Erika Kelly tackles a subject that not everyone will think about, but one that many will be able to relate to. We all have ways to make ourselves confident on race day. 

This may not be a super popular blog post, but one of which I felt I had to write.

Growing up, I struggled tremendously with acne – my face was a blotchy mess, and I truly felt disgusting upon catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I turned to makeup as a way in which to hide, and out of all the products I could have chosen, I opted for the thickest of the thick – camouflage makeup – normally used to cover up tattoos. I was so desperate to hide, that the heavier the coverage, the better.

Is struggling with acne really the worst thing that can happen? No. But throughout my teenage years, YES, yes it was. Now this may seem self-centred, shallow and full of vanity, but it was all in a desperate bid to feel better about myself, and to feel accepted by those around me. If simply getting up 30 minutes earlier every morning was going to help me achieve these outcomes, then of course I was going to do it.

Fortunately, after years of trying a variety of acne remedies, I was able to find a solution, and have rarely struggled with my skin since which is AMAZING, however I still find myself applying a layer of makeup every single day. Okay, so… why?

Putting on a mask of confidence

Ultimately, I’ve found that it’s like putting on a mask that instantly gives me the confidence I’ve been searching for to then go about my day – to work, train, race, meet people, whilst feeling okay, if not better, about myself. My makeup is by no means perfect, but it’s enough to fulfil the, “look good, feel good, play good mentality” as expressed by US soccer player Ali Krieger.

This is so important when I have a tough training session or challenging race ahead. It’s like a way of telling myself, “Ok, I AM ready! I CAN do this!” It also doubles up as a distraction on race day and has definitely become part of the routine – a helpful strategy in which to apply focus and detract from any unhelpful race nerves.

To be competing at any high level requires a degree of self-confidence, commitment and dedication that no amount of makeup could ever contend with, but I do feel it plays a part in empowerment.

Photo: Jodi Hanagan

Turns out, makeup application has been going on for longer than we think, and for similar reasons. Egyptians applied makeup as they believed it was directly correlated with self-worth, whilst Native Americans applied it spiritually before battle, believing they would gain “supernatural powers”, helping them to feel more resilient and confident pre-battle. (Black Belt Beauty, 2019).

Moreover, numerous studies have shown that how someone feels about their appearance can have a significant effect on the execution of subsequent tasks and activities. For me personally, it’s game-changing – it simply makes me feel BETTER. As one of the best teachers I ever had taught me – “Lippy on, smile on.” Do the thing that empowers you; the thing that makes you happy, and it’ll help you to bring your best to every day.

Look good, feel good, walk fast

I see beautiful men and women standing on start lines at major championships every year – Europeans, Worlds, Olympics – they present themselves in different and specific ways for a reason – be it through wearing makeup or donning a new hairstyle.

At the recent 2018 Commonwealth Games, there was a hairdressers based within the athlete village, and further places to go and get your nails painted, your kit altered and fitted, etc. The amount of people I witnessed, both male and female, who pre-race, wandered up to have their hair cut, braided, and tied up in specific ways – it was clear to see they had a motive.

Does it provide those finishing touches that makes an athlete feel completely prepared for what lies ahead? It isn’t for everyone, but I assume that for some, yes, it really does. It can simply make the difference between entering competition feeling ready and powerful, or feeling flat and less confident.

Racing against myself

I travelled off-island to the UK last year to compete in the England Athletics Senior Championships. Low and behold, the following morning – race day – I went to get my makeup out of my bag and it wasn’t there. I’d left it in the Isle of Man! It sounds so silly, but my heart sank. What was I going to do without my mask of “confidence”?!

Whilst initially gutted, I simply had to suck it up, and get on a train to Sportcity. You kinda hope that no one will notice, but I was met with questions of, “Why do you look so tired?” and, “No eyeliner today?”

Ultimately, I knew I was there to do one thing – R A C E – be it with makeup or without, and in all honesty, no amount of makeup can emulate the empowerment that comes from knowing the amount of hard work that has been invested and dedicated to race hard. This was not the end of the world, and in a rational sense, who cares what I look like, other than me?!

It was pouring down with rain (is it ever not raining in Manchester?) so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, and I fortunately went on to have one of my best races of 2019. Point proven – I didn’t always need makeup, but that doesn’t take away from how having it on helps me to feel increasingly energised and positive.

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