When Rabbit approached me about No Make-Up Week, I knew I wanted to get involved even though (or maybe especially?) I literally never wear make-up. What was meant to be a short post about my reasons for forgoing make-up evolved into this. (Also upcoming is a special No Make-Up Week guest post by my dear friend Ellie, whose story inspired much of my own post.)
It was either forest green or fragrant grass, but all I remember is that it was sparkly, verdant, and eyeshadow. Oh, and it was my mom’s, and I was 10, and I wasn’t supposed to be in that drawer, and I wasn’t supposed to wear make-up until I was 40, or “older”, or something. To my mother, make-up was meant for old people to regain their youth– not for young girls like me to look more “grown up”.
I saw my sister that next summer, though, for the first time in 7 years– and she gave me some of her old make-up, brands that were foreign, European, unheard of and unavailable in the U.S. When I started at a new school a few months later, I was determined to forge a new, “popular”, well-liked identity– different from my awkward but at least not ostracized self in elementary school. That “identity” included permed-curly, dyed-bright-orange hair, “fashionable” clothes, and most importantly, a whopping layer of make-up.
But people probably thought I looked like a clown, so I was teased and bullied instead of being propelled into the “in” crowd. I started buying make-up only for the sake of having it– fitting in, being, or seeming, like a “normal” girl– even if I rarely put any of the eyeliners and eyeshadows and blushes and fancy contraptions to use.
Then I just stopped caring about how I looked (or, stopped taking care of myself, but still caring what other people thought of me). Then I cut my hair and saw in the mirror what seemed to me like a non-girl. A short-haired human being who didn’t differentiate her gender with make-up and wore baggy black clothes all the time? Even if I felt heterosexual when I was attracted to boys, I wondered if some element of me was just boy, through & through.
When I was a freshman in high school, a male acquaintance gave me make-up as a souvenir from a trip– lip gloss, mascara, creams that to this day I have yet to use. I didn’t know whether to feel insulted or grateful… was a gift of make-up a nudge that I “needed” make-up, could do with make-up to look “better”?
No matter. Somewhere along the way, I did start taking care of myself a little more. Respecting myself. Looking presentable. Wearing lip gloss occasionally, that same lip gloss I got as a gift. Dressing up. Being a little bit more secure in my own appearance, even if still far from confident.
I was, looked, okay. Just okay. Still lacking in self-respect, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-love. Still pretty depressed. But I didn’t just wear the same oversized black pants and black sweatshirt anymore. I no longer tried to hide my sexuality, my woman-ness. I was learning to accept it, even cherish it a little, even be happy and proud in it, even flaunt it.
And then came my sixteenth birthday. It was Advanced Placement testing season, and everyone was too busy to spend my birthday with me, even my closest friends. So I asked a guy from my community college class, who I thought was cute, though lacking in personality– or emotion, really– to hang out with me that day.
That day, he took me to Japantown. Out of nowhere, he grabbed my hand. He treated me to dinner. He drove me to the Golden Gate Bridge… and molested me. And called me fat. And told me I should wear make-up– I’d “look so much better that way, like a Japanese girl.”
He had a girlfriend who lived in Japan.
If I had to decide on the pivotal experience of my life that probably sparked the eventual severity of my body image issues, it was that night.
It was feeling violated, feeling like it was my fault, feeling guilty, feeling punished, feeling like sex and sexuality was something shameful and terrible, feeling fat and useless and ugly and worth absolutely nothing… that made me hate myself, made me want to punish myself more than I ever did when I was even deeply depressed and lost my will to live.
It was worse than that. I still existed, but I didn’t feel anything. I was numb. I anesthetized myself. I stopped living.
When I eventually learned to recover from both my body image issues and depression, I learned to let go, to forgive, to grow stronger. I learned to love what I looked like naturally. And I also learned this:
My hair, my lack of make-up, my clothes may be expressions of myself, but they are not me– my spirit, my love, my joy. I look better because I respect myself. Not the other way around.
I once read a story– one of those chain email stories from back in the day (amazing how those are already outdated, huh?)– that spoke of a high school teacher who saw a girl applying make-up in his class. He said something like, “Girls applying make-up to their faces is like putting paint on roses.”
And I feel the same way. I don’t wear make-up because I don’t need it. And I don’t think you, regardless of gender, need it either.
I used to wear it at least on special occasions, but not even that anymore. I wore silver eyeliner under my eyes once in January this year for a self-portrait. I bought my first tube of lipstick from an actual make-up store two years ago– bright red– and I still like it, though I’ve only worn it a smattering of times. Curling my eyelashes used to be my only beauty regimen, but now I leave them alone, too. When I (inexplicably) wanted to be a model several years ago and I had my photos taken by a now ex-lover, the make-up was piled on so much that I failed to look like myself. It went from what was supposed to be artistic to being just plain fake.
That’s the real reason: I want to look like myself.
And I never believed make-up was “necessary”. Make-up was always just an option, and to me it was an inconsequential one. When I read from the No Make-Up Week page itself that “8 out of 10 women prefer their female colleagues to wear makeup”, I was a little surprised. I wondered if the rate of promotion in the average workplace for short-haired girls– super-short, or even bald– was also lower, as it purportedly is for bare-faced women. Then I felt grateful that I choose not to work in a traditional office.
Conclusion: I like my face. I’m blessed that I don’t have acne anymore (I attribute that to overall health), and the scars I do have are mostly found elsewhere. Even if make-up might make my eyes seem bigger, my lips moister, my cheeks brighter… it’s not me. It might be a “pretty” version of a fake me that someone else might find attractive. But it’s not real to me, nor do I think it makes me “more beautiful”.
In fact, outside of eco-friendly, natural sunscreen, soap & shampoo bars, toothpaste, and floss (just got vegan waxed, biodegradable floss yesterday– in a recyclable cardboard box!), I don’t use any other personal care products at all. The toxicity of all the unknown & unpronounceable chemical ingredients in make-up and other items (as seen in Story of Cosmetics– petroleum jelly is made from petroleum!) & all those endless bottles of unrecyclable plastic become more of a burden than boon to me. (Plus, natural, non-polluting alternatives are much simpler & cheaper, too!) I don’t need much. I’ve gotten rid of most of my make-up (stuff I bought as long as 8 years ago– eek!) and won’t be buying any more.
Still, I think it’s important to examine our relationship with make-up. If we can examine how we feel about ourselves honestly and openly when we do wear it and when we don’t, we might learn a few things about ourselves along the way.
Make-up is a metaphor for a woman’s relationship with her sexuality and self– even if she doesn’t wear any.