Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Tirade about makeup

Over two decades later, my mom still tells people the story of how I told her (this was back when I was a wee child) she wasn’t a “real woman” like her sister because my mom didn’t wear makeup or paint her nails. My mom has a habit of rubbing in my face stuff I said when I was younger that I no longer believe. But back then I fell for society’s message that gets hammered into both little boys and little girls: real women wear makeup.

Well, it didn’t take me very long to grow to detest makeup, especially as I embraced feminism and even more so after reading Susan Brownmiller’s Femininity. What surprised me, though, was how many women (even feminists) seemed to like makeup—not just tolerate it or indulge in it every now and then as a guilty pleasure. Every woman I’ve talked to about makeup has unequivocally defended her decision to wear it (as Charlotte from Sex and the City would say, “I choose my choice. I choose my choice!”).

I remember one time I was shocked to encounter a makeup defender I thought didn’t even wear makeup. She said, “All women wear makeup. Sometimes it’s just a little bit. Sometimes you can’t tell, but all women wear it.” I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it. All women wear makeup? Of course, what she said can’t literally be true. There have to be some women who don’t wear makeup, even if they’re only three out of three billion. But I’ve generally found she’s right.

My wife is a feminist and a strong one at that, but she wears makeup, too. Sometimes she wears it. Sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she doesn’t wear much. Sometimes she wears a lot. I always tell her she looks better without makeup, which is true. As Harry Connick, Jr. says in “Just Kiss Me”:

Don’t worry with your lipstick. I’m going to kiss it all away. Throw away your lipstick. That’s not your color anyway. My lips are your color, so lips, stick with me.

Nevertheless, like all the other feminists I know, she still wears makeup.

I just don’t get it, on several levels. First of all, jewelry, clothes, shoes, hats, and bags are all adornment. They drape or hang. They are not plastered on you. Your face is who you are. Your face is how people identify you. How can you do that to your face? Secondly, when I’ve seen my wife without makeup, she always looks much better than when she has makeup on, and I’m sure she’s not the only one for whom this is true. Thirdly, most women put on too much makeup. If you put on so little makeup that other people can’t even tell you’re wearing makeup, maybe you’ve gotten away with it—maybe that’s the whole point of makeup, to fool people into thinking you don’t look like yourself. But for a lot of women I’ve seen, I can tell you’re wearing makeup, you’re wearing too much makeup, and not only does it not make you look more beautiful than you normally do—it makes you look terrible.

This is particularly true at events, fancy dinners and such. That’s when women who ordinarily wear so little makeup as not to be noticed (or no makeup at all, if that’s possible) will cake it on and look terrible while their friends tell them, “Oh, you look amazing!” (which I translate to mean, “You ordinarily look terrible. Good thing that makeup is all over your face to hide what you really look like,” but somehow that’s a compliment, I guess).

In my mind, makeup is designed to accentuate facial features. Thus, its ideal applications are for situations in which people will see you from far, far away (say, 50 feet away) or for situations in which you are in a photo shoot/movie set with very careful lighting and expert makeup artists. Neither of those situations is a fancy dinner party, where most people will be seeing you from two or three feet away.

Even though most of my friends are women, and I generally identify with women in most things in life, makeup is just one of those things I could never understand. And if there are any feminist women (or even non-feminist women) who don’t wear makeup, feel free to pipe up here. It’d be great to know you exist.