I still remember the first time someone told me I would be so much prettier if I would just put on a little make-up. It is burned in my brain somewhere around the shame and embarrassment center alongside other moments — the two times people told me I needed a makeover. The faces of the two people who have told me I walk funny, and then laughed. The feeling of going out on my first date and then watching him sidle from me to my best friend, preferring her straight teeth and olive complexion to my braces and awkward skinniness. The time in my life when I was most stressed out and my mom suggested I go to a dermatologist because I had broken out. That ache of shame deep in my stomach when people ooh and ahh at how I look when I’m painted up for a wedding. I feel like a show dog. I do not feel like myself. And yet everybody seems to prefer this version of me.
All of this is countered in other parts of my brain. I remember going in to school with my eyes raccooned in liquid mascara and eyeshadow, my lips adorned with some bright shade of lipstick, and entering the classroom of my favorite teacher, perhaps seeking a grin of approval for my transformation. Instead, when he turned around, his face registered shock. Maybe disappointment. I never wore make-up to school again in spite of my friends’ cajoling. It seems a silly thing to thank someone for, but sometimes I wish I had the courage to.
My mother has never been someone to paint on her face in the morning. Occasionally she uses a little mascara and some tinted Burt’s Bees lip balm when she goes out to a nice restaurant or to a wedding. My sister is the same. For her own wedding, she wore mascara and, I believe, a dab of eye shadow. Sometimes on special occasions she puts on some of the same. But none of us has ever bothered with the whole foundation and powder shebang. I don’t even know what all of those products are for.
Mascara never fails to give me painful styes. I love lipstick in vibrant shades, but when I wear it, I feel like a clown and spend the whole night worrying how it looks and whether it’s on my teeth rather than enjoying what I’m doing. I had a stint with acne-medicated cover-up, but it never really did much other than continuing to clog my pores, and I only used it as a spot treatment. The only thing that successfully covers dark circles under my eyes is a good night’s sleep. And I am 100% okay with this.
Why do we, as women, feel the need to paint ourselves into different people? When I look at someone, I want to see them, not a layer of chemicals and colorings. Sometimes on Pinterest I see images of “amazing transformations.” Who are we to tell someone that she is not beautiful? That when she has been transformed with tricks of the light into a facsimile of herself, she is more beautiful? I think her dark circles and wrinkles show that she has lived. That, though she has acne, so do I. I also wake up in the morning and groan at the giant looming pustule on the corner of my nose. Barring those with perfect skin — which I suspect is rare, if not impossible — we all have these problems.
Through middle school and high school, my developing heart sought after boys who told me they were not looking for a relationship and the next day were cozied up with a made-up, dressed-up, curved-up girl. I learned that those without makeup were less worthy, less feminine, less wanted. I was amazed when any male showed me attention, and dated less-than-stellar boys because of it.
Usually my excuse for not wearing makeup is because I am fundamentally lazy. I really don’t want to take the extra time in the morning to get ready. I much prefer to sit at the table with Sean and read the news and drink my coffee. My requisite haircut is something that takes less than a minute to style. My outfits are, most often, jeans and a t-shirt. And I walk out of the house with a bald face.
It saddens me to see “celebrity reveals” of famous women without their makeup on (often accompanied by people laughing at how “ugly” they really are) or women showing shear terror at being caught without their “face” on. These are naturally gorgeous women who cling to a mask because of what the world might think of them. The world is always ready to judge a face. “Oh my god, did you see that picture of Rhianna without make-up? She’s hideous!” Think Sandy’s character in Grease. Think teen drama shows about the girl who gets a makeover to go to prom with the football star. Pretty in Pink. I could go on.
Now stop for a moment. Forget my complaints and ranting and just think about makeup. Think about word associations. Mascara. Lipstick. Eyeshadow. Foundation. Blush. Applicator brushes. Powder room. Makeup bag.
Did any of you think of men?
Makeup is fundamentally feminine (except in specific cases, such as showbiz). And try as I might, I cannot figure out an equivalent for men. What reality TV show has men removing some mask to show the vulnerability beneath? What celebrity gossip magazine lambastes a man for going out with a naked face? What romcom plot is a boy getting a makeover to go to prom with the lead cheerleader (never mind the fact that she has to be a cheerleader, and not the women’s hockey star)? I’m sure some obscure examples of these exist, but the majority is clear. It would seem that makeup is something for men. Not for women, not to make us feel beautiful, but for men, to make us feel like our natural beauty is not enough, to make us feel like we need to do more to attract one of them or, god forbid, be on the same level of existence as them.
Okay, I just lost a lot of you. “Crazy feminist here! Run awaaaay!” (Actually, I’m sure I lost a lot of you awhile ago…those still with me, hi!). I imagine nobody gets up in the morning and thinks to herself, “Welp, time to put on my liquid oppression to please the male-dominated culture.” And few men probably look at a woman and think, “Well thank goodness she’s wearing makeup, because otherwise she’d be closer to being my equal,” but this is something that we need to be more aware of. I am not telling women that they need to stop wearing makeup — I know that would never happen, although in my ideal world it wouldn’t even exist for other reasons (nature-unfriendly chemicals, animal testing). I just want my fellow females to think about their reasons for wearing makeup.
The only ugly people I know are those full of hatred, resent, judgement, and anger. I love people. I love them for their uniqueness and their sameness, their quirks and faults, their knowledge, their worldliness, their insights and outsights. Can’t we try to see everybody in this light, instead of looking at their outer shell? Policing judgement is hard. I am guilty of it. But I am teaching myself to stop after the initial judgment and think of the person. Remember that she has a story. Remember that she and I are likely not that different. Remember that she faces the same prejudices that the rest of us double-x-blessed do. Remember that we are all in this together.
Please continue the dialogue and share your stories or comments below!