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Makeup: ego boost or psychological trap?

I wear makeup. Sometimes. Other times I don’t. I have no passionate desire to rise at 4 am in the morning, as a friend told me some women do, in order to ensure I am “presentable” to leave the house. Today my attention was drawn to an article about makeup by Carly Findlay-Morrow, an appearance activist I hold in high regard.

The article was “Today I hid outside the office, too embarrassed to go to work. All because of my face.” While yes, the article is not a major exposé of world corruption, there are observations by the author I found interesting. (Emphasis added)

My fear of walking into an office (with many women who do not wear make up, mind you) without a mask on, sounds absurd. On the surface, it seems completely irrational.

But it is not completely unusual or unjustified. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve understood very clearly that my value is contingent upon my appearance. Just about everything in my world tells me that, from Instagram, to advertising, to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show which is just around the corner. Interestingly, work is one of the only places that doesn’t.

I think many women feel a disconnect between what they believe and what they do. We resent the discourses that underpin so many of our mundane daily routines. We can feel like hypocrites.

This was the bit that really concerned me:

And when I do finish my make up every morning, I don’t leave the house feeling ‘beautiful’. I feel adequate. Just.

I’m going to give Jessie Stephens the benefit of the doubt: I read this as she is expressing her reality, not writing click-bait.

Hillary Clinton, perfectly painted and coiffured for the duration of the presidential campaign, is now appearing with very little makeup. I detect foundation and blush and a fairly neutral lipstick, but little else, in the images on that report. Alicia Keys walked away from makeup in May this year, saying:

This was the harsh, judgmental world of entertainment and my biggest test yet. I started, more than ever, to become a chameleon. Never fully being who I was, but constantly changing so all the “they’s” would accept me.

Ah yes, the “they’s”. The powerful ones, those who make decisions about your life. I know those “they’s”, only too well.

Here is my conundrum. I’ve always believed in equality. I’ve also always said I saw no need to burn my bra (the catch-cry of my youth) in order to be equal. Equality isn’t about sameness. I don’t for a minute think I have to wear a suit and tie, flat shoes and no makeup in order to earn equal pay for equal work. The sad truth is Jessica is right when she says “I’ve understood very clearly that my value is contingent upon my appearance”. That is the message we see in every TV ad, on every billboard, screaming from the glossy magazine covers of our society. It becomes our everyday “truth” even, if we know it to be false. The disconnect between what we do and what we believe that Jessica cites.

Even in writing what could be considered a cathartic admission of her own vulnerability to society’s subliminal message, she illustrated her makeup free visage with a meme image – which I am sure bears no resemblance to the real Jessica. The proportions are just all wrong, even if the eyebrows look similar (her assessment). In other words, her personal assessment of feeling “adequate” with makeup on runs very deep. Logic would suggest another way of saying the same thing is this: without makeup Jessica feels inadequate. It is that specific aspect that worries me. It is my impression Jessica hasn’t been through the rigors of childbirth yet, something that tends to strip us of any illusions about looking adequate! Makeup itself doesn’t create feelings of insecurity – those come from within – however in conjunction with society’s “standards”, makeup could certainly heighten those fears we all have as teenagers. In some cases, those insecurities become entrenched rather than thrown off with maturity.

When I was at high school, makeup was banned. Now I see girls in Year 6 wearing makeup. Some of it caked on thicker than icing on an apple shortcake. Why? They are young and beautiful, not a wrinkle to be seen. But they don’t think so. Allowing them to wear makeup before they have developed a sense of who they are may not be the wisest choice we make.

Body image is also a problem for young men, there is no doubting that. I am concentrating on girls because girls have this shield they can employ: makeup.

If a young woman can’t feel adequate without makeup, without a shield, how can she feel adequate to defend her rights? Adequate to recognise gaslighting if she is subjected to it? Adequate to defend her right to vote for whom she pleases against the will of a patriarchal father, boyfriend or husband?

How can she feel equal?

Yet despite all this, I still don’t want to throw out my makeup. I like my makeup and I make no apology for that. This is one topic on which I do agree with Julie Bishop.

