ETA: A clarification: This is an essay about emotional abuse. It is an exploration of one seemingly innocuous phrase, used repeatedly, over years, as part of a pattern of abuse, and how it affected my thought processes, self-esteem, and emotional state. If you want to be an ass and tell me I'm a horrible, insecure person (because that is so very helpful) or that I hate myself, or can't take a compliment, or any of the rest of the idiotic comments I've gotten, feel free. You will be dismissed.

Look, I know it's not true. I know that you're just trying to tell me that you think I'm beautiful all the time, no matter what, but I know I look better with make-up on. I can see the way you look at me when I wear it versus when I don't. I can see the way that others respond to me when I wear it versus when I don't. And I can see myself in the mirror. I can see the dark circles under my eyes that make-up hides. I can see how pale and sickly I look without make-up. I can see the pimples on my chin and the dry spots on my cheeks. I can see those things. Those things make me feel ugly.

Make-up helps to brighten up my eyes and make me look more alert. It gives me more color and helps me look healthier. It evens out the dry spots and covers up the pimples. And I end up looking more like me. Not like a porcelain doll or a clown, as you have been known to say. Like ME. Like the me I picture in my head, not the one I see in the mirror. And no, I don't do it for you. I do it for me. So that the image I see in the mirror is closer to the image in my head. And when my eyes look brighter and my face looks healthier, I FEEL brighter and healthier.

And I can tell that people smile at me more when I wear make-up. Is it because I look better or because I'm more likely to smile at them? Hard to say.

Does it gall me that make-up is expected of me a a professional woman? Yes. Absolutely. It pisses me off that I know for damn certain that I am judged by my appearance and make-up is part of that. Make-up is an expected part of my professional uniform. It's not a part of every professional woman's uniform, but for my profession, and at my level, it has to be. I can no more go out without make-up than I can go out in business dress and tennis shoes. And, really, I look and feel more professional with it on. So I'm wearing it.

And yes, I'm know that you think I'm always beautiful. I'm sure that, to you, I am. But you know me. You love me. You have had years to get used to the lines of my face. For you, my personality is printed on my face, and because you think my personality is beautiful, you think my face is beautiful. And that's wonderful. That's amazing. But even you can see that I look better with brighter eyes and less sallow, more even tone and more confidence. I know you can. Your eyes and your expression betray you. I've had years to study your face, too.

So, please. Don't tell me that I look prettier without make-up. You may be trying to make me feel beautiful, but you're not. You make me feel that make-up doesn't actually help. That the face that's more ME is no more attractive than the pale exhausted one.

And over the years I start to wonder: do I ever look pretty? Ever? Is there any point in trying to dress nicely if I'm just going to look drawn and pale and ugly no matter what? And since I'm so ugly no matter what I do, I really should be grateful to have you in my life. I'll certainly never find another man who will think I'm attractive. So, yes, you're right. I need to make sure you're satisfied. The fact that I feel ugly and fat and gross doesn't matter. I can use my body to make you feel good because you're the only one who will ever find this body attractive again.

And was that your end-game all along? If it was, I know you'll never admit it. You'll never admit to any of your manipulations. Did you ever really think I was beautiful? Or just that I was vulnerable? Was it ever the truth? Was anything that came out of your mouth ever the truth?

And now, people tell me I look beautiful. And I don't believe them. How can I look beautiful? I'm wearing make-up. And you always told me that I was so much prettier without it. That I looked like I had two black eyes when I wore eye shadow. That I looked like a clown, or a doll, or a mask.

And I know you were lying then.

But I still can't believe them now.