawless woman carrying her compact. For the first time in my life, I wished to reach for a makeup remover pad and wash away the thin mask concealing the scars and plain-ness of my humanity. I was ready to give it all up.

The women around me were beautiful without cosmetics, but beyond that, they were healthier. They taught me things I had never suspected about makeups, including the fact that most of them include chemicals known to cause cancer. Makeups have always been pretty dangerous, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians. Some vital ingredients in early makeups were mercury, arsenic, and lead: all extremely poisonous chemicals. These ingredients, used commonly up to the19th century, eventually ruined the skin, caused hair loss, stomach problems, the shakes, and, sometimes, death. These dangers were no secret, but women continued to use their beloved products. An extreme and odd example of this is the case of Signora Toffana, a 16th century European woman who created the faced powder called Aqua Toffana. This product's main ingredient was arsenic. Toffana told her wealthy clientele to apply the makeup only when their husbands were around. She successfully lead to the deaths of some six hundred husbands (allowing their wives to gain control of their estates) before the product was banned and she was finally brought to justice.

Around 1800, zinc oxide began replacing much more dangerous chemicals, and is still commonly used in today's makeups. Despite constant denial by many in the makeup industry, however, the dangers of makeup have not disappeared. Carcinogens, or chemicals that cause cancer, are in all of our cosmetics. In fact, only 20% of chemicals in cosmetics have been assessed for safety by the industry's safety panel. Beyond the fact that these products have not been tested, the safety panels in the United States are, in themselves, suspect. Because the Food and Drug Administration does not test ingredients in cosmetics, the cosmetics industry has filled the regulation gap, supposedly screening their own products and imposing voluntary recommendations. The result of this health nightmare is beautifully illustrated in conundrums such as that of Estee Lauder, who gives some of their profits to cancer research while simultaneously selling products that could cause cancer.

Fully aware of the dangers of makeup and the amazing beauty of a woman's face free of it, I entered by this school year, my freshman year of college. Having gone to an all-girls high school where there was no one to impress, college was quite a culture shock. Surrounded by "normal " beautified young women, I couldn't let go of makeup. All the girls around me were so perfect. All the boys around me were so fascinating. I felt a pressure grow on my shoulders, a pressure to be appealing, to be feminine. Despite my fervent wish to dump the contents of my makeup bag in the trash, makeup became more and more important to me. I bought a mirror that magnified face, illuminating every pore, blackhead, and stray hair. I began plucking my eyebrows incessantly and using face masques daily. My free time was soon occupied with YouTube makeup tutorials and my extra money was spent on a rainbow of eye shadow pallets.

So, every morning I line up my brushes, small compacts, eyeliners, and eyebrow pencils in front of me, and begin to make up my face. But every day, as I look in my magnified mirror at the bumpy surface of my face, my funny slanted eyes, my wispy eyebrows, and my pale lips, I wonder why I do it. Is it human nature to paint my face, or is it more real, authentic, and human to not need makeup? Is it the natural pressure to fit in amongst my peers? Why is it that I still want to decorate myself, despite the knowledge I hold about its dangers? For the time being, I relish in the deliciously difficult questions, and step out into a world of fabulously painted faces.

Fiona Grant is a freshman English major from Louisville, Kentucky. She hopes to gain and share a deep-seated understanding of our cosmos, reality,
and all that is human actuality.