“I don’t think we should apologise for our femininity. I don’t think we should apologise for our interest in fashion,” Ms Bishop, 60, told Stellar magazine.

“I have always loved fashion and beautiful clothes and magazines and all of that.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t have a serious career and hold deeply complex, serious conversations about world events with people. To suggest you can’t do both is insulting.

“If you are confident, if you are relaxed in your own skin, don’t let them define you. Don’t let other people define you.”

Source: ABC

There is the time factor. Back on October I made the following post on Facebook. OK, yes, I know, I did everything including the nails – the actual makeup time was a whole 10 minutes. Even so, it does illustrate the amount of time women can spend on presentation.

Makeup effort

I’ve never been one for fake eyelashes (I tried once, too fiddly), can’t for the life of me work out the whole contouring thing and more often than not stick with mascara, eyebrows and lipstick. I’ve recently found eye makeup primer – wonderful invention.

Makeup (and hair) does make a difference. I’m no photographer, nor do I have the software to magically splice and rejoin images professionally – I’ve tried to get these as close as possible. As much as I dislike (age deterioration is my excuse) posting photos of myself au naturel, I feel it is unfair to use anyone else! I’ve also deliberately taken the sans makeup photo on a day when my hair is decidedly flat – it makes the comparison more stark – although the eyebrows (Jessica, I feel you) always need assistance!


I have no less intellect, no less ability to make my own decisions on my own terms without makeup. I don’t feel less adequate, just less “dressed up”. I certainly feel less dressed up. Men dress up too: smart suit, good shirt: I’m not sure if men have the same feelings of inadequacy when dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

Will I go to my next job interview with a naked face? No, I won’t. I’ll conform to society’s expectations, I need a job. Just like Alicia conformed for so long. Part of me is ashamed of that (having just written this article), part of me doesn’t care. Because like Julie Bishop, I’m comfortable in my own skin. Besides, I like makeup.

I’ve broken all the rules: I’ve put makeup on in the car, on the train, on aeroplanes, after I’ve got to work, before going out for lunch. Whenever I managed to fit it in. I’ve never been one who reserved an hour to do my makeup in the morning.

How do we encourage girls and young women to be comfortable in their own skin? Not to feel “just adequate” if they have their makeup on, but to have confidence in themselves with or without makeup. How do we do this? In the face of messages such as those sent by Trump, “Look at her, I don’t think so“, the battle just got harder.

This isn’t about makeup: makeup is just the fall-guy here. It is about building self-esteem and confidence in the women of tomorrow.


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  1. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Psychological trap.

    Makeup has always been a psychological trap.

    If it were only used for ceremonial occasions and it were not gender-specific to women in greater proportions than men, then it would be acceptable.

    However, women and girls often feel obliged to ‘improve’ their looks with fakeness.

    That’s not what should boost their self-esteem.

  2. Denisio Fabuloso

    You look fine dear lady… just fine. Get over it… soon. Regards, from someone who really doesn’t need women painted up like clowns to like them.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Nice. Not. Just another man trying to dictate to women on their appearance by the looks.

  4. Robyn Dunphy

    Deniso, would you address a man as “dear man”? I suggest not. My name is clearly visible at the top of this article. Please bear in mind such terms as “dear lady”, particularly when used to a complete stranger, can appear very belittling.

  5. Carol Taylor

    Throughout history women’s bodies have been contorted and distorted all in the name of fashion. Women are then appraised on their ability to reach the goal, the waist that defies human anatomy, the nose and lips that conform to the fashion of the day (cupid’s bow now “the trout pout”). Today instead if binding feet or having lower ribs removed it’s Botox, silicon, fill-ins and hair extensions. A bit of lippy and a smudge of rouge is a fashion but it’s the extreme lengths taken by some which crosses over into being a psychological trap.

  6. Robyn Dunphy

    Jennifer, I don’t see makeup as the problem, just the fall-guy. If it wasn’t makeup, it would be something else. Makeup (and hair) is certainly a money sink. A very BIG money sink.

