Chest tight with a slight ache in the back of the throat. A neck pain that appeared without fanfare and outwore its status as a guest in my body. For a store that could have the tagline "Treat Yoself," walking into Sephora feels like the prelude to a panic attack for me. It's a reminder that there's huge part of being a woman that continues to elude me. The sheer number of products that I'm expected to crave and use, layer upon layer. I may not love what I see in the mirror every day.
Eyes that flash open to blurrily peer upon a lime digital display where the numbers add up to a waking time hours before the morning alarm. Anxiety has been my constant companion, the ride or die that I would rather die. At once a security blanket that gives me an excuse for outward success. I check all the boxes, consider every scenario, with the grace of Ginger Rogers and a grin reminiscent of Julia Roberts in 90s rom coms. Anxiety is the magician playing sleight of hand. At once, driving the track record that demonstrates entrepreneurship is not a pipe dream but rather an achievable, desirable and attainable career. Anxiety comforts me about risk. After all, nothing can go wrong when you plan for everything, can it?
Those two words, can it, spawn a spiral of self doubt. How can I go out on my own, be my own boss when I can't trust my judgment. Can't distinguish between intuition and the inner voice that tells me to work longer to ensure that I'm successful. That drives me to skip meals, the gym, time with friends and loved ones, so I can work to avert the failure that never comes. But I can't relax because how do I know that it's not this vigilance that keeps me safe from disaster.
My anxiety didn't have a name at the beginning of my career, nor when I spent brief periods of time freelancing while in between work or picking up odd gigs while I worked full time. Only when the stakes went up when I "decided" to work for myself full-time did it barge into the war room of my mind and take over the reigns. Basically declaring that it was the captain now, hijacking any innate sense of rationality.
Whereas depression stole my Fulbright, my anxiety was the real MVP of life-disrupting mood disorders. Anxiety forced me to move due to restlessness, only fueling the perpetuation. Feeling like I was actually being judged and rejected, I tried to relax only to feel the discomfort of not being enough.
One YouTube binge later, I had made a list, lists being the refuge of Type A individuals worldwide. I found inexpensive dupes for all of the best MAC lipsticks for black women. While yes, saving a few coin was on my mind. The bigger issue was SAD — Sephora-Associated Dread, a condition only experienced by people perplexed by beauty and makeup like me. One massive Ulta order later, I had the armor that I needed without running the gauntlet. I told myself, "You're an adult. You need to wear makeup everyday, especially if you want people seriously." But really the lipstick wasn't for other people. I needed the armor.
When the order arrived, I tried on every color. It was like slipping on a confidence mask.
Lipstick was the facade of adult maturity and confidence that I craved and associated with women who ran businesses. They looked together, fierce, and as though doubt were not in the picture at all. Watching my face with the bold color scared me when I looked at it, but comforted me when in rooms with strangers working to prove myself. After all, you can't see the crazy colors you put on after you walk away from the mirror.
Lipstick allowed me to test what it felt like to enhance my appearance without feeling intimidated by the available options. It was idiot proof, essential for someone like me who wanted to feel more powerful on sight but not worry about raccoon eyes or rubbing a brow gel all over my face when errantly touching my face.
I've never thought of myself as a pretty girl and certainly not sexy. I often compare myself to a Cabbage Patch doll. When you have a round face, everything believes that you are younger.
And everyone says that you will be grateful for that in several years because youth both defines and limits you as a woman. Staring into the mirror, I wondered why my face was built the way it was. Where were my cheekbones? What is this crease that people keep referring to? Why is everyone so obsessed with eyebrows? My face is the outward manifestation of how mature I feel. Which is not at all. And with my trusty sidekick Anxiety telling me that I don't have what it takes to be an entrepreneur and my face showing me that entrepreneurs don't look this childish, this was the internal soundtrack that played through my mind with every prospect I met.
I can't say that lipstick solved all my problems of being an entrepreneur but it certainly did help with the pressure.