Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Women Smiling While Washing Face (idea unabashedly stolen from The Hairpin)

In reading through the varied collection stemming from Franca's no-makeup blog roundup at Oranges & Apples last week, I'm struck by the number of reasons women give for wearing or not wearing makeup. "It's pure laziness, really," writes 40+style, echoed by Literature & Lace's self-characterization as "an inherently lazy soul." Others went from not wearing any to a total about-face: "[At] my wedding…an hour with a makeup artist transformed me from an ordinary, somewhat exhausted-looking twentysomething into a person decided more grown-up and glamorous… I've been wearing makeup ever since," writes Dress With Courage. Some were matter-of-fact: "It's fun, it's decorative, it can emphasize my big hazel eyes and downplay dark shadows below them," says House in the Clouds, who also notes that though she wears makeup every day, she's not embarrassed to be seen without it. "As a fledgling feminist in university, I 'stuck it to the Man' and abandoned makeup for a while. But I made peace with cosmetics when I realized they don't define my beliefs," writes Jean of All Trades. And others seized makeup's transformative possibilities: "My inner drag queen revels in this sort of gender play. What kind of woman am I today? An Old Hollywood starlet with matte red lips? Or how about a badass '90s biker chick with kohl rimmed eyes?" writes makeup blogger PowerFemme. And then there's the hostess with the mostest, Oranges & Apples Franca, who wears "quite a lot of it, almost every day, but I don't get excited about it at all." She juxtaposes makeup as defense with occasionally wanting to use makeup as a tool for fantasy but not quite being able to make it work (represent! except for wearing lipstick I can't seem to get any sort of "look" going either).

I'm also fascinated by the things people believe about the way they look. "I have fairly bad skin," writes one blogger who appears to have a single blemish dropped into her vibrant, honeyed complexion that's usually covered up by the foundation she says her "bad skin" calls for. "Open pores!" writes another with similarly glowing skin. Some were still wearing the same makeup they had as teenagers, illustrating makeup's enduring power as a rite of passage.

As I read through the collection, I asked myself why I hadn't participated—Franca is a blog buddy, the idea excited me, and I'd even had it on my calendar. But it escaped me somehow, and I told myself it was because another topic came up that was semi-timely (I mean, short hair isn't timely, but I wanted to run the piece immediately as it was a response to someone else's work). That's true, but it wasn't until I reread an e-mail I'd gotten recently from a reader that I realized I'd been avoiding the question of no-makeup for a while. "I can't help but feel that your blog focuses a lot on makeup as a means of helping women to attain or enhance beauty," she wrote. It wasn't an accusation, just a gentle questioning of why—in a blog that works to include the way makeup is worn by dead people—I was leaving out the myriad women who don't wear makeup at all, either because they never started or because they used to and gave up.

When I started writing The Beheld, I thought I used makeup to make myself look more acceptable. I didn't take pleasure in it; I didn't do any sort of fanciful "look"; I didn't particularly enjoy the act itself. It was like brushing my teeth, but with the toothpaste of The Man. But the more I've been writing and thinking, the more I see how much of my makeup use really is simply about my own—not pleasure, not quite, but my own readiness for the world.

The fact is, makeup centers me. There's a meditative quality about standing in front of the mirror focusing on each one of your features, watching yourself "come together." The phrase "putting your face on" always struck me as a little grotesque, as though women didn't have faces until they were caked with makeup. But particularly in crowded urban environments like the one I live in, I don't particularly want to go into the world with the face I wake up with. Not because I think it's unfit, but because it's unprepared. I haven't had that meditative moment in front of the mirror. I haven't put on my "public face" if I leave the house without makeup, and there's a vulnerability in showing the world one's private face that has nothing to do with living up to standards of conventional attractiveness and everything to do with carefully selecting who gets to see what.

My close friends and my boyfriend see me without makeup, as do my local grocer and the guy selling gyros on the corner. They are a part of my intimate world—not that I'm spilling my life story to the gyro dude, but he's a part of my daily life. He's a part of the environment I call home. Perhaps it's different in cities that live less publicly than we do in, or in metropolitan areas with a more reasonable population density than 56,000 people per square mile. Perhaps I'd feel less of a need to have a strict public/private division if the boundaries of actual home were stronger. But sitting in the chair I write from, I hear everything from my neighbors chattering away in Bengali to teenagers walking home from school shrieking at one another to the occasional thumpa-thump of rigged-up car stereos cruising the block. I don't really notice it anymore; it's a part of my home. It's what you sign up for when you live in New York City, inviting your neighbors into your private space even if you've never actually greeted them at the door. We find our privacy in different ways. Makeup is one of mine.

I've got far more thinking to do on this before I proclaim My Reasons For Wearing Makeup—in a way, untangling that question is part of why I started this blog in the first place. I wish I'd participated in Oranges & Apples blog roundup, but I also now see that maybe I wasn't quite ready to. It's a rich, varied collection of perspectives—won't you check it out?


  1. Wonderful post and reflection on makeup!

    I like makeup because it does make me excited in the morning to try out new things or use new colors. I guess I'm sort of lucky in a way because I never developed negative or positive feelings about makeup at a young age. I thought it was fun. I thought it made me look better, but I didn't start really wearing it until after college. Before that, I wore Bare Escentuals foundation and that was pretty much it.

    I guess developing a stronger opinion later made me realize that I am fine--with and without makeup.

  2. "It was like brushing my teeth, but with the toothpaste of The Man."


    "...there's a vulnerability in showing the world one's private face that has nothing to do with living up to standards of conventional attractiveness and everything to do with carefully selecting who gets to see what."

    Yes! My bare face is the real "me", vulnerable and exposed. Putting something on--- dress clothes or a little makeup--- puts something between Me and The Wide, Cruel World.

    Off to read the round-up!

  3. Most days I don't wear makeup. There's definitely a big laziness component there. I'd rather sleep in, truly. But I don't really think about it much. Do I think I look "better" with makeup? Yeah. But, do I think I look "bad" or not fit for public view without it? Nope. Maybe it's because I've never thought of myself as particularly attractive in the first place, I figure it doesn't matter much. Hmm...

  4. Back in high school and college I thought my face looked horrendous without make up. Then I guess something shifted and I decided I looked pretty good without it. Now I like to put it on for work meetings or when I am going out, but just as much I love to sport a clean face.

    When I am clean faced I feel more "real". The second I walk in my door I remove my make up. I like having it both ways!

  5. It is a makeup world. It wasn't until college that I started exploring what makeup was to me and soon after felt I could go in public without makeup. As a women that is sad to say.

    Men don't wear makeup why should we feel such an obligation? At times I think we wear it for ourselves, to show ourselves that we are pretty or to make us feel that like we compare to others.

  6. I feel no obligation to wear make up and never have. I wear make up if I am going to a wedding or in a wedding party. They are basically the only times I wear make up. I don't own any make up as such, but have a little tinted lip balm that I occasionally use since it tastes like strawberries! When I get invited to weddings, I will go get my make up done by a professional, it really adds to the excitement of a wedding. It is a whole thing!

    I think my face looks wonderful. I like the way it looks and haven't had people run away from me in public so I must be doing something right!

    I don't judge women negatively who wear make up though, I actually like it! Make up is fun and exciting and I like to see how artistic women are with make up.

    1. Rebecca, reading this was so refreshing! And it reveals that while confidence can play into women's decisions to wear makeup or not wear makeup, it's not the only factor.

  7. Open pores!" writes another with similarly glowing skin. Some were still wearing the same makeup they had as teenagers, illustrating makeup's enduring power as a rite of passage.permanent magazine