I am not a big makeup wearer. I’m not very good at applying it, and so my attempts often come out looking more clownish than anything. On top of that, I tend to shoot for a more natural looking aesthetic. Even if I’m wearing a little makeup, I’d prefer that it comes off subtly–a style that echoes how I dress and wear my hair. However, recently I’ve been enjoying playing with the variety of powders and creams that I can smear on my face, and those experiments (along with conversations with my best friend that got me started on all this) have led to some thoughts.
I want to start out by saying that this isn’t a topic I feel strongly about. I also don’t think that there’s one scenario that will work for every person in terms of whether or not you should wear makeup. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to open up for conversation, just because it helps us to explore the pros and cons of something that is widely expected of women in our country. (Note, this could also apply to men. The reason I chose to hone in on women wearing makeup was simply because I don’t think men have the same outright pressure to wear or have an opinion on it. Though, now that I think about it, it’d make a pretty interesting post talking about how men in movies and on TV wear makeup but men wearing makeup in real life is stigmatized). Moving on.
In my experience, makeup is presented to women in three ways.
First: We are inundated by images of perfect women with perfectly done makeup on a daily basis–they leer at us out of magazines, in movies, on television. They are plastered on billboards and even sneak into our homes on cereal boxes and food wrappers. Those images, whether we want them to or not, send a very specific message: this is the ideal. I am what you want to look like. And that can be a powerful motivator to want to change how you look, whether it be through clothes or exercise or makeup. In that sense, I think that makeup is part of a problem. It helps shape beauty into a mold, rather than encouraging and celebrating beauty in variety.
Sometimes, those perfect women in ads follow me into the bathroom when I’m getting ready in the morning and whisper things like “Cover up that zit” and “Don’t forget the mascara, long eyelashes are feminine.” When I put makeup on because of those thoughts it doesn’t feel good. Instead I feel smaller, ashamed that I am giving into something that reduces me to how I look. It makes me feel ugly underneath the makeup, as though the powder I dab onto my face will hide my flaws and fool people into thinking I’m more beautiful than I really am. And what a crappy feeling, to feel like you’re fooling people into thinking you’re beautiful.
This sort of attitude also distracts from who I am underneath my skin. It puts the value on what I look like, instead of what I act like. That isn’t something I’m comfortable with, but it’s also something I feel torn about. Because I do want to be seen as pretty. Does anyone not want to be viewed as aesthetically beautiful? (And I’m really asking–I don’t know the answer!) But then that leads me to further questions: Is it okay to want to be beautiful? And how do we go about shaping a definition for beautiful that isn’t set by advertisers and models?
Second: We are told by advertising, friends, and men that we should be beautiful and feel beautiful without makeup. To me, this is harmful on a number of levels. First off, it perpetuates the idea that other people get to dictate how and when you feel beautiful.
I remember my dad telling me that I didn’t need to wear makeup to be pretty during high school, and feeling so incredibly frustrated. Because even though he said it, it didn’t make me feel like I could actually live up to it. Even worse, I remember guys who had crushes on me saying that they loved that I didn’t wear makeup–when I actually was wearing it. I always came away feeling like a fraud and liar, as though I was less pretty underneath the product because they thought my eyelashes were naturally that long and my lips naturally that pink. I felt trapped between the two competing messages: you need to look like a model and you need to be naturally beautiful.
And what about those moments when the people in our lives nail it? Like when I’ve just woken up and am messy and sleepy eyed, and Jordan tells me that he thinks I’m most beautiful in moments like that. Those compliments make me feel good about myself. They make me look at myself in the mirror and think, hmm, maybe I won’t wear makeup today. They make me look at myself and think, this is beautiful. And then I start to see it, because I’m looking through his eyes. That’s good right? But it still leaves me feeling torn–should I want to be beautiful for Jordan? Should I change how I feel beautiful because he has a different opinion? What if I really do feel more like “me” when I’m wearing makeup? And even further than that, it means that I’m relying on him in order to feel good about myself, instead of finding it within me to think I’m beautiful.
(Can you tell I think way too much about everything?)
Third: Makeup is presented as a way to express yourself. To accentuate the differences between us and celebrate them. To play up what you love about yourself, or even just to try out a different look.
This is what can be amazing about makeup. You really can change how you look, and that can be an empowering and fun experience. I mean, why not wear flashy red lipstick once in awhile? Why not draw on extravagant cat eyes (is that even a thing, or did I just make that up?)? Whenever people ask me why I wear make up, this point is always my fall back. I tell them that wearing eyeliner makes me feel like a rogue pirate. That lipstick makes me feel like a bad ass. Different styles have different feels, and how fun that we have the chance to try them out! After all, we aren’t the same monochrome personality inside our skins, but shades of things. I like to think I have a little pirate in me, alongside the book lover and writer and animal nut. Sometimes, wearing something different, whether it be on your body or on your face, can bring that out.
Makeup doesn’t have to be a reflection of how people want you to look. Instead, it can be a way to explore who you are, and what feels most like you. And I think that’s the part of makeup that we need to grab hold of and remember when we’re putting it on. It shouldn’t be used to fit some ideal of what women are supposed to look like. It shouldn’t be worn with a sense of shame or guilt. It should be used to empower us. It should be worn with pride, and the understanding that the make up isn’t what makes you beautiful. You are what makes you beautiful.
As usual, I welcome all and any thoughts on this topic. I am by no means an expert–these are all just musings, and are not intended to tell you how to think or act. I would love to hear whether you have had similar experiences, and if not, what your experience with wearing make up has been.