Women who don’t wear makeup are weird.
So we’re told.
I was in the bathroom wielding a stick of incarnadine Tom Ford. My boyfriend was waiting (im)patiently in the living room, as boyfriends do. I emerged minutes later as a more brightly coloured version of myself. Boyfriend did a double-take and looked visibly shocked.
This was not the response I’d been gunning for.
Admittedly I hadn’t worn lipstick (or much makeup at all, for that matter) in ages. “Don’t like it?” I asked. He considered his words carefully as he spoke. He’s a darling like that. “You look beautiful,” he said, “of course. It’s just that I prefer you without makeup.
“When you wear makeup, you look… more like every other girl. When you don’t wear makeup, you just look like yourself. And you’re most beautiful when you’re yourself.”
“Hmmm,” I said, and grabbed my jacket so we could go wherever it was we were going, and secretly felt glad inside, because frankly I hate wearing lipstick anyway.
A few weeks later I saw Alicia Keys in all her freckled, makeup-less glory. I saw a news-storm brewing around her decision to step outside wearing her own face.
I saw internet articles with tutorials on how to get the Alicia Keys no-makeup look… using makeup.
I thought, this is a damn strange world. Women are just people, with faces. Why is it newsworthy when we bare them?
Why is there controversy when we go about looking… like ourselves?
And my boyfriend’s words came back to me. And they made me think about makeup in a way I hadn’t done before.
You see, I’d always sort of assumed that makeup was something that contributed to my individuality.
My signature winged eye-liner was part of what made me me. For years I never left the house without it. To do so would be like rolling out the door in my pyjamas, undressed and incomplete.
My Tom Ford “True Coral” lipstick was me in summer, when the nights were balmy and I had a party to go to. I never much was one for foundation, owing to genetically blemish-free skin, but I sometimes caked on a few layers of it to cover my over-enthusiastic blush response. I doubt it ever hid my beetroot cheeks, but its presence gave me strength.
I’ve always kept it fairly simple (part due to laziness). There are those other girls who go full retro glamour, or the ones whose eyes are storm-clouds of smudged kohl beneath pale brows. Their makeup is part of their persona. Maybe it is the insignia that wreathes them firmly into a particular subculture.
But my boyfriend had a point. How many other girls were wearing their ‘signature’ cat-eye liner that night? Would I have been wearing coral lipstick that summer if it wasn’t a beauty trend peddled by the runways and pages of Vogue? Turned out my daily makeup routine and my individuality had very little to do with one another.
Makeup does have value in many ways, for many people. Making us feel more confident is one of them. Allowing us to fit in when we’re different, or scarred, or unwell, is another one. It can certainly be beautiful, and applying it well is an art.
But we shouldn’t feel weird when we don’t wear it.
I have no desire to deny any of the benefits of makeup, just as I have no desire to tell others they should or shouldn’t wear it. If you love it, go right ahead. I’m certainly not above a sneaky coat of mascara even when I go the gym — hey, I’m going to come out sweaty and gross, I might as well go in looking nice. Life is all about balance, right?
I’m simply putting forward an alternative viewpoint. One that I personally had failed to consider all through my twenties when I bothered to wear makeup on a daily basis:
Wearing makeup can actually take away your individuality.
Because to not wear makeup is a form of defiance. Society expects one thing from you, and you go do the opposite. The fact that Alicia Keys ditching makeup is even a thing proves this.
And the defiant thing is the thing that goes against the masses. The defiant thing is the thing that makes you an individual. (Or at least, it can be. And note also, the opposite is true for men: to wear makeup is, for them, the defiant thing).
Slowly but surely over time women have been convinced that wearing makeup is the only acceptable thing for us to do. Going without it once in a while is a nice reminder of your own uniqueness, and can be a way to become comfortable and confident with yourself.
I do understand why women feel self-conscious without makeup. It’s us stripped bare. It’s us at our most individual.
Maybe that’s something we fear, but it’s also something worth experiencing.