Make-Up? Big Ugly Deal!

For some reason, make-up bashing seems to be coming into vogue. Generally, I’m hearing things like “make-up is nonsense,” and its users are “superficial” or “high-maintenance.” We are reassured that we don’t need to wear make-up, so we shouldn’t worry about it. Of course, in our beauty-obsessed culture, it’s flattering to hear that we can bypass cosmetics because we look great the way we are. These are nice words to hear. But it’s also kind of a dubious compliment, when you think about it. It’s like, thank you for your approval of our un-made-up faces, because otherwise we’d think that we would, indeed, need to wear make-up. We would feel “naked” without it. And that’s terrible, right? It’s sad.

I love make-up. A lot of women do. We enjoy it. For many of us, wearing it isn’t a burden or an obligation to the beauty police of the world… putting it on is simply a part of our grooming and getting-ready-to-leave-the-house routines. In that sense, yes, we might feel naked without it, just as we’d feel naked without clothing. But what’s so sad about this? What’s the big deal about wearing make-up? What am I missing here?

True, it’s unfortunate that society often pressures women into believing that they need make-up in order to be pretty. I get that. No argument there. But can it be said that all women who wear make-up do so as a result of societal pressure? No. People have probably worn it long before Cleopatra came along with her dramatic, heavy eye make-up. And I’m pretty sure that Cleopatra didn’t wear make-up because she felt pressured by society.

This idea applies to other forms of body art. Think about tattoos! Tattoos have overcome years of negative association; they’re finally merging into a fashion realm approaching the mainstream to the point where tattoo intolerance is recognized as antiquated. Now why would anyone bother to understand the concept of creative self-expression behind tattooing, but profess to not understand the same of wearing make-up? They both qualify as body art. The only difference is that one is permanent, and the other isn’t.

Sure, we can look around and spot make-up that doesn’t appeal to us. No doubt there’s poorly applied make-up out there, too. We’ve all seen it. Likewise, we’ve seen tattoos that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, or ones that are badly done. There are whole websites devoted to bad tattoos. Thing is, if you make a mistake with make-up, you can fix it. If you make a mistake with a tattoo, you’re stuck with it… unless you decide to have it removed, which is an excruciatingly painful experience, from what I understand. Make-up removal can be annoying, but the removal of a tattoo? Torturous. Time-consuming. Expensive. And it still looks like crap in the end. Maybe even worse, with the scar tissue that results.

The bottom line here, though, is that it’s our decision what make-up we wear and how we wear it, just as the tattoos we get is our choice (at the mercy of the tattooist doing the work). It’s not for us to criticize others for their personal aesthetic choices.

You know what’s sad to me? That those who decorate themselves with tattoos are still pressured – yes, by society – to cover up and hide their body art from certain people, in certain situations. Going on job interviews. Presenting yourself in other areas of the professional sphere. (We as a society still, for the most part, lag in the area of tattoo acceptance in the workplace. See the Facebook page of the same title.) Visiting with family members, potential future in-laws, your kid’s teachers, or the parents of your kid’s friends. And so on. How is this less “sad” than women feeling naked without make-up? It’s the same concept, but in reverse. Not all women feel like they “need” to wear make-up, but most people with tattoos feel that they ought to conceal them at times. We know that society can pressure us into not getting tattoos, but if we want them, we’re going to get them anyhow… because we like them. Because they make us feel good. Because they’re meaningful to us in some way. Because they’re art. Make-up, too, is an art. It’s is an art like any other art; it’s privy to subjectivity and open to personal interpretation and intention. People who apply it on others are called “make-up artists” for a reason.

Besides, make-up can be fun. Reaching beyond simple grooming and vanity, make-up is fantasy. In one way or another, everyone likes to play make-believe every once in a while. It’s a step above a daydream to feel like you’re transforming yourself, not because you don’t like who you are, but because doing so momentarily releases you from the worries that contribute to the shape of you. This is what many people find so compelling about reading novels… losing yourself in a story is a harmless form of escapism. Make-up can also make us feel liberated. It’s hard to feel imprisoned when slipping deliciously into a persona of our own creation. It’s hard to feel imposed upon when we use make-up to achieve the look we want, whether that happens to be in an enhancement capacity, or a theatrical one, or anything else.

Make-up can also serve as a powerful tool in our overall well-being. This is a documented fact: if we see the dark circles and bags under our eyes, we can end up feeling more tired than we actually are. Make-up can give us a mental and psychological boost, which can make us feel more physically vibrant. There’s something to be said for the adage “The mind is more powerful than the body.” When we look less tired, we feel less tired. When we feel less tired, we feel less old. Feeling less old means feeling more energetic. I fully believe that the younger we look, the younger we feel.

This reminds me of Coco Chanel, who said, “When you give women back their mystery, you give them back their youth.”

Mystery! The inexplicable, incomprehensible sparking of excitement and wonder and curiosity, the stirring by surprise… make-up can create a mysterious vibe if we want it to. Awesome, right? Make-up can be magical. Probably no one knew this better than Cleopatra herself.

Anyway, I’m not sure how make-up got its bad rap of being pointless, silly, frivolous, or extraneous. It doesn’t make sense to me.

When I put on make-up, I come out looking the way I want to look, not how others want me to look. I don’t need anyone’s implicit permission to go without it. I appreciate the compliments on my natural beauty, but I don’t need or want to be saved from spending time, effort and money on make-up.

I have to wonder whether Mark Antony ever told Cleopatra that he preferred her without make-up.

You know what I think we should do with cosmetics? Whatever we want. If you want to wear make-up, then wear it. If you don’t want to, then don’t. It doesn’t matter either way, because beauty isn’t about what’s on your face, and neither is your self-worth. We shouldn’t feel apologetic for wearing make-up or not wearing it. What we do with our faces is no one’s concern but our own.

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