Recently, I’ve seen more discussion on social media regarding the choice to wear make-up (and the choice to wear lots of it). More and more voices are coming out of the woodwork to defend the choices of girls (and guys!) who wear make-up and explain to judgmental people, especially men, that no one is dressing or putting on make-up for their approval, and that wearing make-up does not necessarily equate to insecurity. Many girls who wear make-up do it as a form of self-expression, or a way to have fun or look good for them.
Personally, I think this mini-movement is amazing and important, but it far too often forgets two important things. Firstly, that girls who don’t wear make-up also face harsh judgement and body shaming, and we deserve to be able to embrace our natural beauty- and yes, even be proud of the fact that we’re cosmetic-free. The second thing is that there are girls out there who are buying make-up because of insecurity- the cosmetic industry has thrived for decades by capitalizing on the societal pressure we’ve faced every day since birth.
I don’t really wear make-up. That means on pretty much any given day, if you were to see me on the street, I would have not so much as a coating of lip gloss on. I wear make-up for the odd job interview or girl’s night out. I bought foundation for the first time before starting university, and have probably worn it a half dozen times. Make-up has just never been something I’m very good at, nor has it been something that’s captured my interest long enough for me to try and be good at it. I’m satisfied with occasionally wearing my basic, drugstore-purchased eye shadow and mascara and walking out the door. I’m proud of that- but that doesn’t mean it comes without a price.
From what I’ve seen of the make-up posi campaign so far, they seem to think (or at least only talk about) the stigma faced by those who wear make-up, namely those with so-called “cakefaces”. This isn’t true at all. For some reason, make-up is seen as almost as a necessity for women in today’s world. It’s expected for job interviews- even though there’s no relevant link between how much bronzer you can apply and how well you can do your job. In some work places- especially those that seek to capitalize on women’s bodies, like restaurants where waitresses are expected to wear little more than a string bikini- wearing make-up is seen as a requirement, plain and simple. I remember my grade nine vocal music teacher explaining that for any auditions- whether it be theatre or film- you are expected to come in full make-up. That had perplexed me- what if you’re already objectively gorgeous, as all movie stars seem to be? What if you aren’t going for the perky cheerleader role, but for the nerdy girl next door? It didn’t matter, I was told, you had to make yourself look “your best”, and if you didn’t, it showed a lack of effort and commitment. Come on- that’s ludicrous. When not wearing make-up is interpreted to the public to be a character flaw like being lazy or not caring enough about your job, you know something is wrong. When the expectation of looking your best automatically means putting on make-up, something is wrong. Who gets to decide that a person’s face objectively looks better when its skin is caked in powders and liquids?
As someone who doesn’t wear make-up, I have it equated to character flaws all the time. I’m seen as lazy, I’m seen as unprofessional, I’m seen as someone who doesn’t care at all about what other people think. Some have even gone as far to equate it to a lack of self-respect and dignity- if I truly respected myself I would “be willing to take the time out of my day” to ensure I lived up to the oppressive beauty standards that exist to keep me spending money and keep me feeling inferior to my male counterparts. Now, it’s become arrogance.
I can’t speak for every person with the make-up positive movement, but this is something I have observed, not just once but on many occasions. Going make-up free is now equated to arrogance. We must think we’re better than the girls who wear make-up, especially if we are proud to be make-up free.
I don’t think I look better or am better than anyone else. But I am proud that I don’t wear make-up often. If I get a compliment, I feel extra gleeful knowing I earned while going sans cosmetics. I have every right to. I have to go outside every day to a world that will tell me, through hundreds of unavoidable mediums, that my eyes could look bigger and brighter and my body could be thinner and my lips could look fuller and my eyelashes could look longer and my nose could look smaller and my cheeks could look more hollow and my skin could look clearer or tanner or glowing. I’m told that I can do thousands of things to make my body “better”- and I should. If I want to seek approval from my peers, I should. If I have self respect, I should. If I want to reflect a strong work ethic, I should. If I want to be beautiful, I should.
I face that pressure every single day- but I’m still able to look in the mirror in the morning, see myself for what I really look like, flaws and all, and think to myself, okay. I’m able to take what I’m told is imperfect and unprofessional and present it to the world in all its untouched glory. I’m not super confident. I’ve faced my fair share of body image issues, and I’m consumed by insecurities. But I still able to go out into a world that’s like that, and present myself looking like this. Yeah, I’m proud of that. Sorry, but I’m not sorry.
That does not mean I think I am better or prettier than anyone else. I see that make-up can create a beautiful look that my natural features cannot, plain and simple. I can see it as a form of art and self-expression. I can see it as something a woman chooses for herself and only herself. But just like you can be proud of your (actually enviable) ability to contour and your winged eyeliner skills, I can be proud of my ability to step out into the world without all that. It’s not better. It’s different, but not better.