  7. Robyn Dunphy

    Yes, Carol, I agree with that distinction.

  8. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Makeup is not the problem. The problem is women and girls feeling or being made to feel that it is essential to use it to allegedly improve their faces to the world.

    Same goes for body shape. Well proportioned people don’t have better brains than obese people to achieve societal change but I bet many of your readers would be hesitant in agreeing with that since it is not considered (perversely) politically correct!

  9. wam

    Women/girls and an increasing number of men/boys are victims of the advertising industry and vanity

  10. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    No doubt wam,

    but don’t dismiss the inter-generational abuse of women and girls sexual exploitation via advertising and societal implications.

  11. Freethinker

    Jennifer, you are spot no, looking and proportioned bodies does not mean anything, it is only the “package” what it is count is what is “inside”

  12. keerti

    I dislike makeup and dyed hair. I interpret it that whoever is doing it has a mask on to coverup who they are.

  13. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    spot on. I would also add sunglasses in unnecessary places to your list.

  14. corvus boreus

    A few generations back in Europe, make-up used to be a ghostly white paste made from a base of powdered lead (shiny and smooth), ritually applied by the rich and powerful of both sexes as a mark of social credibility (and to conceal the ravages of pox).
    Modern cosmetics, although often constructed upon petro-chemical bases (and increasing dosed with nano-particulate additives) are relatively benign in terms of health effects compared to the old lead-based face paints

    For me, in health terms, modern female repression of the systematically entrenched variety is far better represented in the falsely marketed ‘liberation’ of the impractically high-heeled shoe.
    This trendy fetish, marketed as a ‘attitudinal statement’, in reality, for the wearer, handicaps efficient locomotion and balance, and sends a physical message of stress and strain from the toes to the ankles, up through the legs and glutes into the spine, and from there to the all the way up to the neck and into the brain.
    Tottering tip-toed upon stilted heels, women are crippling themselves as sacrifice in order to achieve a cut to the calves and a wiggle to the walk, a permanent legacy of pain and strain traded for a temporary 4 inch height gain.
    Occidental foot-binding.

  15. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    100% correct corvus

    Thanks also, Freethinker

  16. wam

    Today we are rich:
    So painted toes, along lasered legs to the brazilian past the surgically enhanced labia smoothly over the tummy tuck into the mountains of breast enlagement enhance by facial botoxation with artificial eyelashes enhancing the brilliant coloured contacts with a gentle turn the perfect bum is swaying to the beat of the heart boom boom boom boom.
    Yes life revolves around the ins and outs of togetherness

  17. Red Leaf

    I only ever wear makeup on special occassions. The idea of wearing for everyday is a burden I have no wish to carry. I feel desperately sorry for women who feel that they are not good enough to go through a normal day wihtout it. No-one has ever remarked on my lack of makeup and I am now 52 years old, it can’t be a social expectaion but must only be a personal expectation.

  18. townsvilleblog

    Just ridiculous yankee bull shite.

  19. helvityni

    wam, you seem well-versed in the procedures of this beauty enhancement business; from the bottom to the top… 🙂

    Fresh young girls can look even better with some make-up, anyone over fifty ought to cut down on pastes and powders and look better for it…as the French women do.

    In good old USA many older women look like teenagers with their blond blowing locks, yet might be in their sixties….(.especially if they work as TV presenters).

  20. Robyn Dunphy

    While obesity is not the topic of this article, I will refer readers to http://www.pwc.com.au/pdf/weighing-the-cost-of-obesity-final.pdf

    The costs to individuals, the community and the country of this ever growing epidemic cannot be ignored. The increased risk of chronic health conditions and early death is a fact. Even sumo wrestlers, sportspeople, have a life expectancy 10 years shorter than the average Japanese male.

    Wam, going under the knife has just never seemed remotely appealing, thankfully. I’ve had enough surgery for medical reasons, don’t need scalpels and anesthesia for voluntary reasons!

  21. Robyn Dunphy

    @ corvus boreus – EXCELLENT observation! My rhuematologist would be proud of you! Although I love heels (personal weakness, yes) you are correct: they are a skeletal disaster.

