Monday, June 24, 2013

Why I wear makeup: A crunchy, feminist perspective

Why I wear makeup: A crunchy, feminist perspective == Hobo Mama
Face "done."
Destany of They Are All of Me had a thought-provoking post on Natural Parents Network about why she's going naked.

Naked from makeup, that is.

I posted the link on my Facebook page and got some interesting reactions, from people who've been makeup-free for years to one commenter in particular who said she's "tired of being told every single thing in my life is something else I should feel guilty about. It's exhausting."

That prompted me to go ahead and write this post that's been simmering in my mind for awhile now: a defense of makeup from a crunchy feminist.

Every so often I'll see a blogger who makes a big deal about trying out not wearing makeup for a week or whatever, and I want to give them a slow sarcasti-clap. Because nearly universally these are gorgeous, young, clear-skinned people for whom makeup is just an added flourish, like a piece of ornate crown molding on an architecturally charming house. "Oh, you're 25 with skin as smooth as porcelain, and you skipped mascara for a few days? How brave you are!" (I'm kinda snarky in real life.)

Whereas: I have acne. And I'm not pretty. (No, no, don't feel guilty and awkward hearing me say that out loud. I understand symmetry and the golden ratio and know that not meeting those standards doesn't abrogate my self-worth. I'm actually quite self-confident. I'm kind of surprised I scored this high on a symmetry test, to be honest.) Makeup? Is a friend of mine. It's the companion who puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder and tells me it's ok to go out in public or meet with other people, even if (especially if) there will be cameras present.

Why I wear makeup: A crunchy, feminist perspective == Hobo Mama
Makeup-less at home — still happy and comfortable with family, but shiny and spotty

When I first broke out in full-blown adult acne at age 19, I was of the set that wore only mascara and lip gloss and a dusting of powder. It took me a year to realize I could start wearing foundation and concealer — whoa! What a change. I could finally stop imagining everyone staring at the red spots and scars all over my face and switch to wondering if they were criticizing how thick my makeup was. (Well, nothing's perfect.)

When my younger brother endured his own case of acne as a teen, I felt sad for him that he wasn't allowed by cultural constraints to cover it up! (When his acne cleared by his early twenties while mine continues unabated, I stopped feeling so sorry for him…)

The more I wore makeup, the more I enjoyed it. Particularly eye makeup: There's no acne on my eyelids. There's no reason I should have to paint my lids funny, bright, shimmery colors. But, you know, it's fun! I feel like an artist, decorating my own body. It's akin to tattoos and piercings (only washable).

And from this experience, there are a few conclusions I've drawn:

It's not anyone's business whether someone else wears makeup.

Unless it's a minor and you're that person's parent (and that's a whole other discussion), you're not in charge of what someone else does with her or his face. Just as it's unacceptable to tell someone to put makeup on, I find equally insidious the backhanded compliments like, "Oh, but you look just as pretty — prettier! — without makeup!" If someone said that to me, I wouldn't stop wearing makeup; I'd just feel as self-conscious with it on as without and I'd doubt that friendship, since clearly that person isn't all that accepting of me and my choices. Sometimes I'll have people tell me they don't like the look of makeup and then express surprise when they hear I wear a full face of it; I think sometimes people associate "wearing makeup" with a very specific and extreme look. Either, however, is the wearer's choice. And just because I give acne as a justification for wearing makeup, a skin disease is not a requirement. You can wear makeup because you like how it looks, or because it's culturally suggested, or because your job requires it, or because you're in witness protection, or because you're a clown wannabe, or just because. You don't have to have a good reason, even though I think a little self-reflection like this wouldn't hurt anyone.

It's not anyone's business whether someone else doesn't wear makeup.

I'm totally fine with the bare-faced look, from men or women. If you feel comfortable and happy without makeup, then be comfortable and happy. No one has the right to tell someone else that she (it's going to be a she, right?) has to put on some lipstick or blush to be acceptable. Even if she has acne, or whatever. I don't wear makeup at home, and there are days when my skin is clear enough that I feel comfortable going out makeup-less, and it's very freeing and lovely.

