I was at the mall on a blustery day in January purchasing some hair products from one of those little booths placed strategically in the middle of the walkway. While I waited for the seller to process my order, I chatted with the woman at the booth next to his. She sold makeup. And she was intent on converting me to her brand.
“This stuff will last you for two years,” the woman gushed.
I looked at the product in her hands and thought, That amount of makeup would last me a lifetime.
“This is so much better for your skin than other makeup brands.”
The hair product salesman handed me my bag and receipt and I prepared to leave. The woman kept talking.
“Seriously,” she said, “this makeup will make you feel so great. It’s all natural.”
You know what’s really all natural? I thought. My face. Without the makeup.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not interested.” I tried to walk away.
The woman actually grabbed my arm. “Look,” she said, “I’m giving you the best deal I’ve ever given anyone, like, ever. I’m actually stunned right now that you’re not taking advantage of this deal. What can I do to make you walk away with some of this awesome makeup?”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry,” I said again. “But I don’t wear makeup.”
The woman and the man at the stall next to her both stared at me with their jaws hanging open. “What – really?” the woman asked. “Like, never? I mean, don’t you date?”
“I’m married,” I said, wiggling my hand so she could see my ring.
“Oh,” the woman pursed her darkly lip-sticked lips in sympathy. “You’re a stay-at-home mom, aren’t you? You know, stay-at-home moms deserve to be beautiful, too.”
“I’m a teacher,” I said, and awkwardly scurried away.
As I walked out to my car, I considered why that encounter left me so flustered. Then I realized I wasn’t flustered. I was mad. Everything about the assumptions that desperate saleswoman made were so wrong. She had assumed that I must be single because I didn’t wear makeup. She had assumed that if I did date, I would choose to wear makeup in order to be found attractive. Maybe she even thought I couldn’t possibly date unless I wore makeup. Then, when I told her I was married, she assumed that I was a frumpy stay-at-home mom with self-esteem issues because I didn’t wear makeup. I know a couple gorgeous stay-at-home moms who would have issue with that belief. I felt insulted not only for me and stay-at-home mothers everywhere but also for women the world over.
Okay, you might be thinking, you’re blowing this a bit out of proportion, don’t you think?
But I’m not. Women are judged for everything they do. Does she work? But what about the kids? Does she stay-at-home? Poor miserable wretch. She must be stuck in the past. No kids? How dare she waste her life away without the gift of children? Oh, so she does have children? Does she know how to raise them correctly? What do you mean she didn’t breastfeed? Everyone knows ‘breast is best!’ Have you seen the way she dresses? What a whore. Have you seen the way she dresses? What a prude. She’s too meek. She needs to assert herself. She’s too assertive. What a b*tch. Are those designer clothes? She must have married into wealth. Are those clothes from Walmart? That poor woman needs a makeover.
See what I mean? Everything about women is controversial these days.
Yet no one seems to talk about another war women are fighting: the makeup war.
Most American girls begin wearing makeup at about 15 years old, on average. They will then wear makeup whenever they are out in public basically until they die. This feeds a billion dollar industry, which claims to exist to empower women, but really teaches them to hate their natural selves. Am I the only one bothered by this?
I tried to wear makeup regularly in college. I’m actually pretty decent at applying it. It made me feel beautiful and powerful. And everyone commented on how great I looked. So I wore it every day for a couple weeks. Then one day I didn’t wear makeup. Here were the reactions: “Oh my gosh! Are you okay?” “What’s wrong?” “Are you feeling alright?” “Did you just go through a break-up?” “Are you sick?”
I was so surprised and disheartened by these reactions. Sure, I loved hearing how great I looked when I wore makeup. But I hated how everyone thought I looked sick or tired or depressed without it. I had never been told this sort of stuff before I tried my makeup experiment. Makeup was fun, but it wasn’t real. Unfortunately, people got so used to my makeup-ed face that my natural, healthy, REAL face was a shock. I felt like I had betrayed myself. I vowed to never let that happen again. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was picking the unpopular losing team. I would spend the rest of my life defending my natural face.
