He Said ‘When You Wear Make-Up, You Are Hiding Behind a Mask’


It was 1993. I was 25-years-old, young and in love – or at least infatuated.

He was so tall and strong. 6’6” and muscular. He was so smart and successful – very successful for a 30-year-old man. He was the picture of masculinity. I believe the very strong male scent emanating from his large frame was an excess of testosterone and it was intoxicating.

The sight of him made me think of marriage and children and happily-ever-after. I visualized getting married at my grandparents’ home on the eastern shore. I knew my family would love him. He was the man I would marry and the man I had been waiting for all of my young life.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to learn my feelings for him were reciprocated. He liked ME! He wanted ME!

To say I was obsessed is an understatement. What added to the obsession was that, three weeks to the day before we met, I had an absolute feeling I would be meeting a special man. Details of that feeling weren’t clear, but I just knew. I spotted him from across the crowded patio at the Cat & The Fiddle – a hipster pub in Los Angeles. I was drunk with desire and without realizing it, I lost myself the second I found him.

Just like many new romances, the early stage was like a fairytale. He was very romantic and swept me off of my feet. Flowers, sweet gestures, and little nothings became my entire reason for living.

There were occasional condescending comments from him, but like a good little woman in love, I ignored them and I focused on the things he said that I could share with my friends – like the time he was on a business trip and sent me flowers with a card that read “Sleepless in Cleveland.” And signed it “Your soulmate…” My girlfriends thought I was so lucky to have met such a great man. I didn’t like admitting that he would sometimes criticize me. When he did, he made it seem as if he were trying to help me see the right way – his way. I tried to rationalize his critiques or I ignored them.

One thing was clear: he wasn’t impressed with the fact that I wore make-up. He would let me know by saying things like “Make-up is really like wearing a mask. You are not presenting your true self to the world.” I would question myself – the self I had been for 25 years – before knowing him. Now, all of a sudden, something was wrong. I wore make-up and he didn’t like it.

I would push his comments away.

“Why do you wear heels? You are already tall. Why do you think you need to conform?”

I am 6 feet tall and I have never worn heels that were more than 2 inches. I like to wear them – especially with skirts and dresses. I would explain this to him and he would look at me as if I just didn’t get it. He didn’t approve. But we would both pretend there wasn’t a problem.

As the romance progressed, his real intentions came out more and more. He wasn’t a mean person – he never struck me – and he wasn’t a bad person; he was just concerned that I was not the best person I could be – the person he knew I should be. His criticisms weren’t meant as insults, he was just trying to point out what he believed to be my flaws, and he would point them out with questions and observations. His questions always carried a tone of superiority. He would look for other women who wore make-up or heels, and use them as examples to explain why they were not authentic and how they were conformists. “Look at that news anchor. She’s wearing so much make-up. She looks ridiculous.” “Why does she think she looks attractive with all that make-up?” “She looks like a clown.”

It should be noted at this time that he told me his girlfriend before me was a model.

His attempt to educate me made me feel insecure and weak. I wore make-up. This made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. I was a fraud. I wasn’t authentic.

A year into the romance, and after his many little comments and “suggestions,” I knew that I was flawed.

We took a vacation in a tropical destination. This is where he decided to drive home how I wasn’t good enough. I was almost good enough. But I wasn’t quite there. I just needed a little prodding.

At the time, I was sweating under my arms and prior to the trip, I purchased some extra strong anti-perspirant that wound up giving me a rash. I shared this information with him while we were strolling on the boardwalk. He said in a condescending tone, “Why do you EVEN WEAR deodorant?”

The list of my failings increased. I was a failure and not good enough because I didn’t want pit stains.WTF was I thinking???

While we were supposed to be enjoying a romantic getaway he wanted to make sure I finally understood how I was making all the wrong choices and he told me so.

After we had returned from an evening out – where I was noticed by a few men, but was not revealing any cleavage, he asked:

“Do men always stare at your cleavage?”

After I got ready to go to dinner with him one evening:

“You’re wearing make-up.” – As if it were the first time.

“You curled your hair.” – He wasn’t pleased.

“Your dress looks like it’s from a thrift store.”

After the male bell-hop entered our hotel room by mistake while I was changing clothes:

“Why don’t we just charge for people to see you naked so we can pay for this trip.”

Our last night of the trip we were dining out. I was telling him a funny story about when my mother was working on the soap opera  Days Of Our Lives. At the time, I was also pursuing an acting career, and that was one area where I felt confident. He told me that I was obsessed with acting and that it was all I ever talked about – it wasn’t – but I had upset him. He was hammering me and telling me that I needed to be different, I needed to be the kind of person he thought I should be. He told me I needed therapy. I believed he was right. I was a failure. I cried. My tears made him angrier and he pointed out that the restaurant staff would assume he was not a good person and ordered me to stop crying. I stopped.

That’s when he said:

“I’m really good at fixing people and I can fix you.”

I was broken. I was in a cloud of confusion. I wanted to be loved and I thought I loved him. He tried to help me but maybe I was beyond help. I wore too much make-up. I wore perfume and heels – and I liked it. I was a disgrace and I failed at being the kind of woman he thought I should be.

Thankfully, I have a mom who gives it to me straight. I told her what happened after I returned home from my romantic vacation. I told her what a horrible woman I am because I wore strong anti-perspirant and curled my hair. I explained that I had failed at being the best woman I could be.

After I told her of all of my failures, she said to me, “Jesus Christ, Kimberley, he is a manipulative control freak.”

At that moment, after she said those words, it was if light pierced through the clouds and I realized she was correct. I realized that there was NOTHING WRONG with me. HE was the one who had the problem.

I broke up with him.

I continued to pursue acting. I wore make-up and heels and, on occasion, I curled my hair. I am human and I have flaws. But my flaws have nothing to do with primping. I was not a failure. If anything, I failed to recognize my own power. I failed to realize that I didn’t need this alpha man’s advice.

But he did teach me a valuable lesson.

Sometimes men think they are helping. Sometimes women, who believe they are in love, allow men to control them because they are so afraid they will be alone and unloved. They allow another person to chip away at their confidence and they tell themselves it’s okay.

I am no longer one of those women. I never again will be one of those women, and I hope that when a person tells you that you aren’t good enough the way you are, you look at them and see the truth – that they are the one with the problem and all they want is to feel as if they are in control.

He was insecure. He needed to make me feel insecure so he could feel as if he were in control, and the way he did that was to tell ME I wasn’t good enough.

Not all men do this. And men are not the only ones who use this type of manipulation. Women are sometimes guilty of the same kind of control tactics.

I cried when the relationship ended. I held on to the desire for a long time. But I didn’t die. I didn’t wither away. I grew stronger. And subsequently when I meet a man who starts in with all the reasons I am not good enough for him, I say “See ya!”

I have met other men who think I am good enough the way I am. They exist.


For what it’s worth.

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Kimberley Johnson

Kimberley A. Johnson (BIO) is the author of AMERICAN WOMAN: The Poll Dance & The Virgin Diaries and an activist for women’s rights. Like her on Facebook, Twitter or follow her on FB