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Today, I’m honored to feature a special guest post for No Make-Up Week written by my beloved housemate & friend Ellie. I was curious to know what she thought about make-up because she started wearing it only recently– even more so because she studies Sociology and Anthropology & concentrates in topics like gender/sexuality. Ellie’s even done experiments during which she’s put make-up on her male partner & observed how people reacted in bars & at the gym. Ellie’s story of strength & exploring sexuality will speak for itself.

I started wearing make-up when I was twentyish. I am twenty-two now, so it’s still kind of new for me. Holding out for so long wasn’t easy, especially considering my man-hair during the first two years of college made me difficult to differentiate from a boy. I also have bee-sting boobies. And an affinity for ugly clothes. This means I pretty much looked lesbian on good days, and androgynously manly on bad ones. I’m not kidding. My lack of feminine indicators made me look so cross-sexual I made other women uncomfortable in changing rooms. I made my own mother uncomfortable in changing rooms.

I was lucky though, because my naturally gorgeous mother refused to buy cosmetics for my two sisters and me when we were adolescents. This forced us as teenagers to cultivate our inner beauty. You know, the real kind. I’m talking about things like integrity, wisdom, and selflessness. So while our peers emphasized outward appearances and focused on cosmetics, we learned to draw strength from within and pursue intellectual growth. That’s pretty much all you can do when you’re nineteen and a fourteen-year-old looks more “grown-up” than you. You grow. You grow stronger. You learn to derive your confidence from things more substantial than looks. Total disengagement from hegemonic norms builds character like that.

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No Make-up Week is a great concept, and I love how this challenge is pushing women to re-examine their priorities– but seriously, try No Make-up Life. Now that’s praise-worthy.

For me, make-up is art therapy . I’m not saying this figuratively. I really go to art therapy once a week, and my (really cool) art therapist has pretty blonde hair and a tough attitude. She encourages me to have a daily creative outlet. Enter eyeshadow and painting brushes.

I go to art therapy because I’ve had art lessons since I was a kid. (My favorite medium is gouache. Holla at all the painters out there.) But mainly, I go to art therapy because I was sexually molested in high school for a couple of years. In my youthful ignorance and stupidity, I chose not to disclose this information to the majority of my family and friends, and tried to ignore/deny/ignore/ignore it into nonexistence. These things don’t just go away, however, and it wreaked havoc on my individual sexuality. I became so afraid of men and sex that I tried to make myself as unattractive as possible. I purposefully blurred the gender line by cutting my hair like a boy, dressing androgynously, and of course, not wearing make-up. I enjoyed downplaying my physical beauty. But things began to change when a crazy, stupid boy fell into my life. He thought I was pretty even though I was trying to be unappealing. Crazy? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Blind? Absolutely not.

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This boy told me, “Natural is best!” I wholeheartedly agree! So I started growing out my hair and wearing chapstick. I was slowly warming up to being a female.

But then some more unfortunate things happened. I was raped repeatedly last summer, despite this crazy, stupid, loving boy’s efforts to stop the evil rapist. This, of course, wreaked havoc on my individual sexuality. The difference was that this time around, I started going to art therapy to confront my problems and find solutions.

Instead of kowtowing to male desires by hiding my sexuality, I decided to stand tall and meet them head-on. I curled my hair and fashioned them in elaborate designs. I wore clothes with frills. I used mascara and blush. I learned to love myself as a woman. See, sexuality and body image is a different battle for many rape survivors, and for those like me, we have to work towards it rather than step away from it. No Make-up Week is too easy for victims like us. What I’m working towards and the role that make-up plays in my narrative is almost converse to the majority of females.

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My take on make-up is complicated. It can be a tool for strength, and an agent of power, but don’t kid yourself and use these excuses unless it’s really true. Bottom line: Teenagers and young women need to learn to forgo make-up and draw their confidence from something other than outward appearances. Girls who don’t feel good about themselves seek affirmation from others, and that, unfortunately, almost always empowers male desire, and leaves girls susceptible to flattery, to manipulation, even to abuse.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the great crusader for the rights of women, reminded us that women are independent, rational actors rather than decorative objects tied to the whims and fortunes of men, “God has given you minds, dear girls, as well as bodies.”

So, ladies, use your minds.

If you missed it, check out my own No Make-Up Week post here– partly inspired by Ellie’s story of self-discovery & sexuality.

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