Why I Stopped Using Makeup to Hide My Ethnic Heritage

A few months ago I was at a workshop for my job. We split into groups and were asked to pull cards with icebreaker questions. When my turn came, the question triggered an almost too-fast answer from my mouth: What is your biggest regret from your teen years?


I happened to be in a group with four women, and we all burst out laughing. But it’s true (and very sad, RIP my brows).

I spent all of my adolescence and about half of my adult life thus far trying to look different than I do. Trying to look more “like everyone else, please” as I used to moan to my mom during my high school years. And then, about five years ago, for some reason, I decided to stop punishing my face and hair for the sin of non-WASP-ness. It happened in chunks, changing my makeup routine bit by bit until I finally looked like myself: a Roma-Jewish-American woman with nothing to hide.

First were the brows. Sadly, they have yet to grow back to what they were pre-Christina Aguilera influence. But I stopped plucking them altogether. And I used oils and serums (within budgetary reason) to help them grow again. And instead of using “light ash/dark blonde” eyebrow pencil which, to be honest, was never believable in the first place on me, I switched to dark brown/soft black. And I filled in the shape my brows were instead of the obscenely pointy stencils I’d been using. My eyebrows are naturally a little depressed looking, and by embracing them, I like to think I’m also embracing the cosmetic heritage of 2,000+ years of suffering.

Next up: the nose. All through high school I used a trick I learned from a girl I went to school with: If you use a little bronzer on the sides of your nose, and a tiny bit of white down the middle, it’ll make it look smaller. And it did. I did this almost every day for years. Until one day I didn’t. I stopped trying to trim my big nose down. I embraced my profile. And to boot, I stopped wearing teeny tiny nose studs, and instead bought elaborately jeweled rings I had always admired but never bought. Those rings are for tiny noses. You don’t bedazzle a big schnozz. Those were my excuses for years. While my wallet is slightly unhappier for it, I’m glad to have upgraded my nose bling.

Then there were my choices in lip and eye colors. I had danced around anything bold for years, having that inner Eurocentric voice critiquing my face: You can’t pull off bold colors. They’re for small, delicate features. With your huge features, it’ll look grotesque! Just like with my nose jewelry, the voice in my head was both wrong and boring. I ditched 50 shades of neutral (keeping a few for casual use) and finally started wearing red lipstick and jet black eyeliner. My eyes looked huge. My lips looked prominent. And I loved it. The only downside was the increase in strangers asking, “Where are you from though, originally?” You can read my answer here. 

The last step is one that is a pain point for so, so many Jewish women across the global diaspora: hair. Unlike many Jewish goddesses, who embrace delightful coils of rich, dark hair, I have formless loose waves and a lot of frizz (and baby hair). I went from straightening my hair every day or two, to… I can’t actually remember the last time I took a straightening iron to my hair. It feels good.

sarah hartman makeup

While I don’t feel like Gal Gadot probably feels on a daily basis, I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. The act of enhancing your heritage instead of hiding it is at once empowering, terrifying, and confusing. I still have moments where I wince at the largesse of my nose in profile. This morning I had the urge to chop all my hair off because it was so utterly poofy and unruly. But by embracing it, I feel closer to my heritage, and to my ancestors, in all their poofy-haired, big nosed, oily skinned glory.

And I still secretly hope my eyebrows will grow back.

Sarah Elizabeth Hartman

Sarah Elizabeth Hartman was born and raised in San Francisco, and has since been gentrified out to the edges of the Bay Area. She is someday going to finish her dual MA in Jewish studies and Arts Education; she lives with six cats, has a great mom, and a heckin’ cool partner.

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