The Makeup Question

Put down that palette! Unhand that undereye concealer! (or is it corrector?) Leggo the lipstick!

Do you know why are you doing this? Because, objectively, ‘this’ is a bit silly. It’s face paint that will prohibit you from swimming, eating, drinking or sweating. It can go wrong so easily, it must be constantly managed but never acknowledged.

Do you consider your face a canvas, are you exultant when you create successful illusions of whatever side of your personality landed face-up today?

Or do you trudge to the vanity believing your visage is too offensive to bear, eyes bugged and dark, pinched lips subsuming back into the creased and cratered skin from whence they came?

Whichever it is, tarry a moment and consider your makeup in the here and now. First consider what it’s costing you; and then, why you’re doing it in the first place.

Can you afford it?

Time and money wise, ladies are already at a bit of a disadvantage. We make less; we have less disposable income. And time-wise, you’re likely pulling a little bit of double-duty after work with respect to housework.

However, studies also show women who wear the right amount of makeup are considered more likeable, competent, and trustworthy, and ultimately earn a higher salary in conventional workplaces. (While the study was funded by a company that owns several makeup brands, one might also say they were after low-hanging fruit.)

So what price likable?

Lets say you do the bare minimum; skin, lipstick, mascara, concealer. There’s ten, maybe fifteen minutes a day. But what if you want to maximize ‘trustworthiness and competence?’ Foundation, concealer, blush and bronzer will take ten to fifteen minutes. Eye primer, eyeshadow, and eyeliner, fifteen or twenty. Lips in five. Add five minutes for mistakes. Forty-five minutes a day.

What about money? For a basic routine, (or mild ‘competence’), foundation is fifteen dollars at the drugstore, every month. Mascara, ten; lipstick, twelve; concealer another ten. Let’s say that modest makeup is a modest cell phone bill. At a high-end store, the same modest haul will set you back at least a hundred dollars.

But if you want to maximize your competence, the drugstore will run you about a hundred for skin, eyes and lips. High-end stores will take you into multiple hundreds, excluding brushes, cleansing cloths, eyelash curlers, and other tools. What price trustworthiness?

This may seem like a trivial question, but if a women wants to break glass ceilings and earn equal salaries, it’s really not. It’s true that not all occupations have these gendred expectations of appearance: in media or entertainment, men and women alike wear makeup, while in many trades makeup is required for neither. But the sorts of jobs that do – finance, marketing, IT, service and so on – are many woman’s most realistic path to financial independence. And on this path, they must consider makeup: an ostensibly optional task that requires the sacrifice of what amounts to a cell phone, a daily heart to heart with a friend, and day-long maintenance with potential for ridicule if it goes wrong.

And that is without considering what else is sacrificed alongside: anything outside a strange homogenous female mask in these workplaces. Men are certainly held to some standards of appearance, but they are never quite so Revlon-ColourStay-#2-Buff-esque as the almost interchangeable Professional Woman. On paper, summed up, makeup seems like a shit deal.

And yet most are willing to pay. This testifies not just to strong social pressure, but to the fear of very real losses if women don’t play along. Will you ever know if you were really passed up for that sales rep job because you just weren’t that ‘likeable’? Do you seem ‘competent’ enough to be an effective project lead? Do you just not seem ‘trustworthy’ enough to manage a branch?

Do these words sound familiar?

(The study also found the women wearing the most makeup were the sexiest but least trustworthy. Walk the line between asset and liability well, ladies.)

Makeup: must we?

And all this when we might actually be having fun! I mean, it is socially acceptable for adult women to wear face paint! We used to pay for that privilege as kids, for fun! And some of us still do…do you do it when no one is watching? Have you, some bored evening, gleefully experimented with cat-eye liner and bold red lips? If that sounds familiar, go nuts! Fuck the PO-lice.

But it’s never that simple. Before it has a chance to be fun, it’s medicine for the disease of being a unique, flesh and blood female, and there is something especially poisonous about the idea that your face needs adjustment to be acceptable. This is why, for the vast majority of my life, I flatly refused makeup.

Bare-faced lies

Nine: Homemade green and purple figure skating dress.

My mother was, blessedly, not like the other rink mothers, in big fur coats in the cold bleachers, anxious and competitive. But even she knew that no girl could skate a competition without heavily applied makeup.

