At an early age, I learned to associate cosmetics with performance — pretending, dancing, or acting. As an aspiring ballerina at Miss Janet’s Dance Studio, I wore makeup for the annual recital. My mother, who never wore makeup, would spread shadow on my eyelids and apply lipstick to my lips and cheeks. I saw cosmetics as being another part of my costume. The makeup was for my character; it wasn’t me.
In college, I envied my makeup-wearing friends. For them, getting ready for a special occasion was a dramatic production involving powders, pencils, and an intricate assortment of apparatuses (some of which looked dangerous). All I did was shower, moisturize, and apply antiperspirant. It felt very anticlimactic by comparison.
In preparing for my wedding, I was adamant that I wanted to look like me — not some idealized version of myself that I’d be unable to maintain indefinitely. I had no intention of wearing makeup. I had no plan to lose weight.
When I walked down the aisle, I wanted my fiancée to see what he was really getting — the woman he loved and had asked to marry him — not some “new and improved,” dyed, painted, or slimmer version.
I wanted to recognize myself in my wedding pictures, but I also wanted getting ready for my matrimonial milestone to involve more than showering and putting on a dress — even if it was an elaborate bridal gown. So, at a friend’s suggestion, I decided to wear some makeup — the beginner’s version. I applied it myself: lip-gloss and foundation.
Following my wedding, I began to work my little makeup duo (foundation and lip gloss) into my special occasion preparation ritual, but I had rules. I would not keep makeup in my purse. I would not “fix my face” in the bathroom or on my way to work. I’d apply it and let go of my concern for it after that. If it all wore off, so be it.
Now while I realize some women wear makeup merely as a form of expression or an innocuous, auxiliary device, for me, wearing makeup raised a few red flags (or perhaps they were perfectly plum, poppy pink, or romantic rose). While I do feel more polished wearing some cosmetic covering, I also see the potential within myself of not being able to face the world with my bare face. I don’t want to become dependent on makeup. I don’t ever want to feel naked or unattractive without it.
The possibility of that outcome (becoming dependent on cosmetics or needing it to maintain my self confidence) is why I think that makeup can be a tool of misogyny. When it is not used from a perspective of self-love, makeup can breed bouts of self-hatred in women — or at least dissatisfaction. Makeup makes me look for my face’s flaws rather than accepting my face as it is. I start to wonder what else I need to improve or cover up with this or that color. Are my lashes too thin? Are my lips well enough defined? Do my cheeks have the right hue? Is my complexion all right?
For as much confidence as makeup gives me when I’m wearing it, it takes a proportional amount away when it comes off.
I hate having to worry that it will rub off if I give someone a real hug. I don’t like the feeling of sweating through it, so I don’t want to wear makeup to weddings (where I intend to dance a lot) or during the summer months. In the winter, while perspiration isn’t an issue, there is the chance that my “face” will rub off on my sweaters, hats, and scarves. I find that unacceptable.
Some time ago I decided to let my hair go gray without dyeing it. Part of my reasoning was to be chemical free after an unfortunate incident with hair relaxer left me with a semi-bald spot. However, another big part of it is that I think dyeing my hair would nudge me into an antagonistic posture towards aging.
I worry that our culture is subtly (and not so subtly) waging war against the body — a result of an unhealthy obsession with youth and perfection. We tell women that they’re beautiful and that they should love themselves. We tell little girls to have self-confidence and that they can be anything they want to be. But then, and often with the same breath, we suggest they can be beautiful (or confident) only when they are not quite themselves. We sell women (both young and old) products to “fix” or “improve” their appearance — wrinkle removers, concealers, eyelash enhancers, and other colorful cover-ups.
The young want to look mature. The mature want to look young. No one really wants to look like herself. Everyone wants to look unflawed. Feminine façades have become the norm — what’s expected. Maybe you’re born with it. Maybe you bought it (or had your plastic surgeon inject it).
I want to avoid falling prey to a self-erasing mentality when I look at myself in the mirror.
Bodies are imperfect and asymmetrical. Bodies come in a myriad of sizes, shapes and colors. Bodies grow older. I don’t want to view aging as an adversary that I have to fight or the imperfections of my face and form as mistakes I have to hide. That’s not a safe approach to loving myself well.
If I could dye my hair or put makeup on my face and have both be adornments rather than keystones, I wouldn’t take such a structured stance. If I didn’t see the potential within me to become a woman ashamed of what the makeup or hair dye covers, I could choose them for myself.
I wish I could rid our culture of cosmetic dependence. I wish I lived in a world where every woman was encouraged to be satisfied with her face instead of bombarded by messages offering ways to improve it or cover over it. I wish the majority of our society viewed makeup as an optional accessory as opposed to the required response to any perceived deficiency.
I have enough insecurity that I’m working on. I don’t want to buy or apply more at the cosmetics counter. So I’ve made up my mind about makeup. At least for now, I’m not wearing it.
I don’t mean for this to be a battle cry. I don’t presume to speak for all women either. I simply know that if I’m going to be a woman capable of self-confidence and self-love, then I can’t allow my face to feel like a façade.
Every shape, size, and shade of humanity has aesthetic value. My hope is that all people will learn to love their appearance and see that they are beautiful — and that wearing makeup (or dyeing one’s hair) won’t be compulsory, but something each person feels free to choose or refuse.