I got acne when I was 9 years old. I’m 13 now and still have it. I don’t think people understand how much it affects me. I get bullied for it. People tell me “it’s not Halloween yet.” And “What’s wrong with you?”
The comment above has 164 likes on YouTube. A ribbon of replies follow: ‘I can relate’, ‘I feel your pain’, ‘people can be so cruel’. New sob-stories swell by the hour, each commenter relishing the comfort of being faceless in this conversation about faces. ‘I can barely look at myself in the mirror,’ one 11-year-old writes. A horde of well-wishers reassure her that she’s beautiful, she’s worth it, never listen to the haters. Love yourself. It sounds so easy. As sweet and neat as a wrapped candy.
Last year, a British beauty blogger named Em Ford released a short film titled ‘You Look Disgusting’. Ford suffers from acute adult acne and often posts images of herself without makeup – the perennial ‘before’ picture – freely showing her blemishes and scars. The response has been shocking.
Seriously, has she ever washed her face? Revolting. Imagine waking up next to her in the morning. Gross. Ugly. You look disgusting.
In the film, Ford sits bare-faced in front of the camera, as these comments (all of which she has received in real life) materialize around her. She is motionless, unsmiling, distraught. As she begins to apply her makeup, the words around her change. She smiles.
‘You look beautiful.’
However, society never lets you win with makeup. If you don’t wear it, people stare and comment, especially if you have acne. If you do wear it, compliments quickly slide into digs such as ‘you’re fake’ and ‘this is false advertising’. But a woman is not a product. And since when is she trying to sell herself to you? Society behaves as if a woman’s face exists solely for its viewing pleasure. Therefore, it must adhere to its ‘perfect’ standards, which are really double standards.
Most people think that a woman only wears makeup if she’s insecure or she’s trying to please a man. And yes, while it is true that some individuals, especially young girls, use makeup as an emotional crutch or a ladder to higher self-esteem, this is only because they’re trying to please the very society that judges and shames them.
However, many find makeup empowering, and a means for self-expression. Others see it as an art form, using their faces as a canvas on which they can play with color and texture. They feel equally comfortable with makeup and without. Swiping on some lipstick is simply a choice they feel they have a right to. But we all know that society has a tendency to deny women their choices. Wearing makeup today has become more of an obligation; it stems from an unspoken expectation of women to always look flawless. After all, isn’t this is what all the magazines and adverts and films whisper to us daily?
And then we wonder why some women can’t leave the house with a ‘natural’ face.
You can’t talk about beauty without mentioning the media, society’s obnoxious loudspeaker. If you switch on the TV or flip open a magazine, every single female is wearing makeup. The high-school girls all look runway-ready in homeroom, their eyeliner winged to the heavens. Some of them even sleep with it on. We see no images of confident, bare-faced women. So we begin to believe that prettiness and confidence can only be found in an eyeshadow palette. Meanwhile, young girls see Kylie Jenner’s stardom spike after she gets plastic surgery and extensively uses cosmetics. So they too begin raiding the MAC counter in hopes of becoming more popular, more beautiful. Just like the girls who are #goals on their screens.
We tell girls that beauty comes from within, but we show them that it’s only skin deep.
The comments in Ford’s video itself are a testament to the idea that beauty is dependent on makeup, and even then, it is never enough. The spectrum of ‘being beautiful’ has become as narrow as an eyeliner pencil. No wonder people find it normal to viciously judge others’ appearances, so casually cruel, in the name of ‘stating their opinion’. Do they ever realize how much it can hurt?
Should such comments be banned? I don’t believe this will solve the issue. Despite the venomous nature of the words, it would limit one’s right to freedom of speech. And we would only be skimming the surface. What we really need is to change the mindset that somebody’s appearance must conform to your own, or the media’s, set standard of beauty. We need to stretch out our rigid perceptions of beauty.
Beauty is not a template you can contour yourself into; it is the love and compassion within you. It is your humanity. And you cannot conjure that from a mascara tube.