  22. Robyn Dunphy

    It is worth remembering that fashion, of which makeup is a part, has been around for…..a very long time. Lip plates in Africa, ancient Egyptians were very fashion conscious as were the Greeks – etc etc etc. Let’s not lose sight of the real issue here: developing confidence and self-esteem, not eradicating fashion.

  23. Jaquix

    One of the best gifts parents can give their children is confidence. This doesnt always come naturally, so activities and hobbies they are good at, and make themselves feel good about themselves, are great insurance. Re Julie Bishop, all sweetness and light now, but I remember her when she was dowdy, and being very publicly disparaging about Julia Gillard being beautifully presented in a women’s magazine, now Ms B finds that perfectly OK, for herself! A different designer outfit every day, regular medically assisted updates on her face and teeth, bigger and sparklier brooches and dangly earrings, all show what a total hypocrite she is. Oh and dont forget the newest thicker false eye lashes. Yet she found time to actively join the vicious clamour against Dr Anne Aly, a WA Labor candidate at the last election. And now a nominee for Australian Woman of the Year. Eat your heart out Ms Bishop.

  24. Annie B

    Great article Robyn ~

    Like many here, I have often wondered if ‘make-up’ is the mask that many women feel the need to use, to hide themselves. … That ‘self’ that is them, essentially. I know a lass who has flawless skin, yet she smothers it with caked on ‘powder’ continuously. … Why ? ( Have seen her with and without – it is far more beautiful, without ).

    This smacks of lack of confidence by women, and a perceived threat to their sense of self-worth, self-identity .. the main thrust of this article. … And it should be dealt with at grass roots level.

    I resort now to my own experience of it – with no shame in doing so. … however, it might just resonate with some.

    I generally do not wear make-up, but occasionally do – on outings. Eye shadow, eye liner, lipstick and blush. ( too many wrinkles to consider some form of powder, no matter what type ) 😉 .. At my age, ( mid 70’s ) I choose to wear a little make-up because it pleases me to do so – – – or so I thought.

    When working, it was mainly au-naturel for me. … Reading this article however, has opened up a thought or two. … Sat back and analysed exactly when it is I wear make-up now-a-days ? Was not too comfortable with the realisations. Heaven help me, I wear it when I am expected to. ??? Yes – ugh.

    To compete ? – absolutely not. To be an accepted part of the crowd I am with ? – possibly. To adhere to others standards ??? OMG !! … a resounding yes.

    I am ashamed to admit that, and being a bit of a renegade, will cease and desist forthwith. … hopefully, this coming week will see 95% of my make-up go into the garbage bin, where it belongs.

    We are born with our looks, and if that includes say, a perfect skin, gorgeous eyes, etc., then it all should be shown exactly as it is – without adornment. And even if not born with those particular qualities, there should never ever be any shame to show oneself as the true person, one is..

    Au naturel. .. It’s a damned sight more honest.

  25. Deanna Jones

    The beauty industrial complex is a huge trap designed to deplete women’s time energy and financial resources. Think about the language this industry uses: correct, conceal, cover. Everything about it tells us what is wrong with us and how much money we have to spend to make us right, although we will never be right because the goal posts constantly move and there is no specified exact right amount to wear, not enough orange sludge on your face or mercurial grease on those lashes and you’ve let yourself go, too much and oh no slut! Probably asking for it!

    Take a peek at youtube and you can find young women presenting tutorials on how to actually air brush yourself out of existence. Boys too!


    However, I love the stuff itself. It’s fun for starters. I’m a member of the LGBT community and our events are very colourful. I also wear it to work because I work in a judicial system and the research shows that feminine women are just more credible than non feminine women which will be no surprise to anyone here.

    So make up is fun and practical AND a huge patriarchal trap to keep women poor and exhausted while helpfully reminding us why we’re just not good enough as we are. Such a shame.

    Thanks, Robyn. You would probably love Twisty Faster’s writings about the Beauty Industrial Complex. She is concise, funny and honest. She is googlable.

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