Sian Meades-Williams: like you but better - the 'natural' make-up myth

Sian Meades-Williams a freelance writer and editor on a mission to make your inbox a better place. She’s creator of the lifestyle newsletter Domestic Sluttery and media industry newsletter Freelance Writing Jobs. She writes for The Simple Things and BBC Good Food, and she’s Project Calm magazine’s travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @sianysianysiany.


I put off my wedding hair and make-up wedding trial for so long it almost happened at my hen party. I couldn’t articulate why to my incredibly patient bridesmaid, but it made me incredibly nervous. I just wanted to look like me but – thanks in part to Pinterest, Instagram and the hundreds of wedding websites I’d spent months poring over – I also wanted to look more radiant than I have ever been. The run up to a wedding is stressful and I was just off the back of finishing my MA dissertation. Natural radiance was a concept that I was really struggling with.

If I’m being honest, I wanted a tube of make-up to make me look prettier than I actually am. It’s not easy to admit that I didn’t want to discover that this wasn’t possible, that I’d look the same as I do every Monday morning because, well, this is what my face looks like.

“Like you but better!” the perfectly-lit make-up adverts promise. And as skeptical as I am, that’s the reason I buy a new lipstick every other week. It’s more than beauty. It’s the glimmer of possibility that the confidence, chicness and elegance I’ve been striving for my entire life could be achieved in a slick of rose-coloured lip gloss.

When Meghan Markle walked down the aisle last year there were cheers from Clueless Men On The Internet™ about how much better she looked without make-up on, and that’s what women should look like. Women everywhere knew the time, effort and reality of that “natural” look. It’s an exhausting standard to hold women to (one that we’re not supposed to talk about).

My usual make-up routine is a dab of concealer, mascara if I can find the one that doesn’t go gloopy, and bright red lipstick to distract from my laziness. I deviate occasionally, but the key to my make-up routine is that is can be done on the bus. My wedding wasn’t on live TV but whatever look I was cobbling together on the number 38 just didn’t feel elegant enough for who I wanted to be on my wedding day.

Everyone at your wedding tells you that you look radiant, because you do. It had nothing to do with my make-up choices

Feeling like “yourself” is a moveable feast. It’s different every single day of the week and I think self-improvement is an ongoing quest. This wasn’t really about how I looked. It was about how I felt. About my successes, my ambitions, and the person I hoped I was at this point in my life, walking down the aisle at 36. When you’re getting married you spend a surprising amount of time staring at yourself in a mirror. The questions you find yourself asking have very little to do with what’s painted on your face.

So alongside my unending quest for the perfect shade of lipstick, in the run up to the wedding I attempted to address the internal stuff I couldn’t shake. I spent more time with friends. I talked about anything but the wedding budget. I chilled out about work for the first time all year. I got really good at MarioKart

I managed to moisturise almost every other day. I exercised occasionally. I ate a lot of cake. Sometimes I drank more than one glass of water.

I remembered to take care of myself.

My bridesmaid Gemma made me look really pretty on the day. I really did feel like myself; relaxed and happy. Everyone at your wedding tells you that you look radiant, because you do. It had nothing to do with my make-up choices (or discovering that I’d been applying blusher wrong my entire life). It was because of the huge beaming smile on my face. After all of the effort that went into finding the perfect lipstick, achieving the “like you but better” beauty cliché had actually been an inside job.

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