Au Naturale

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I like girls better with no makeup on.” Ugh.

I look down at my $60 bronzer and think about the 12 iced caramel macchiatos I forwent to make this purchase.

I think about my playlist of makeup tutorials on YouTube that I use to quell the existential despair that was reignited when I squinted at my hungover self in the mirror of a shitty hotel room in Myrtle Beach at 6pm — four days before college graduation. There has got to be a metaphor for a cruel and uncaring universe and/or implicitly purposeless existence in the sea breeze’s indifferent destruction of my appearance, I thought as I chased a mood stabilizer with a spoonful of Kraft Easy Mac.

I wonder if the lipgloss that plumped my lips by subjecting them to a slight burning sensation was a reclamation of my power against Western beauty standards by adhering to them on my own volition or just an unconscious yielding to them.

I think about how easy it is for a guy to say that when he’s staring at someone who just spent over an hour concealing pimples with products made to create the illusion that I hadn’t just spent over an hour concealing pimples.

It’s such a trope: hapless dude watches a soon-to-be object of his affection take of her makeup and is seemingly astonished that there isn’t a deformed alien underneath even though it’s a television, music video, or movie set, so she technically still has makeup on.

Unlike a Hollywood-curated version of the no-makeup look, I have — among countless other makeup-wearing people — ventured into the world without makeup, and the usual response is, “What’s wrong?” Or, “You look tired.” Or my personal favorite, “Wow, you look like shit.” (That remark was from a visibly concerned friend, but still.)

It’s disarming to say the least. It’s not like I just crawled out from under a rock after three years of not showering. I just didn’t put on mascara. Sorry that my slightly shorter and less pronounced eyelashes offended you.

Then people backtrack and swear they can’t actually tell that I’m not wearing makeup. Uhhhh, ok. After years of this, I am now socialized to preemptively apologize for any superficial indication of being human.

So I am left with a quandary: I kind of enjoy doing my makeup. I enjoy dropping obscene amounts of money on new products instead of food and watching makeup tutorials on how to apply them for maximum return on investment, whatever that means. On the other hand, I also feel obligated to wear makeup — like I owe it to the world to mask my so-called flaws.

Maybe it’s just my social anxiety and extreme fear of rejection, but I think many people feel the same way when it comes to makeup. It’s like compulsory fun — a designated recess for my face. I enjoyed recess as a kid, but some days, I just wanted to sit inside and take a nap.

Plus call me crazy, but I swear my peers were nicer to me after I bought my first tube of eyeliner in eighth grade. My superiors, however, grew worried that I was inviting harassment and opening myself up to a world of promiscuity and immodesty.

I still face that sentiment today: no makeup is too unkempt to be taken seriously yet just one shade of lipgloss to the right or left of what is deemed natural is too vampy to be taken seriously. The same goes for body-type, clothes, tone of voice, hair, resting face, and any other part of a woman people think they can dictate.

Give us a break.

No, seriously. Give us — the should-be-wearing-makeup-but-isn’t and the shouldn’t-be-wearing-makeup-but-is populace — a break.

Because wearing makeup is one of those so-called feminist choices where the reality of making the choice is much more complicated and much less freeing than a person who believes that choices are made in a vacuum might think.

There is an “appropriate” level of femininity for those who identify as women and likewise with masculinity for those who identify as men as well as a complete erasure of genderqueer people’s appearances, especially in a professional setting.

We patronize those who spend too much time on their appearances, but simultaneously envy them because — especially in the age of pop culture and social media — we buy into an illusion that it comes naturally. We look at #nomakeup or #iwokeuplikethis selfies and say “good for you,” on social media yet religiously watch shows like What Not to Wear and praise extreme body transformations (like in the case of Khloé Kardashian).

Men get to say “I don’t like photoshop” or “I like you better with no makeup” without thought of how much extra pressure they put on us as we are constantly fed messages that say just the opposite — like those same men saying it’s false advertising when a woman looks a lot different with and without makeup.

Some women are deemed “unprofessional” for wearing clothes and not being pencil thin, while women of color face the same criticism for simply having hair.

Transgender and genderqueer people are subject to that criticism for not appearing “feminine” or “masculine” enough.

Women need to spend hours on their hair and makeup to make it look like they spent no time at all. (Bedhead waves that take two hours, seventy million products, and a very specific, very expensive type of heat tool, anyone?)

Sure, it can be fun to get all “pretty,” but there is a very thin line between acceptable and unacceptable. Cis and trans women, trans men (and also cis men who want to dress in an non culturally masculine way), and genderqueer people walk it every day.

So, uh, if you don’t face one or more of the many pressures surrounding self-presentation, it’s best not to comment on your preference. You might have been duped into thinking you have a preference for something for which you don’t actually have a preference. Or you might just be adding pressure to a situation in which women sometimes feel stifled by so-called liberation and “choice.”

There’s a difference between and genuine compliment and a subversive — and even unwitting — attempt to get control over women’s bodies through a statement that walks and talks like a compliment, but isn’t. Please learn it.

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