I hate makeup. It takes up too much time, from selecting the right shades and checking out the latest advances (and there are always new advances) to the application itself. Even if you wear light makeup, if you apply it daily, it adds up rather quickly: 5 minutes per day leads to 35 minutes per week leads to over 30 hours per year. I can think of a million other ways I’d rather spend that 30+ hours.
I love makeup. I love the way that good makeup, skillfully applied, makes you feel like yourself, only better. This intensifies as you age, and I don’t think it’s purely that society (and large-scale obsession with youthfulness) is to blame. It’s hard to compare the quality of your skin with your younger variations without wanting to make it look a little smoother, more even in tone, a little more like the skin you see in your memories. Even if, like me, you truly enjoy most aspects of aging, it’s hard to ignore the way that the right products can re-create that fresh skin that was once your own, naturally. Got a big new spot or zit? Cover that sucker right up. Even if it’s not perfect, at least it’s not as glaring as bare. Want that glowingly tanned look without the skin cancer risks or tanning chemicals? Bronzer will not only give you that, but let you subtly sculpt your face with highlights and shadows. Lovely. You can do some incredible things with modern makeup!
I hate makeup. The cheap stuff often makes you look bedraggled before you get to the office or the cocktail hour has ended, the decent stuff is a full-on gamble and the prices add up quickly (especially on the unlucky rolls of the dice), and the good stuff can make a serious dent in all but the heaviest wallets. Once you’ve tried the good stuff, it’s especially hard to go back. Even if you aren’t a daily wearer, you have to at least replace your eye makeup every few months to avoid infection, so it’s not even like being careful about usage will help defray the costs. Every bit of it has a shelf life, and it’s not all that long.
I love makeup. It’s one of the easiest and most effective tools for showing off your personality. If you’re the sort that likes to experiment and change things up (as opposed to having a set routine), you can go a step further and show off your mood. You can even psych yourself up for an event just by applying the right war paint for where you are going and what you are doing. You can go whole-hog and create characters and costumes around a makeup scheme, or emulate an historic period, or whatever strikes your fancy that day.
I hate makeup. It infuriates me that there are clearly a lot of brilliant minds focused purely on the research, development, and sale of so very many products when we have pressing needs for such minds in many other areas. Beauty pays, because it rakes in the money like few other industries. In 2012, people (85% of them female) spent $382 billion dollars globally on beauty products. Granted, a lot of items in this category are skin care and treatment products, and I’m a big fan of good skin care, especially moisturizers. Still, that is a staggering amount of money. We could build, launch, and deploy 43 James Webb Space Telescopes for that. Yeah, stupid apples-to-oranges comparison, but it makes you think. That’s a really expensive telescope!
I love makeup. I don’t wear it much, so when I do, it always gets some really cool attention, even from people who are often oblivious about such things. When I wear light, natural-toned makeup that just enhances and smooths what I usually look like, most people don’t even realize it’s the makeup that they are complimenting when they say I look extra-good that night. When I go bold, such as with a full red lip, it catches people off-guard. It’s a lot of fun. You never know which me you’ll see on a given night, even if 99% of the time I haven’t even properly brushed my hair, let alone bothered with my face. On the days that I bother trying to look good I find myself wondering why I don’t do it more frequently, because it does feel good.
I hate makeup. Why is it so utterly expected? Why is it some sort of mark of “normalcy” that commands respect? Regardless of origin, the idea of “fixing” ones face is not exactly a healthy one to pass down. Makeup can hide many flaws, but it fixes nothing. Whenever I hear a woman say that she feels naked without makeup, or won’t allow anyone at all to see her without it, it worries me. The concept that there is even one woman who actually wakes up early to touch up her makeup, lest the man she shared a bed with might see her raccoon eyes and flawed complexion, is completely foreign to me. The Daily Mail is famously not the most reliable source, but they sure found a great piece of click-bait last year with their survey about when women will allow a new beau to see them makeup-free, where they claim that more than a third of respondents have gotten up to apply a fresh coating. Did all of these women miss the memo about beauty sleep?
One of the best and worst features of makeup is how it affects confidence levels. I love the rush of confidence I get when I got my makeup just right and I take that last glance in the mirror, it can bolster my state of mind all night, even. The thing is, I’m pretty confident without makeup. I got tired of the daily grind back in high school and never looked back. I would be okay showing up to almost any event with a bare face if I had to, even the ones that make me want to look perfectly polished.
That’s not always the case.
In 2012, Harris Interactive conducted a survey for eating disorder charity The Renfrew Center Foundation on American makeup habits and how they made respondents feel. 44% said that going without make them feel unattractive at the least. 14% of the total respondents said they felt self-conscious when bare-faced and another 14% said they felt naked. Why was a foundation dedicated to the treatment of eating disorders commissioning a survey on makeup? “Wearing makeup to enhance one’s appearance is normal in our society and often a right of passage for young women. There is concern, however, when makeup no longer becomes a tool for enhancement but, rather, a security blanket that conceals negative feelings about one’s self-image and self-esteem. For many individuals, these feelings may set the stage for addictions or patterns of disordered eating to develop.”
So, while, “Grooming rituals can be temporary confidence boosters, and studies suggest that the confidence they inspire is itself attractive, ” according to Nancy Etcoff in The New York Times, “Women who feel that makeup use is obligatory but unwanted, that it requires a forced confrontation with the mirror when they’d rather put their attention elsewhere, do not feel more confident after using it. Research suggests that women can feel objectified by makeup, and for such women, any potential advantage may be offset by the emotional labor of wearing it.”
While researching the fashions of Alexandria just before the burning of the Great Library and medieval Poland for my 2 most recent Halloween costumes (Hypatia and King Jadwiga of Poland, respectively) I wound up reading very detailed accounts of the poisons that people willingly used in copious quantity to look good in their era. I remember hearing back in school that makeup was extremely toxic, but that people didn’t know better yet. My more recent research revealed that many products were used for years, with great enthusiasm, after it was proven that they were causing all sorts of ills and even death. Lead powders were popular for centuries after everyone knew better, there was just no better white available! Plagues like smallpox added to the problem, because only thick makeup could cover up the scars left behind. Fashions came and went and varied from place to place, but there haven’t been many times or places that women scorned the use of at least a little. Men aren’t excluded, either, it just hasn’t been the norm for them to wear makeup in recent times outside of a few subcultures, but their beauty spending is on the rise again, there are many products specifically targeting them, and there is speculation that male makeup will be taking off (again) in the near future.
Is this a primal thing, an essential part of the civilized human experience or perhaps even an unbroken line from prehistoric times? Can we really lay all the blame on a giant global industry so stable that some companies are in their 2nd century of business, when even those companies are relative newcomers? Does our spending reflect too much time looking at dazzling Hollywood actresses with their stylists, surgeons, and photography/Photoshop tricks or would we have gotten here even if there had never been a glossy magazine or moving picture? Is makeup about the person wearing it, the society she lives in, or a larger picture still?
In the geek world, makeup can have even more connotations. Some people equate geekery with a lack of hygienic habits, and are quite suspicious of women who go so far as to apply any obvious beauty products. At the other end of the spectrum are cosplayers, who need great skill with application to create accurate renditions (and that only comes with a lot of practice and experience). How do these extremes fit together? Is there a winning choice in this subculture?
Do you wear makeup?
Pics by me, John Wood, and Suzanne Roth.