I’d started mixing my own makeup when I was 12, but art school further inspired me to see my face and body as a canvas. I’d take a makeup brush and mix foundations, concealers, and powders until I created the right shades and consistency to even out my complexion. To cover the rashes on my shoulders, I’d hunt for vintage scarves to wear over a sundress for nights out. I’d find sheer button-downs to cover up a two-piece at the beach. I also amassed quite a collection of sunglasses — the classic kind with big rectangular lenses, which balance out a round face. And I learned to embrace sunscreen.
The years that followed had their ups and downs — arthritis, brittle bones, and even chemotherapy (to help wean me off the prednisone). I had moved to Southern California for college by then to be near my doctor. At times I’d still get depressed, but eventually, I found solace in my makeup bag. I became increasingly obsessed with blending colors, scooping out different brands from their pods and smashing up the $80 variety with the $10 kind. Sometimes I used more powder, sometimes more liquid, until I concocted something I liked — a custom formula that camouflaged without feeling caked-on. Eventually, my mother suggested that I take my work to a lab and create a line. And so I did. I sold my first set of foundations, powders, and concealers last November, and now the line is available on the Web (www.nicolepaxson.com). I feel so proud when people send e-mails saying how much they love the textures, how my formulas have helped mask imperfections, from zits to butterfly rashes like mine.
Now, at 25, my symptoms have subsided a bit. I’m off chemo, and I take only small doses of prednisone. I still need four pills a day to keep the condition in check, but that’s a miracle compared to the 14 or so I needed just a few years ago. Lupus, along with the pills I take to manage it, has drastically affected my looks and my feelings about beauty in general. Sure, its effects made me self-conscious, but ultimately I realized that I don’t have to feel that way. My looks are something I can actively affect, enhance, and change — not simply to fit in, but to help people notice me for me and not my physical differences. To me, taking control of my looks — owning them — gives me confidence and comfort.