So I sat in a hockey dressing room while she swabbed Cover Girl on my budding zits. It crusted, and matched my mother’s darker skin, not mine, making the blemish more obvious. It came from a bag my mother seems to  have a love-hate relationship with. All I really know about makeup is that she will not leave the house without it, and is always the last to be ready because of it, yet she takes no apparent pleasure in it.

Seeing myself in the cracked rink mirror, a piebald, cake-faced doll, I cement my opinion: Makeup is stupid, holds you up, and makes you look ridiculous.

Fourteen. Christmas. The uncle who took me on huge hikes, who taught me to climb a tree and how to pace myself, hands me a gift bag. Inside is a makeup palette. My brother receives a carbon steel hunting knife.

Seventeen. Birthday. I receive a massive pallette of eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks and mascaras. “Ooo”, everyone choruses.

“Thank you,” I force out through gritted teeth. Have they ever seen me wear makeup? No, and I suspect that is the point. It all goes in my closet, unused, until it starts to smell of crayons and I have an excuse to throw them out.

Something changed between eight and thirteen. The women in my life, friends and family as a one, decided I needed makeup, that I should take in interest in it, and that if I hadn’t yet, I would. On occasion, as I brushed my teeth, my mother approached from behind, concealer already on her finger, and snaked an arm about me, trying to cover up blemishes (she is only trying to help, so I don’t feel embarrassed walking down the street, and I don’t need to get so mad.)

I was mad. It seemed absurd that they expected any other reaction, given how annoyed makeup seemed to make them. I knew that women wore makeup not because they liked it but because they hated how they looked without it. And considering that the idea ‘appearances don’t matter’ is a ubiquitous childhood mantra, (not to mention that makeup is often shorthand for “ditzy shallow girls with nothing better to do”) their obsession with makeup seemed at best confused and at worst hypocritical.

And there was another, darker side to my anger. One I am ashamed to acknowledge. The makeup my friends and family bestowed upon me was not a quality tool for a specific purpose; it was the cheapest they could find. They never asked my skin tone, or the shape of my eye: it makeup for makeup’s sake, the rink all over again. And truthfully, I doubt those who kept buying it for me knew or tried to learn any techniques beyond rubbing foundation and brushing mascara. My fellow females did not want me to Look Good; they wanted me simply to Wear Makeup, to labour under the same yoke, and it bothered them that I did not. You could fairly hear my friends wondering: why isn’t Ami ashamed to go out without makeup like the rest of us? When will she finally feel bad enough?

And here we come to it: in their frantic machinations, in silvered eyes and drugstore steals, I sensed the simmering anger of their own grinding obligation to smear, to daub, to contour. Did I not start to get a hint that generic, obligatory makeup was a self-abnegation, a neutering, that came from some deep well of irrational shame of their own individual face; a sort of self-administered tarring and feathering? Was it something that purportedly made them unique and beautiful but actually felt like the opposite to them, and that was why they did it?

And so I was angry, and I wore no makeup.

And then, quite recently, that changed.

I wandered into an online forum a few months ago, because someone had posted a striking picture of iridescent green eyeshadow on an image board. Rather than looking like Mimi from Drew Carey, it was – artistic. It was clearly a work of skill, and more, it looked fun. I kept clicking, and slowly found a community – men and women – who clearly espoused two values, previously alien to me, that have changed my mind about makeup: They did it solely for themselves, and they valued quality and skill. Some worked in theatre, others as professional makeup artists. Some just loved to play.

And I finally admitted something to myself. I do want to play with makeup. And I mean play. I just refused to accept the self-loathing that seemed to go along with it.

So one spring day when cherry trees were blooming and the skating rink was a lifetime away, I bought a quality brush set, pigmented shadows and bold red lip stain. And instead of fretting I was doing it wrong, I painted my eyelid like a full peacock tail, aggressive and eye-catching. And for the first time in my life, it didn’t feel like it was smothering anything. It felt like…a tool.

Slowly, I tried other things. Curled brows. Scarlet lips.

The childhood mantras about appearance weren’t wrong in a close-knit community, but they were oversimplified, especially in a big city. You meet hundreds of people every day and the only thing they can possibly know about you is what they see. Rather than a time and money sink, a tool for self-loathing and homogenization, when you see it as a tool, makeup can be fun. Something that can give energy instead of take it, showcase a personality and not erase it.

I dream of world where we can all do this.


One thought on “The Makeup Question

  1. […] To wear or not to wear? That is the question. Amorina Kingdon tackles it head-on in this week’s post, “The Makeup Question”. […]

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