The big blow came when a close friend told me, while tipsy, that he'd always had the urge to "wipe clean" my makeup.
I remember laughing nervously before coming up with an excuse to head for the washroom. I had to check my face. Were my thick, cat-eye wings smudging? Was my full-coverage foundation melting? Was my highlighter still beaming - because if you were "into makeup", as I was, it couldn't be not-blinding and not-OTT.
There wasn't anything wrong with it. The truth about my friend's (ironically) sobering comment was that what I had on my face was excessive. That was when I was 19, and didn't know much about makeup. But I was an expert at this: falling into the rabbit hole of the beauty "explore" page on Instagram. Diving in, I'd spotted the similarities quickly: the It beauty girls all had that "winning" look. They all had The Face. It was their definition of "pretty" - and I wanted to look like them.
The Face looks like this: flawless, photo-perfect skin, chiselled and contoured cheekbones, pinched noses, wide almond-shaped eyes, strong arched brows, a blinding highlight and a full, pouty lip. The idea is to look as doll-like as possible.
It doesn't matter if you aren't a natural beauty like Angelina Jolie, or don't have the moolah to look as dropdead gorgeous as Kylie Jenner. This is the #powerofmakeup - it has the ability to turn you into their doppelgangers. For me, all it took was a quick tap of that hashtag on IG, and I was transported to a world of minute-long tutorials that showed me how I could use makeup to instantly transform myself into the It beauty girl.
The videos may have been 60 seconds long, but in reality, it took me two hours every morning to, in IG lingo, "get on a full beat". That long, yes, and 17 different products on my face. I had on full-coverage foundation - no "real" skin was allowed to peek through. And that meant applying two extra concealers on top of it. Then, two types of setting powders to "bake" the creases away. And because a sculpted face was the It look, two bronzers for the most "lifelike" shadows.
It was draining. It was driving me crazy. That "perfect" look made me anxious. I was worried, almost every minute, about ruining the perfection. Not only was the perfection hardwon (two hours!), it took everything to maintain. Not supposed to sweat, can't scratch an itch, touching up every other hour. Any and every human imperfection had to be hidden from the world.
The Face was eating at me. Soon, it wasn't just about what was wrong with my makeup anymore - I started worrying about what was wrong with me.
So imagine my shock when my drunk friend said he wanted to clean my face of makeup. Clearly, I had a problem. The Face just wasn't practical in real life; it was a face created for the screens. And as they say, drunk talk is real talk. I decided once and for all to scale back on my makeup routine. (We're still friends, if you're wondering.)
Here's what changed for me. First, I had a new rule: less is more. Now, I'm not one to champion the barefaced beauty movement - makeup helps to elevate your looks, so you look more put-together. But appearing put-together doesn't mean needing a gazillion products. I went from 17 products to just five, and from two hours to 30 minutes, tops, on slow days.
Did I really need such a thick base? Away went the fuller-than-full-coverage foundation; a good concealer that covered blemishes well was enough. The easiest way to look radiant? By rosy-ing up the cheeks with blusher. Brows? Mine looked best when filled in neatly, and naturally. Eyes? No need for thick eyeliner wings every day. A mascara would define my lashes and lash line. The final touch - lip colour to match the occasion.
I stopped looking like an It beauty girl. I simply looked like me, and it's been two years now.
The point of makeup, I've realised, isn't to look like someone else or fit into a virtual mould. You shouldn't compromise your authentic and individual self - and no single look, IG or not, is one-size-fits-all. Makeup should help you look and feel like a better version of yourself, and be used in a way that's unique to you. There shouldn't be any pressure to "look perfect" because, in the famed (and cheesy) words of Bruno Mars: You're amazing, just the way you are.
Trust me when I say that the sense of liberation is real. I feel prettier in my own skin than I ever did - and that's really how the true #powerofmakeup should make you feel.
This article was first published in Her World Online.