You know what’s funny? When people try to make you feel better by unconsciously making you feel like crap.
Today, Miss Representation has organized a Twitter conversation with the hashtag #FreshFace focusing on the topic of make-up: why we wear it, whether we should, how the make-up industry plays on women’s insecurities to get them to buy their products, how young is too young to be wearing it, and how it makes us feel about ourselves. So, I’m writing this to participate in that conversation, because I think it’s an important one.
I think make-up is just fine once in a while. Make-up can bring a fancy outfit to life. Make-up can be an artistic/aesthetic statement. Make-up is a way to express yourself. It can also be oodles of fun akin to that feeling we all got as kids when we’d dress up and “play pretend.” You don’t always want to look like you. Sometimes, you want to look and feel like someone, or something, else. That’s okay. It’s normal.
The thing is, that’s exactly the thing about make-up that can make it dangerous. It’s not you. At best, it can help you express the best version of you, but it’s still just a version, and not even the one that’s the most important. Yet, there are women who’ve gotten so used to never leaving the house without make-up that they’ve stopped wearing make-up, allowing the make-up to wear them instead. Somehow, make-up stopped being fun expression and started being a crutch. Because, for some reason, our faces stopped being good enough on their own. And it has a lot to do with women getting older.
When I was little, and wanted to wear make-up like my mother and sister, I was told that I “didn’t need make-up.” Young girls, you see, don’t “need” make-up, because young girls are just that. Young. Young girls are prized, and so a woman’s “need” for make-up increases the older she gets, because wrinkles, dark circles, and blemishes are less acceptable as a woman gets older. Apparently, no one wants to look at a woman’s wrinkled, blemished face.
Men, however, have carte blanche. They don’t have an entire industry devoted to making them cover their shit up. Wear your blemishes and dark circles and wrinkles proudly, Gentlemen! Because you can! Because you’re free to. Because no one’s going to make you feel like shit if you don’t. Enjoy that freedom, fellas. I would, if I had it. Unfortunately, I don’t.
I don’t wear make-up often. Usually, I save make-up for special occasions or dates. I don’t have an everyday, daytime “look” partly because I don’t really have the patience to devote myself to an intensive beauty regimen. I mean, I lotion up when I need to, and wear sunscreen when I know I’m going to be out in the sun for a while, and wear lip gloss when my lips are in danger of being chapped, cracked, and gross…but other than that, I leave my face alone. You know why?
Because I never really feel the need to not.
There’s plenty that I don’t like about myself (that’s another blog post entirely), but I’ve always liked my face. I’ve never really felt that I need make-up. I mean, yeah, I get annoyed by zits just as much as anyone else. And yeah, when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m not crazy about the sight of my dark circles under my eyes. But I never really feel the desperate need to cover those things up. I look at them and am like, “Ugh. Annoying. Oh, well. That’s my face.” The way I imagine most, if not all, guys do. At 33, I’ve noticed the beginning of laugh-lines around my mouth and wrinkles around my eyes, but to me, that just means that I’ve done a really good job of continuing to smile and laugh in the midst of adversity, and so I wanna wear those lines like badges of honor! When I don’t have blemishes or dark circles, I actually really like my face. I like my complexion and skin tone. I like how tan I get. And 9 times out of 10, when I look in the mirror when I leave the house, if I’ve just washed my face and thrown on some lip gloss (and have recently had my eyebrows groomed – they tend to get unruly and take over my face more than blemishes ever could!), I like what I see and don’t feel like I need to do anything else. There’s a difference between grooming and wearing make-up, and I think too many people equate the two. Grooming is about making sure you’re clean and presentable so that other people can feel comfortable around you without having to deal with a stench. Make-up simply covers up stuff that everyone gets. Stuff that only women are expected to do anything about on a regular basis.
