Keeping Up Appearances

Is wearing makeup a good thing or a bad thing? This is a tough question to answer and the answer actually is that there are many answers and perhaps it just raises more questions. Is it only vain, conceited, or insecure women who wear makeup? Does altering one’s own appearance make you a bad person? Is it OK to feel confident because of the makeup you’re wearing? Is it also OK to feel confident when you’re not wearing makeup? Is there a certain way women have to look to be accepted in society? Is it such a bad thing to want to rid our faces of the wrinkles and age spots? If someone tells me I’m beautiful, should I believe them?

Every woman has to come to terms with these questions for herself and believe me, every woman will have different answers to these questions and some of us will change our minds about our own answers as we grow and experience life’s lessons. I was intrigued by a letter published online, from a father to his young daughter. He is in the makeup aisle in Target and feels that the ad campaigns are actually telling women that they’re not beautiful enough naturally and they practically shame women into using them. He wants to empower his little girl to be above this but in this process, he made me feel a little guilty about my own use of makeup. Hear me out because I feel like I have to defend myself now.

I love wearing makeup. I love that I can wear red lipstick to a fancy holiday dinner or just because I want to on any ol’ Tuesday. I love the way my eyes look with mascara, but some days, I go without. The dark circles under my eyes drive me insane and I do cover them up before leaving my house everyday. Very few people see me without at least that little bit of concealer. It might be because I was teased about them as a child (“Do you have two black eyes?”) and I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I turned sixteen, but you can bet that the day I was allowed to, the first thing I did was cover those bad boys up. Is it OK that there’s a little pep in my step on the days when I like the way I applied my makeup? Is it OK that I feel beautiful on the inside when I like the way I look on the outside? I don’t see anything wrong with that. Playing with makeup is fun–I can change what my face looks like, and then wipe it off and make my face look differently. Most mornings, my makeup routine takes about five minutes. Am I obsessed with wearing makeup? No. I have worn makeup almost daily now for a dozen years now, and I know what I want to accentuate and I know what I want to hide and I just get it done and move on. (My theatre background may have something to do with this, but makeup for the theatre has a different purpose than everyday makeup. And that could very well be a blog post on its own.)

Or consider the reactions I have received from friends and family when they see me sans makeup entirely. They tell me that I look tired, or pale, or sickly. (“Are you feeling ok today honey?” “Yes, I feel fine, I just didn’t put makeup on today.”) No matter how one feels on the inside, being told that one’s natural appearance looks sickly is terrible to experience. Now you may be saying that I shouldn’t care about what people think of me. Well, to you I say that I DO care about what my friends and family think, but a stranger’s words can hurt too.

What gets me though, is that women are ashamed either way. In my job as a Mary Kay beauty consultant, I meet fascinating women every day and we talk about our skincare and makeup concerns and find solutions. But I’ve noticed that frequently, women wear their favourite makeup everyday, but they are ashamed, as if doing so and liking it so much makes them a vain person now. Or they go bare-faced and timidly tell me that they don’t like to wear makeup with their eyes on the floor. Perhaps they’re intimidated by my Mary Kay name tag and they think I’m there to judge them and set down beauty rules! I hope no one feels intimidated by me. And I rarely set down hard and fast rules. Other than washing one’s face twice a day, I think women should be doing what makes them happy.

For example, one makeup “rule” is that we should pick a feature and emphasize just that and make everything else a little more neutral. If you have a ruby red lip, don’t wear bright blue eye shadow and crazy huge false eyelashes, we’re told. Well. If it makes you feel you’re looking your best when you have the boldest lipstick AND bright blue painted on your eyes too, GO FOR IT AND DON’T FEEL ASHAMED!! If that’s not how I choose to put my face on, that’s fine too. Everyone has a different idea of beauty.

I’ve talked about this a little bit in another post, but I’d like to explore this a little more. We know that ancient civilisations used makeup, in many forms that we might cringe at today. (A little belladonna and lead and arsenic and sheep’s blood will surely make me the most attractive corpse ever, right?! No seriously, look it up! Our ancient ancestors used some crazy things, both women and men!) Or look at the extremes that people go through to change their appearances today. Plastic surgery makes almost any change possible I suppose. All of this tells me that, in general terms, we are never pleased with our appearance. We can always find some flaw or fault.

I’ll admit it that I don’t always believe my husband when he tells me he thinks I’m beautiful. I’m my own worst critic, as most of us are in our innermost thoughts. I’m grateful to him though, because he never falters. He never tells me I need to lose ten pounds or that he prefers it when I wear certain makeup items to be pretty to him. I don’t actually think he notices my makeup usually, except for the lipstick that sometimes makes kissy prints on his face. Men have said these things to me in the past and it still hurts a little bit to think back on it, when I was never good enough for them. I’ve moved past it for the most part, but even now, when I no longer care about what these men think of me and my body I still remember the hurt I felt.

Also consider that makeup and cosmetics have been around for THOUSANDS of years. At one point, it was the fashion for men to alter their appearance. Rulers like Alexander the Great and Louis XIII used makeup we’re told. Fashions and style trends change. Queen Victoria publicly declared that makeup was morally wrong, and so wholesome women stopped wearing it and the association with makeup and prostitution was firmly cemented in our collective minds.

I’m not ashamed to wear my makeup and that I use a product line to protect my skin. But I never try to make other women feel badly if they do not wear makeup. It is important that women understand that their appearance is their choice, from their clothes to their hair to their faces. As a Mary Kay consultant, I give advice, not rules. It is important to me to empower women to choose for themselves.

Photo Credit: Red Lipstick by Richard Foster, used and modified via Creative Commons License.


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