This Burn Survivor's Story Proves Wearing Makeup Can Truly Be Empowering

I have never met a woman who isn’t plagued by insecurities about her appearance. It seems so much easier to pinpoint the qualities you lack or dislike instead of those you have and admire. I'll admit, the first thoughts I have about my own appearance on any given day are usually negative. I frustrate myself to no end by critiquing everything from the breakouts on my face to the uncomfortable tightness of my jeans.

Many women develop coping mechanisms that allow them to cope with this ongoing battle against their perceived shortcomings. Shalom Nchom, who is known as “Shalom Blac” on YouTube, did just that. At 9 years old, Nchom had an accident with frying oil at her family’s store that left her with severe burns. For years, she struggled to come to terms with the dramatic change in her appearance.

“I felt like a living statue that people came to see," she told Buzzfeed. "It pushed me to be rude towards anyone who stared at me. I cursed people out and cried on many occasions.”

This all changed, however, when Nchom discovered how to use makeup to her advantage and finally started to feel more comfortable with herself. But the same choice that empowered Nchom is one feminists have long regarded as part and parcel of a broader system of social oppression.

“I wear makeup because I recognize that I live in a culture where makeup is normalized for people of my sex, age, and profession," Jezebel’s Jenna Sauers wrote about her choice. “To not wear makeup, for many women, is to invite misunderstanding or, worse, judgment.”

Sauers and many other feminists clearly view make up as an obligation rather than a potentially empowering choice. This may be their authentic experience, but it's crucial to remember and validate experiences like Nchom’s, too. The key, it seems, is to focus less on external pressure or expectations about one's appearance and instead try to focus on what feels individually fulfilling.

Rather than dismiss the efforts of women to alter their appearance as conforming to sexist and unattainable beauty standards, we'd perhaps all do better (and feel happier) if we understood that for many women, participating in this practice is a means to a bigger, ultimately feminist end. Given that truly finding self-love and fulfillment seems all but impossible to most women, Nchom’s story particularly demonstrates that finding ways to feel more confident about the way you look — no matter the cultural messaging surrounding it — may be the most important, and feminist, experience of all.

As Nchom herself says, although make up has significantly improved her confidence, “You should love yourself either way—makeup or no makeup. Makeup is not the reason why I am happy. I’m happy because I love myself.”

More articles by Category: Body image and body standards, Feminism, Media
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Chloe Hallinan
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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