I used to wear makeup. From age 12 to 16, I added more types of makeup to my daily routine each year, and I went through that daily routine even if I wasn’t planning to leave the house. I continued for a while into college before I realized that the insanely stressful life I was leading there did not allow time for makeup and many other students did not wear it–but I felt that college was an exceptional situation, so I still wore makeup to church, to my summer jobs, and whenever I went back to visit the town where I grew up. After college, I wore makeup to work and church and social events very consistently at first, but over time I began to wear less and less, until at age 31 I quit almost completely. Why?
- I’m in love with a man who dislikes makeup. Daniel and I got together just before my 21st birthday, and sometime within the first year he told me he didn’t really like women to wear makeup on an everyday basis. (Makeup for stage and video appearances, costumes, etc. is a different thing.) He said bluntly, “If you’re ugly, I’d rather just know about it up front!” I was shocked–and a little offended because he was criticizing something that I did myself, although I did recognize that he wasn’t saying I was ugly and dishonest–and I don’t remember how I responded. Something about social norms and being uncomfortable defying them too extremely, maybe. But
- I live in Pittsburgh. It is not a super-glamorous place. It is also–especially here in the university-riddled part of the city–not a very conformist place. People can look almost any way they want to look without exciting much comment, and there isn’t an overriding sense of judgment about The Right Way To Be. This is different from the medium-sized town in Oklahoma where I grew up, a company town with a large white middle class where, especially in the 1980s, a lot of people had strong ideas about the requirements of womanhood, which included wearing makeup in almost every situation. (I remember putting on makeup at Girl Scout camp for a day of working in the kitchen and teaching Brownies to tie knots–and nearly all of the other teenaged girls working with me put it on, too.) While my mom taught me that we don’t always have to conform, she did wear makeup most of the time; she still does. It took me a while to question what I had learned, to realize that Pittsburgh has different standards and that hardly anyone here was going to label me a failure as a woman if they saw me without eye shadow.
- By age 25, I was working in social science research, as a data manager. I don’t have to be “on duty” with the public; my face doesn’t represent my employer. My office is a pretty casual place where people are much more serious about getting work done and being comfortable than about looking glamorous. I’d say about half the women I have worked with over the years have worn makeup to work. I don’t think I have ever heard a catty comment in my office about anyone not wearing makeup.
- Finally, when I was 31 and pregnant, my skin chemistry changed somehow such that my foundation makeup stopped staying in place on my face; it would coagulate and form blotches. I fussed over it every time I looked into a mirror. One day my boss–a woman in her sixties who never wears makeup–said, “What’s that gunk on your nose?” and I realized: Wearing makeup was not making me look prettier; it was making me look gunky. It was not making me feel better about myself; the smell of it was icky to my sensitive pregnant nose, yet I had been putting it on my nose and leaving it there all day. I quit, and I have not worn makeup (except when in costume, and the occasional tinted lip gloss in the winter) for more than 8 years now.
Not wearing makeup saves time. I remember in my senior year of high school, when my journalism teacher was simulating real newsroom conditions by making us all come in early every day to put out daily newspapers about the Gulf War, skipping breakfast in favor of drinking “non-dairy egg-nog style product” while putting on my makeup, because I thought looking pretty was more important than eating! (The “non-dairy egg-nog style product” had been purchased by my brother at 40c/quart from a store that sold weird surplus items. I don’t know if I ever looked at the ingredients or whether it had any nutrients. It sure was filling!)
Not wearing makeup saves money. I never was one to buy really expensive makeup–I bought drugstore brands, watched for sales, and wouldn’t replace it until I used it up no matter what magazines advised about the safety of aging cosmetics–but I spent some money on it. Now I can spend it on other things.
Not wearing makeup is better for my health. As far as skin is concerned, makeup is basically dirt. It clogs pores and whatnot, so “flaws” like enlarged pores and blackheads that one might “conceal” with makeup generally get worse with repeated slatherings of makeup than they would if kept clean. Also, makeup is made from all kinds of weird materials (most of which aren’t named on the labels) that may be unhealthy, such as lead in lipstick. Because I don’t have to worry about makeup washing off, I wash (or just rinse) my face several times a day, which helps to remove dust from air pollution, germs that could make me sick, and other harmful stuff.
Not wearing makeup is a little better for the environment. Those complex substances take a lot of energy to manufacture. The packaging is mostly plastic and not recyclable. Makeup removed from my face and washed down the drain was contaminating the water supply. Not a big impact compared to driving or disposable feminine hygiene products, but it has some impact, and every bit counts.
Not wearing makeup pleases my man. He wasn’t kidding; he really does think I look better without it. He also appreciates that my face tastes better now that it’s not coated in chemical goo!
Not wearing makeup makes me more comfortable. Now that I’ve gotten over expecting to be judged for it and I feel calm about my appearance, I really appreciate not having to think of my makeup every time I eat, kiss, get teary-eyed, or rub my face against a snuggly person.
Not wearing makeup works for me!
I was inspired to write about this today after reading Jessica’s article on career success vs. moral principles, in which she muses over the ethics of wearing makeup to a job interview when she doesn’t wear makeup normally. She linked to this fascinating journey: A woman who realized how makeup has eroded her self-image is fasting from makeup for 40 days, and she’s already got some really interesting insights; check it out!
What? You want to see a picture of me so that you can evaluate whether or not I really do look good enough without makeup? Well, I hardly ever post pictures, but also I’d like you to reconsider that impulse to inspect and judge me. I know where you’re coming from. When I read about someone else who has stopped wearing makeup, I get very curious about how she looks with and without it–and I think my judgment of “which is better” is open-minded, based on my reactions to magazine makeovers, where I often feel the woman looked like a much nicer person when she was more plain-faced and frizzy–but I think our culture puts way too much focus on women evaluating each other’s appearance. I look like a person. I look like myself. Even a quick glance at me will tell you–if you’re thinking about it–that I have not spackled the pores on my nose nor encased it in an anti-shine shield, and that I express myself by raising my eyebrows a lot. You might even be able to guess my age. So what? I am who I am, and I am looking at you with my real face, and I am no longer afraid that you will see me as I really am. But that doesn’t mean I am obligated to post my photo on the Internet. I’m here to write, not to be seen.