I’ve had people gently suggest that make-up would make me look better, as if they’re breaking something to me that’s really important; something that will improve my life ten-fold if only I give it a chance. I’ll make a “better impression” on people if I wear make-up, because I’ll look more together and confident. The thing is, if I was already confident with my regular face, wouldn’t that come through anyway? If I’m fine with having my blemishes and dark circles on display, what’s it to anyone else? Why do even friends of mine feel the need to “save me from myself” by suggesting make-up? I’ve got zits sometimes. So? What have they ever done to you? Why are my skin’s imperfections so threatening to the world that the world tries so hard to make me cover them up? Who, exactly, should I be trying to impress? Men? Other women? Both, it seems, have something to say about what I put on my face, either directly or indirectly.
I’ve heard women say that they like dressing up and wearing make-up “for themselves.” But lets examine that a second. What does that actually mean? Wearing make-up makes you feel together, confident, sexy…isn’t that all about how other people see you? Because if it weren’t, why wouldn’t you just feel confident without wearing make-up? It’s not about confidence, it’s about an outward display of confidence. It’s showing off how confident you are, which is exactly the opposite of “for yourself.” There’s no such thing as sexy “for yourself” either, as the entire concept of “sexy” implies an other. And even as it makes you feel good and confident, the thing that’s making you confident is that other people will be impressed with you. I have no problem with that, I just wish people would admit it and stop pretending it’s about something else. Is there anyone out there who wears make-up as her most comfortable option? For whom wearing make-up is easier and more comforting than not wearing make-up?
I’ve heard Beyonce say that she’s more comfortable wearing stilettos now than she is in regular shoes, but that’s only because she started wearing them as a performer from a very young age, so she’s gotten really used to them. That doesn’t mean it’s natural, and it doesn’t mean that, had she not started out that way, that she wouldn’t be comfortable or confident. I’m sure a beautiful woman like Beyonce is capable of being equally confident in flats and not a stitch of make-up. Or, she should be. But from a young age, people told her “women in stilettos are hot,” and as ambitious as she is, wanting to make it in the music industry, she dressed a certain way, because she knew it’s what she “needed to do.” How sad is that? That someone as talented and naturally gorgeous as Beyonce would feel the need to wear tight outfits and high heels at 15 or 16 to “make it.” Because it’s OK to dress older so long as your face looks young. Once you actually are older, and your face dares reflect that, you’d better cover yo’ shit.
Women basically use make-up to cover up the deficiencies in their lives. Because if we actually did things “for ourselves,” like get enough sleep, wear proper sun protection, eat right, live as well as we can, we wouldn’t need to wear make-up “for ourselves.” Make-up is a bandage, not a cure. Maybe if we got equal pay for equal work so we could afford to live the lives we want, had men getting equal paid paternity leave so they could be free to help their girlfriends/wives with new children, and in general weren’t expected to take on double the workload for half the reward, perhaps we wouldn’t look so haggard. And perhaps, since that’s clearly not the case, we could maybe (maybe!) get a free pass on looking haggard, or having the occasional blemish or dark circle, rather than being expected to Look Nice even when our lives suck. It’s exhausting! God forbid a woman wear her difficulties on her face, a visible reminder of inequality of which no one wants to be reminded. Meanwhile, Larry King gets to look like Larry King and be married a billion times.
Does make-up actually make women look more together and confident? Or does it simply make them look like they’re trying to ingratiate themselves to a society that hates them? I don’t know.
I’m starting to ramble. But as with everything, it all comes down to choice, I suppose. If you want to wear make-up, by all means, do. But don’t criticize (or try to “help”) those who don’t. They might like their faces just the way they are, and don’t need you telling them what you think is wrong with them according to some arbitrary standard of beauty that doesn’t make any sense and disproportionately affects women. What’s the purpose? So that other people will like them more? Because grown women with blemishes and dark circles and wrinkles are somehow detrimental to the balance of the universe?
As for me, I’ll throw make-up on when I feel like it. I won’t when I don’t. And I’m not going to apologize for it in either instance. I like my face. And what I choose to do to it is nobody’s business but mine. And I don’t buy that the biggest problem on Earth is the fact that I have wrinkles, so I refuse to worry about it so damn much. If you don’t like my face, you don’t have to look at it, but the onus shouldn’t be on me to cover it up to your liking. No matter who you are, what job you might have to offer me, or whether or not you’d like to sleep with me.
Like me, like my face.