It’s about the eyeliner, but it’s not about the eyeliner

Stitch Fix modeling

Stitch Fix modeling

Every morning, I put on the same dull eyeliner and think: Why am I doing this?

I’d already found a different brand I love. Purchased faithfully for years, I finally used up the last of my beloved black eyeliner pencil — but rather than replace it, I decided to make do what what I already had.

That’s a very sensible idea, of course — in theory. Thanks to years of Birchbox subscriptions, I had a serious backlog of makeup samples. When the clutter got bad enough, I decided to sort through them a few months back (a modified KonMari, if you will). I purged what was open and old, then passed along new samples to coworkers. If I haven’t tried out a blush in three years, do I really need it? (No. The answer, I told myself repeatedly, is no.)

So I threw out my beloved Mally eyeliner pencil, the one worn down to the nub, and tried to get by with one of the random “waterproof” pencils wedged in my makeup drawer.

It seemed silly — and wasteful — to buy another $22 eyeliner duo . . . especially now with a baby (and his associated costs). I have all these products here just gathering dust, and they’re already paid for!

I’ve followed the same basic makeup routine — concealer, blush, Chapstick, eyeliner, mascara — since middle school, and have been on the hunt for the “perfect” products since earning my first paycheck. Once I was making my cool $6.75 an hour as a Michael’s cashier, I had some cash to blow on my makeup experiments.

And experiment I did. I spent years trying to find the right eyeliner. A complementary color for my olive skin tone, something dark but not too dark. A product that looks as fresh at 6 p.m. as it did at 6 a.m., and hopefully doesn’t cost a fortune. Something that my oily skin will not destroy in no time — a product that never winds up smudged beneath my eyes.

And I found it: Mally eyeliner. But I talked myself out of replenishing it, thinking that money would be better spent on incidentals for the family.

I talked myself out of thinking it mattered, this relatively small purchase that actually makes a big impact on my day. In wanting to be resourceful with my heart in the right place, I made a choice — daily — to apply makeup that I did not like, that didn’t work well, because I didn’t think it mattered.

But this morning, I was done. After an extremely stressful month at work, one filled with lay-offs and huge changes and more anxiety than I’ve felt in years, I was tiredly getting ready for another work week and thought: I can do better than this.

I can do better than a few rushed minutes to myself each morning, stolen before Oliver wakes up.

I can do better than treating myself like an afterthought: someone wearing frumpy clothes with tangled hair, a woman hiding behind her new mom identity to rationalize her sloppiness.

I can do better than this eyeliner that will quickly fade, doing nothing to make me feel happy and confident.

And it goes even deeper, of course. Post-pregnancy, I’ve struggled with buying new clothes — again. Between an almost 40-pound weight loss, pregnancy (and purchasing maternity wear), and adjusting to the 30 extra pounds I’m now carrying after birth, I feel guilty and frustrated rebuilding my closet . . . again.

But what’s the byproduct of that refusal? Every day I feel unpolished, either squeezing into clothes that feel too tight or wearing the same few “larger” tops over and over. Pair that with my makeup situation, and frankly? It ain’t good.

Having a baby is lovely (and amazing), but also quite strange. Your life changes in every possible way — right down to how you look and feel about yourself. Though I’ve never obsessed over appearances, I can recognize I haven’t been taking care of myself over the last six months. Like: at all.

And it’s time to change that, I think. We’re all familiar with maternal guilt, and this sense that we have to give it all — every bit of our energy, time, money — to our children. But there must be a way to reserve a little for yourself? If only to be the happy person — the strong, capable parent — you know you can be?

I need to get back on solid footing. I need to start caring for myself again. That’s something the nurses discussed in the NICU — “self-care” — but it was totally irrelevant to me back then, this idea that I would need to look after myself the way we had to look after our vulnerable baby.

But Oliver is no longer so vulnerable. He’s a hulk, actually — and I have to stop using that preemie parent identity as my defense. It serves no one. And since he’s sleeping through the night, I can’t blame exhaustion for why I’m not making strides to feel better.

It’s time to do that for myself.

With a few clicks, my favorite eyeliner is back on its way to me. I’ll head to the clearance racks at Kohl’s and get creative with my budget, investing in a few new pieces of clothing to switch up through fall and winter. And I’ll check out Goodwill, too, as I’m dropping off bags of the belongings that no longer serve me. I have lots of them.

I’m going to place all my favorite “small” clothes in bins, labelled for when I’m ready to pull them out again. But in the meantime, I don’t need those sizes taunting me. My closet shouldn’t be three-quarters full of items I cannot wear. Just seeing them daily — a harsh compare-and-contrast as I stand before my full-length mirror — is depressing.

I will get back to a good place. It’s going to take time and dedication — but I can make small steps to feel good each day. I may never again wear a size six, but I will get stronger. It could take months (or years), but I want to be healthy: for my husband, my son. Myself.

And while I battle my way back? Well, at least my eyeliner will look awesome.