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“Someone say psyche,” I said, one cold, blustery morning at the end of November.
This wasn’t the most sane activity, given that I was alone on the side of the street. “Someone say psyche,” I repeated, loudly and more insistently as passers-by refused to meet my eyes and parents steered small children away.
My actions were reasonable. Nay, foreseeable. I had finished reading an Image article entitled ‘You Should Wear Makeup To Work’. This article wasn’t satirical. It wasn’t even in the Beauty or Fashion section. Oh no. It was in Business. Because it was business advice, you see. For women.
It’s a well written and well researched article, neatly setting out the stupidly high amounts of time and money that women are expected to pour into the materials and methods of covering up their faces, as well as the documented biases against women when they choose to forgo it.
Which is why I can’t understand the conclusion.
“It is worth being aware that no makeup might negatively impact your employer’s and your colleagues’ perceptions of you. It’s not much of a choice, I know. To counteract the unfairness of it all, may I suggest doing your makeup on the bus or the train on the way to work – it’ll help you stand up to the patriarchy a little bit and will maximise your sleeping time.”
If this is how we’re ending articles about the behaviour and grooming standards women are subject to in the year of 2018, we’ve fucked up.
I think I know where, too. It was in the whole ‘I’ll look how I like’ push. A great sentiment at the time, but unbalanced. We were all for the “winged eyeliner so sharp it could kill a man”, “lips painted with the blood of my enemies” and “six inch heels like an amazon” but where was the campaign for bare faces and unshaved legs? We turned to a whole generation of women and said, ‘Guess what! You can look how you like!’ and they said, ‘I want to look attractive’, and we said ‘Great!’
But we never stopped to examine what we think ‘attractive’ looks like.
Now we have makeup companies sleazing in on the feminist wave, couching their ads in ‘empowering’ language. We have sports ads pushing the power of women, while their athletes are wearing false eyelashes. We have makeup sets for toddlers and Penneys doing a line aimed at pre-teens. We have Millie Bobbie Brown pouting and posing her way down the red carpet in a smoky eye and off the shoulder gown. Everything is slapped with the urge to ‘Express yourself! Be true to you!’ as long as that involves spending money, covering flaws and looking good according to the established standard.
Let’s pull back from trying to hit attractive, and just settle at baseline. The world we live in tells me that my normal bare face is not presentable. It’s not good enough. My bare skin is ‘sloppy’ and if I don’t cover it, I haven’t made an effort.
There’s a popular Tumblr (RIP) post going around pointing out that searching ‘basic makeup’ brings up YouTube videos where the artists use around 15 products to get a ‘natural look’. Well-meaning responders linked other tutorials with a three product maximum, which completely misses the point that your natural look is your face. Your eyes and your nose and your mouth. No time or money spent on looking presentable for those who want you to be an airbrushed image with a painted smile.
I don’t wear makeup to work. This is less of a feminist stance and more to do with the fact that I am barely a human being in the morning, and it’s a wonder that I manage to get dressed at all.
Or at least, that’s what I thought. But as I was writing this article I remembered that when I was younger, less confident and less informed, I wouldn’t be seen dead without eyeliner on. I used to make the (herculean) effort to get up that bit earlier and draw black rings around my eyeballs to create an optical illusion that they were bigger than they were. I covered my blemishes and rouged my cheeks. I didn’t do it because I liked it, I did it because I thought I was ugly without it.
Educating myself on feminism and critically examining the world around me has made me more confident in my skin, probably saved me money and definitely given me more of a lie in.
If I’m going out at the weekend then yes, I wear makeup. But I don’t wear it because I enjoy it. Sure, I like how I look in it, but not due to personal preference. It’s because I’m meeting the standard society has set for how women look when they look ‘attractive’. I want to look attractive. We all do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge that we have a warped view of what attractive is. Our views have been twisted by a world that wants women to be sexy hairless babydolls with eyelash-toupees.
For comedic purposes, I was going launch into a diatribe, loudly declaring that ‘I AM A FERAL GOBLIN AND REFUSE TO COVER MY UGLINESS FOR THE PATRIARCHY!’
But you know what?
I don’t like that either. Because my bare face isn’t ugly. Nor is it attractive. Well, maybe it is. Actually it would be really nice if it was, but that shouldn’t be the point. The point is, it’s my face. It’s my skin. It’s my eyes and my nose and my mouth.
I know I’m being a dick about the Image article. I know. After all, what else can they say? ‘Be informed and try to sleep in’ is always great advice. But I wanted more anger. More indignation. There is a resignation to that conclusion that irritates me. We need to acknowledge that the world always wants us to be ‘attractive’ but we are not obliged to be, and we will not accept any state of affairs where our faces are considered unacceptable.
The title of this article is me continuing the theme of being a dick. I’m not the boss of you. Wear makeup to work if you want to wear makeup to work, for whatever reason. Wear makeup if you don’t want to wear makeup but you can’t go outside without it because of what this stupid shallow world has taught you. I know. I get it. This isn’t a simple issue.
But let’s start celebrating bare faces. No tinted moisturiser. No concealer. No highlighter. No mascara. Nothing. Just you. Your eyes, your nose and your mouth. Your bare skin against the air, because fuck it. Image is fleeting, time is a finite resource, appearance is irrelevant and death comes for us all.
You are not a babydoll. You are not a goblin. You are you.
And neither gods nor kings can stop you.