Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why wear makeup?

Autumn of The Beheld, the smartest beauty blog I know, asked her readers this morning: Why do you—or why do you not—wear makeup? I've been meaning to do a "some notes on" style post on makeup for a while, but in lieu of that I think I'll just repost my comment here. I don't believe in "universal truths" (ahem, Mark Edmundson) and I'm not trying to speak for everyone, but I do think my answer probably applies to a lot of people who haven't thought about it much or tried to articulate a reason before. Here's what I wrote – and note that I'm attempting to address some unspoken subtext I perceive in the question (i.e., is it problematic for feminists to wear makeup?):

I don't think of makeup as fundamentally different from any other activity meant to enhance one's "personal style," an outward expression of taste and aesthetics. That is to say, I think makeup falls in the same general category as fashion/getting dressed, home decor, etc. On some level these things can all be "artistic" – they are skills, one makes choices. On the other, there's signaling involved – it's directed externally (most people wear different clothes around the house than when they go out into the world), and it's a way of manipulating how you're perceived.

So the short answer is, I wear makeup because I like the way it changes how I'm perceived. But I also think it's fun in the same little-girl way that coloring is fun, that crayons *in themselves* are fun – it's like coloring but on your face. A subtle form of costuming that, as women, we're allowed to do every day. I think it's too bad that it's not culturally acceptable for most men to wear makeup in public; if it were, at least some of them surely would.

[To expand on this and address the subtext more directly:] I don't believe wearing makeup is inherently anti-feminist or the result of insecurity any more than these other practices that rarely get labeled or questioned as such, like putting effort into how your apartment looks. It's all "style" which is (almost) all signaling. My own approach to "style" is that I like indulging in it up until the point that it stops feeling fun or starts feeling prohibitively expensive. Everyone has their own set point here so I'm sure there are people who would perceive the amount of time and money I spend on "style" to be excessive, but it doesn't feel excessive to me.

13 comments:

  1. I have very dark circles around my eyes. I have had them since I was a child. I got tired of the comments (you look tired/what happened to your eyes/your mascara is smudged/ etc...)so I wear concealer to soften the darkness.

    I also use concealer to cover the broken veins, scars, keratosis pilaris and acne on my face.
    I wear makeup as a kind of armour - to protect myself from judgement.

    I also like to wear lipstick. The colour perks up my bitchy resting face.


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    1. There are two things that I often hear cited as absolute beauty musts and that I never use: undereye concealer and an eyelash curler. I just think my eyelashes are curly enough and my undereyes are fine. Not sure if that's genetics or just denial/acceptance. But I mostly think of makeup as a way to enhance rather than fix. My eyelashes are blondish, so wearing black mascara makes them more obvious/exaggerated, which brings me closer to the cartoon/Hollywood feminine ideal.

      I love wearing bright lipstick. I'm not even sure if I think it makes me look better (probably not?). But it makes life feel more like THEATRE!

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  4. oops. My line: If I am unhappy with my face when I am not wearing makeup then I feel like I have been wearing too much too often. When alteration becomes my norm--I worry.

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    1. Yeah that makes sense. Here's my line, maybe -- I never feel uncomfortable wearing no makeup and slummy lounge clothes around *my husband* (saying "my husband" still feels a bit like a costume of course). That is me, he knows what I look like, that's fine. I don't feel unattractive or "not okay" unadorned. But I enjoy the ritual of getting a little costumed when I'm going out for the evening -- I think especially now that I work from home and don't get to costume and parade that often. Putting on makeup, especially something a little beyond the basic, feels a bit like having a glass of champagne, a special occasion.

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  5. The internal vs. external thing is a big question I'm wrestling with right now--there's a lot of "I like the way it makes me feel" thing but the unspoken part of that is "around other people." I have a hard time believing most women wear makeup at home alone.

    That said: I'm standing here in my glasses, sans makeup, hair in sloppy ponytail, probably stinking, but am wearing a lovely latte-colored slip with chiffon trim that makes me feel like a 1970s sex goddess. Meanwhile, I often leave the house in jeans and a ratty hoodie but rarely without "my face" on--and I'm not sure why I'm switching up these public and private faces, but I do, and I always have. Hmm. No conclusions here, just musing. I guess I'm saying I hear you about makeup being like other aesthetic expressions--but I wonder what it is about any of those expressions that calls us, and when. I have no interior design interest whatsoever, and jewelry is sort of meh for me--but I could spend hours in Sephora. What calls us to one and not the other?

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    1. I think expectations are part of it -- and expectations vary by context. If you're a creative person in New York (and probably SF, etc.) you are absolutely expected to take an interest in "design" at least in terms of having a cool looking apartment. It's less important depending on your field, your friends, where you live and so on. Expectations, and exposure to examples, can help encourage interests. I think women are expected to take an aesthetic interest in their appearance. For some women, that's oppressive. I'd find it oppressive if I felt like I had to look like a Playboy model all the time, but I generally move in circles where expectations are at or even below the levels of costuming I have fun with anyway.

      But then there's just random variation. I love jewelry and fashion and I too could spend hours in Sephora, but I have next to zero interest in, like, nail art. I've had one manicure in my life -- using a gift certificate I got as a teen.

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    2. "If you're a creative person in New York (and probably SF, etc.) you are absolutely expected to take an interest in 'design' at least in terms of having a cool looking apartment."

      Yikes, is this true? Better have my parents mail me my old dorm posters. Of course, my place already has an awesome cat gym in the living room. What more do you need?

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    3. Fast track to having an interest in "design": 1) Throw out most of your stuff. 2) Buy Apple products. 3) Paint your walls white. 4) Leave blank spaces on your bookshelves. 5) Arty looking art books on the coffee table.

      DONE

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    4. 6) get bookshelves instead of stacking your books along the wall and other areas, as is currently the case.

      My roommate's coffee table until recently was a square of glass simply resting on top of a stand, not actually attached. The stand was in the middle of the table, so the edges and corners stuck out, and since it was clear glass, you had to look every time you walked by it so that you didn't bump into it. The first drunken party my roommate had, I heard a huge crash and a scream, and I was like, yeah, I did not see that coming.

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    5. Jesus. As someone who has had run-ins with glass before, I'd not approve of that.

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    6. My apartment is a repository for books.

      DONE

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