Yes, I am proud of how I look without make-up. As I have said before, I am not the most confident person you will ever meet. Yeah, I look in the mirror and see hundreds of things I would like to change about my appearance. But, I have green eyes that are pretty noticeable even without eyeliner and mascara to highlight them. I have skin that is clear, and I only have that “tired girl who isn’t wearing make-up look” when I’m well, really, really tired. If I’m well-rested and not super stressed out, my face more closely resembles a face with light, natural make-up than the pale, deathly pictures girls circulate saying “this is what wearing no make-up really looks like”. If reading that I’m happy with the way my face and skin naturally look- you know, all the time, even if hidden under a layer of make-up- then you have to ask yourself, are you really wearing make-up for the right reasons? If actually being okay with the way your face looks without any alterations has to be a sign of arrogance, then what does that say about your choice to wear make-up? As said before, I definitely believe make-up can be used to amplify confidence rather than hide insecurity- it’s a beloved hobby for many of my friends. But if you can’t embrace the way you look without it, I don’t think you fit into the category of “I do this for me”- I think you fit more into the category of “I do this because of crippling insecurity that’s been reinforced by beauty standards saturated within the media and downright expected as the bare minimum from society”.
Let’s talk a bit more about those memes that claim to show the difference between someone “really” not wearing make-up and someone who has done their make-up to look as though they’re wearing nothing. I understand why you show these photos- men have such high expectations of women that they expect everyone to wake up with glowing skin, rosy cheeks and a contoured jaw. But think about the flip side of this- when you try and explain that, when women really go out without make-up they look kind of like they’ve pulled a Red Bull-infused all nighter, you’re simply reinforcing the belief that women absolutely need make-up. Without it, they’ll kind of look like they’re in the early stages of zombiehood. The truth is, we look just as good (and just as healthy) as men do without make-up, we’re just socialized to believe otherwise- the last thing we need to do is share photos that highlight the flaws we’re more likely to notice in women in order to “set the record straight”. Also, consider the fact that maybe, the reason why you think you look so tired and sickly with no make-up on is because, if you wear large amounts of make-up every single day, your skin will likely end up a shade or two paler than you’re used to, even if you have a naturally darker tone, leading any skin flaws or bags standing out, and an “ashy” or “sickly” appearance. Maybe, embracing your naked skin, at least a few days a week, is the solution to the apparent problem.
The make-up free stigma is amplified when it comes to “flaws” like acne, scars and skin conditions. Men are allowed to go out regardless of whether or not they have acne or any other naturally occurring skin conditions. Even though they may face certain stigmas and societal expectations, no one is expecting them to invest a half an hour of their day and at least $20 (okay how much are you expected to spend on skin make-up?) of their hard earned cash to cover it up. Meanwhile, women are taught that if their skin isn’t completely clear, even and smooth, they need to hide that from the world.
Make-up can be a self-esteem boosting tool. But it’s irresponsible to assume that that’s now the sole purpose of make-up. Between advertisements, and other women, who we’re taught to compare ourselves to, to men outright telling us, we are told we need to adhere to certain standards. We are systematically convinced that somehow our appearance is related to our character, and we are told certain beauty standards must be upheld in order to get a job or have friends or lock down a boyfriend or be happy. We are taught that the opposite of looking the Right Way is being ugly, and being ugly is the worst thing you can be. We are taught from birth to dislike ourselves, but told that we have solutions- gym memberships and body scrubs and shampoo and clothes and bikini waxes and whitening strips and diet pills and make-up.
We are starting to turn on these standards. We are starting to reclaim make-up as our own, and use it for our own self-love-motivated reasons. It is starting to be our thing, rather than a thing men press onto us. And that is a beautiful thing. But we’re only in the beginning stages of that process- and it won’t happen unless we all embrace the reality that our skin doesn’t need make-up. If we continue to treat it as a necessity of life, rather than a fun hobby, we aren’t really making the progress we think we are.
So let’s work together to eliminate both the stigma towards wearing make-up, and the stigma towards not wearing it. Let’s tear down the relationship between make-up and “professionalism”- whether it’s the absurd idea that going make-up free is unprofessional or the absurd idea that wearing “too much” make-up is as well. Let’s stop showing men what women “really” look like without make-up (because we aren’t actually lifeless zombies without our Naked palettes), and start showing men that we’re beautiful with or without it. Let’s accept the fact that it doesn’t have to be one or the other- there’s a room for all of us within the body positivity movement.