I had a job interview yesterday. On Sunday, as I was frantically going over any last-minute details I might have overlooked, I opened up the bathroom drawer and realized that I didn’t own any make-up. At all. This was, of course, excluding my score of dried out eyeliner pencils. I have used each one a maximum of two times before leaving it to languish in my make-up bag, which I open, on average, less than once a month. I thought back: the last time I had worn make-up was at Christmas, in anticipation of holiday photos; I must have left my mascara and ‘good’ (read: least dried-out) eyeliner at my mom’s.
“It was probably expired and full of bacteria, anyway,” I said to myself under my breath, hoping my boyfriend wouldn’t hear and think I had been driven mad by pre-interview stress.
As a teenager and young adult, I wore a lot of make-up. At the time, I considered myself ‘alternative’ and ‘punk’, and complimented my short, multi-colored hair with shimmery forest-green eye shadow, which I blended into the crease of my eye, what one friend called my ‘mermaid look.’ The point was to draw attention and make a statement (don’t ask me what that statement was, probably something about conformity and rejecting mainstream values, etc.), rather than to cover up any perceived flaws or even make myself more attractive.
I have never in my life, except for a few adventures into my mother’s make-up bag as a toddler, worn things like primer, foundation, blush, or rouge, which seems to do the same job as blush but is somehow deserving of its own name. These are all devices meant to mask imperfections. I can understand wearing things like eye-shadow and lipstick, things that add color and zest, but these other things seem to reinforce the message that you, as you are, are not good enough, and need to be hidden and covered up.
After outgrowing my punk phase, I began wearing make-up only occasionally, and only ever eye-liner and mascara. About a year ago, I stopped doing even that. I might put baby powder on my face when it gets oily, and I wear carmex religiously, but that’s it.
I was somewhat oblivious to this change in my routine until a few weeks ago, when an encounter at work brought it to my attention, and also brought to light certain benefits it provides.
At the bakery-café where I am employed, I was working alongside Barbie, a girl a few years younger than myself. Barbie wasn’t her real name, but her facial structure, blue eyes, and enviable figure were as much a match for the iconic doll as the female body can naturally be, and this earned her the moniker.
I was re-arranging muffins in the display case when she randomly said, “You don’t wear any make-up, do you?”
“Well, no,” I replied.
She breathed a small, wistful sigh. “You look so pretty without wearing make-up. I wish I could do that. I have to wear it.”
I turned to her, muffin in hand, disbelieving. “I’m pretty sure you can get away without wearing make-up, Barbie.” I emphasize her nickname, and couldn’t manage to keep the skepticism out of my voice. Was she fishing for compliments?
She shook her head. “I tried it a couple of times, but people always asked me what was wrong. They thought I looked sick, or tired.”
I thought of the days in high school when I had overslept, and had to forgo the eyeliner and smears of green, grimacing at my tired and puffy looking reflection in the mirror before scurrying out the door. Not only did other people notice the difference, but I did, and I would spend the whole day feeling conspicuous and subpar.
I felt a sudden rush of freedom brought on by my chronically bare face.
“Well, they’re used to you wearing it, you know? So if you don’t….” I said this as though it were a philosophy I had been cultivating for years, but in reality, it had just occurred to me.
“You are so right,” she said, and I suddenly saw how much work she must put in to maintain the Barbie image. When I work at 6am, I roll out of bed at 5:30, get dressed, and walk out the door. How much extra time would it take to apply the foundation, the blush, the eye-shadow and mascara? To blow out her perfect, waist-length blond locks?
All that, and if she decided to sleep in and skip the maintenance for a day, she would be perceived as haggard or sickly. To even herself, make-up had become her true face, her better face. Was this the reason millions of women deal with eye infections, pillows marred with black smudges, and raccoon-eye?
Immediately, I felt lucky that I was free of the trap of make-up, which women supposedly wear to build confidence, but in the end only makes them feel worse about themselves. How many times have you heard a woman call herself a hag, or apologize for her s***** appearance, all because she had been unable to stick to her usual routine that morning, as though her bare face was somehow offensive?
To be honest, I have to say that my new philosophy is born out of laziness rather than true feminism. I’ve never cared very much what I look like, as long as it doesn’t draw attention from strangers (that’s one difference between me and my teenaged self), and so I’m more inclined to watch another episode of Dexter than straighten my hair, and I hit the snooze button and spend that extra five minutes sleeping rather than contouring my features with blush.
So yesterday, as I was driving to the store to waste $12 on new mascara and new eyeliner for the interview (because ‘a barefaced female applicant doesn’t seem serious about the job’), I felt like a traitor to my own beliefs. I consoled myself with the knowledge that, after the interview, the new apparatuses would only languish in my bathroom drawer, true fate unknown, but most likely destined for the dark recesses of a neglected make-up bag.