I like makeup. I like the way it makes me feel. Under certain circumstances, it can bolster my confidence, make me feel pretty and more importantly, powerful. Generally speaking, wearing makeup, makes me feel good.
I always wear makeup to work. In fact, I can’t think of a single time I have ever gone to work without makeup on. I wear makeup when I go out for a special occasion. On the weekends or if I am not planning anything that requires me to dress up in anything more than jeans and a shirt, I typically don’t wear makeup.
I was raised to believe that part of the power of makeup was its symbolism for professionalism. Most of the women in my world worked. Makeup was a part of that world. When I was a younger teacher, it helped to set me apart from a sea of high school students and created an aura of authority that might not have existed otherwise.
When I reflect on my purposes for wearing makeup, it is very clear that, in this context, it is purely for me. It helps me to feel comfortable and reflects the seriousness of purpose that I put into my professional life. I was also socialized to feel this way about makeup.
It takes me about 15-20 minutes to carefully apply a full face of makeup. For me, this means a very light powder foundation, eyeshadow, pencil liner, mascara, and blush. To be honest, this is also about the extent of my application skills.
Makeup and panties
But something has changed in recent years and I would be lying if it hasn’t caused me concern. My “full face” is nothing compared to the contouring, shaping, and extensive makeup application trends of today. On the surface, I have no problem with this kind of makeup but I wonder, who is it for?
Maybe makeup is like underwear. Sometimes you wear it for you and sometimes you don’t. I read once that your undergarments should be carefully chosen to match your mood. The advice-giver suggested that wearing sexy underwear would help one to feel powerful even if no one saw it. It could function as an invisible shield. It made sense to me.
I can definitely confirm that I have underwear for different occasions. Like, when I am sitting on the couch wallowing in existential angst you can bet I’m not wearing hot, red panties. Depression and cogitation go best with old ass underwear.
Does the same apply with makeup though? Maybe. Maybe not. I think I am most worried about the unending pressure that is placed on women to look and behave a certain way. If I want to wear sexy underwear that no one sees, that’s my prerogative. If I don’t want to wear makeup, that’s my choice.
creating a suit of armor
The difference is that makeup is something everyone sees. It’s also something that can drastically alter our appearance. On the few occasions where I have had professional makeup applied, I have felt wholly uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because the woman who is reflected back at me is a complete stranger.
I am always anxious to wash away the layers to peer once more at the familiar face I have grown so accustomed to over these 30 plus years. For sure, she is not as glamorous or as beautiful, but she is me.
And this is what I wonder, why do we want to change ourselves so drastically? Is it something that we feel pressured to do under impossible standards of beauty? And when we say we do it for ourselves, is it because it helps us to feel more comfortable in our own skin? Or are we just so unhappy with our skin that we need to change it? In these contexts, it feels more like a suit of armor designed not to create a powerful aura, but to protect from the millions of tiny voices that whisper, “you’re not good enough.”
“Yeah, but you’re so pretty so you don’t even need makeup,” a group of my students once commented to me when we chanced on the discussion one day. Each of them remarked how it took them hours to do their makeup each morning and lamented that without it, they would no longer, “look good.” It didn’t feel like something that brought them joy. It felt like a chore.
not a hair out of place
It was devastating because to me, having seen them both with and without makeup, I can confirm that each looks beautiful just as they are. As I scroll through my Facebook page, I am bombarded with videos detailing how to create the “perfect look.” Recently, I watched a young woman proceed to highlight how to carefully wax the stray hairs around one’s hairline.
All of a sudden, I realized that there are apparently a number of things wrong with me that I never knew were a problem before. I should be waxing my hairline to create a perfect, seamless look free from potential sideburns? I do have one black hair that occasionally grows on my neck (her name is Angela) and I pluck it away as needed but, now I’m wondering if there are other things about the way I look that need more attention.
I think this is the most worrisome thing. I am generally happy with my appearance but I’m also prepared to never wax my hairline. I do not think the young women of today however, have quite the same level of trust in their choices and bodies and it bombards them constantly.
pretty is as pretty does
There is this endless pressure to perform and conform. I honestly don’t think I could withstand the demands of young women today.
“Didn’t you ever have anybody talk about you when you were in high school?”
My students have asked me this on numerous occasions when I wonder at the appalling cyber world they exist in that is just downright cruel.
“Yeah, but they said it to my face, it wasn’t immortalized and retweeted a thousand times over for the entire world to see.”
I think makeup becomes a problem when a person feels like it’s something they have to wear in order to feel good about themselves. I think we, as a society, have a problem when we continually reinforce that a woman’s worth is solely determined by her looks. I think, if anything, it’s gotten worse.
We discuss body positivity but then are constantly exploiting women through social media. Women’s magazines are perpetually explaining how to get amazing abs or create the perfect brow. What if my mid-section is squishy? It is. Am I still worthy? It’s still only palatable when a woman is wrapped up in a nice tidy package and if not, the entire world will comment on it or label her a, “difficult woman.”
We are each so much more than a well-contoured chiseled, jawline or cheekbone. No amount of lashes can change the contents of your mind. Your lips are best used in service of expressing your thoughts and sharing what makes you, uniquely you. Makeup should accentuate your features not redefine who you are. Just make sure, whatever you choose, it’s really just for you. And, at the end of the day, the old adage rings true, “pretty is as pretty does.”