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.”
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.
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.