I’ve heard comments about the way I dress, my weight, and the way I do my hair (or don’t) so many times that I’ve basically developed an immunity to those judgy comments. Everyone has their own tastes. Whatever. But I draw the line at being told my FACE isn’t good enough to be seen in public without layers of cosmetics.
Now let me set the record straight: My beef isn’t with makeup. Makeup can be fun and useful. I will wear it sometimes for photoshoots or my wedding or just because I’m bored. A little concealer goes a long way when you have a nasty breakout. And as a drama/theatre teacher, there are endless ways in which makeup can help a theatrical production. The makeup itself isn’t the problem. The problem is society’s backward idea that a woman MUST wear makeup in order to be considered beautiful or taken seriously in a professional environment. My problem is that people who don’t even know me feel like I need to be corrected or “saved.” I don’t think I’m the one who’s wrong.
To all of the teachers, desperate saleswomen, wrong-but-well-meaning roommates, cousins, and coworkers who have told me to put some makeup on, hear this: My answer is NO. You do not get to tell me what is “acceptable” or beautiful.
You know what I think is beautiful? MY FACE. With or without makeup.
People have accused me of being too “self-conscious” to wear makeup. Really? I am the self-conscious one? I know some women who can’t step out the door without wearing makeup. I know some women who won’t even let their husbands see their natural face. Isn’t it the trend now to post a single picture of your un-makeup-ed face on social media and call yourself brave? Why is it considered brave to show your own natural face? It’s your face! We have created a society in which a woman’s face, sans makeup, is considered “ugly” or “plain,” something that belongs at home and hidden from the world. That is messed up! I refuse to be part of that rhetoric.
I actually like the way that I look. I don’t need makeup to help me feel better about myself. And I certainly don’t need makeup to get people to take me seriously. Believe it or not, I actually have a flourishing and fulfilling career. I can count on one hand the number of times I have worn makeup to work. Does that impact my work at all? No. Most of the time, I don’t even think about my face. (Until someone makes a comment like, “You should wear makeup.”)
For many of my students, I am the only functioning and confident adult woman they EVER SEE who does not wear makeup. Isn’t that bizarre to think about? We live in such a makeup-obsessed culture that many of these students don’t even know what a woman’s natural face looks like! Some of my students start wearing makeup as young as TWELVE YEARS OLD. Does no one else see the problem we are creating? These girls are being taught to be ashamed of their own faces. And that shame will follow them through the rest of their life. That shame will turn them into that woman at the mall who thought I was subhuman because I am not afraid of my own face.
Back in college, I had to attend all sorts of workshops to prepare for student teaching. (And don’t get me started on student teaching. I could write a whole book on how messed up student teaching is. But I digress.) I remember a seminar I was required to take in which we were guided step-by-step through the expectations of a student teacher. We were supposed to act with dignity, take concerns to our mentor teacher, speak professionally, etc. Then we got to the dress and grooming expectations. I clearly remember what the presenter said:
“Student teachers are expected to dress professionally. Hair should be groomed and well-maintained. Women should wear makeup.”
I scoffed aloud at this. Unfortunately, the presenter heard me and turned his attention to me. With everyone’s eyes on me, I felt the need to expound on my indignance. So I asked, “Are we actually required to wear makeup?”
The presenter looked surprised. Like no one had ever questioned this particular policy before. “Those of you who will be student teaching in high school are strongly recommended to wear makeup. You are not much older than your students. You must do everything you can to convince them that you are an adult worth respecting.”
I didn’t wear makeup when I was student teaching. None of my high school students ever questioned my authority. Isn’t that surprising? My personality and skill as a teacher actually mattered more than whether or not I wore makeup?! Gasp! And yet, I continue to be told by men and women alike that I need to wear makeup to be taken seriously.
And you know what? I’m sick of it. I’m tired of feeling like I have to come up with excuses for showing my bare face in public. I feel beautiful. I don’t need to be fixed or saved. I am respected at work. I am taken seriously. I live a wonderful, fulfilling life without makeup. I am not the problem here.
But maybe you are.