Makeup is a feminist issue … but also not.

Sometimes I think we're shortsighted in our views of makeup, because we're most aware of it as it exists now and in our culture. But makeup has a storied history throughout time and various cultures. It has not been exclusive to women. It has not been used solely to feminize. It has not been used solely to prettify (as with warrior makeup, which has the opposite intent). In 1700s Europe, it was unexceptional for both men and women in the well-born set to paint their faces. In the Victorian U.S., it was taboo for anyone respectable to do so (or, at least, to admit to it). So while I agree that makeup as it now is used is primarily for women to look prettier and presumably more sexually appealing, I embrace the longer and broader tradition of its use.

I reserve the right to change my mind.

Destany changed hers because of how her daughter was viewing her use of makeup. She didn't want to influence her daughter negatively about her self-image and value. I have two sons, but that's still perfectly sufficient reason not to want them growing up thinking women aren't satisfactory without a layer of obscuring paint. Right now, my sons just like to play around with my makeup, stealing my brushes and drawing on their hands with my eyeshadow. But as they grow, as I age, and as I continue to work on holistically healing my acne, I might find I want to diminish my use of cosmetics, the better to set forth a message of equality and inclusivity.

I don't believe makeup has to be exclusive to women.

If my sons want to experiment with makeup, I'll support them in that. I suspect I'll have similar restrictions with them as I would have with a daughter — the occasion and the age will affect what's allowed. If they're older, we'll also have to discuss how wearing makeup will affect how people view them, and whether that's their intention or not. Just as I would never tell a woman to wear or not wear makeup, I would never tell a man the same; it's not up to me. I realize that the current taboo on men wearing makeup is misogynist at its core — an unwillingness for males to be associated with feminine things.

With my makeup choices, I try to be kind to the environment and my skin.

I've purged my makeup collection of most of the cosmetic brands I bought when I was younger. I put together bags and gave them away on Freecycle — a grateful mama throwing a sleepover took one, for instance. (There's a whole conversation that could be had on teaching young girls to enjoy and use makeup; that said, I have so many fond memories of playing with makeup with my best friend, who now as a nun goes bare-faced.) I try to be circumspect in how much makeup I layer on, just so I don't feel embarrassed if people notice I'm wearing it. I'd rather people see me rather than the makeup. (I don't have a problem with people who choose differently, however.) I've chosen brands that fit better with my preferences for natural products.

What I wear

If anyone's interested, here are my favorites. I have very pale, pink-toned skin, so these are the shades that work well on me. This is in the order I apply them. I have no affiliations with any of the brands; I did receive a couple of the items as giveaway wins here and there, but I entered the giveaways because I already used the brands and liked them. I've tried to find affiliate links for specific products so you can check them out if you're interested. If you purchase through my links, I'll get a few pennies to put toward future frivolities. Or groceries. Whatever.
  • Foundation/base: Everyday Minerals in Matte — Fair. They keep messing with the formulations here, but I'm all right with this current incarnation for coverage and lack of shine. I like my Bare Escentuals Full Coverage Kabuki Brush for swirling this on.
  • Blush: This is to replace the color toned down by the base; c'est la vie. I find it's better to do blush before concealer. My favorites are Everyday Minerals in Apple for a subtle pink (discontinued; might show up on eBay sometime) and BareMinerals in First Class for a brighter pop, which I won in a giveaway. I use a BareMinerals Flawless Face Brush for this.
  • Concealer: Everyday Minerals in Mint if I have a lot of angry red to conceal. I use it sparingly, but the light green really does work to kill the color of a fresh blemish or scar. Otherwise, I skip to Everyday Minerals Concealer in Fair and dot it on with a BareMinerals synthetic concealer brush.
  • Powder: I find this helps set the concealer and even out any edges. I prefer the texture and shine coverage of Everyday Minerals Finishing Dust, though in the summer I tend to use a discontinued SPF-heavy powder called Natural Reflections that contains zinc oxide.
  • Eyeliner/eyeshadow: I often will just line my eyes with a small amount of eyeshadow and a BareMinerals eyeshadow brush or eyeliner brush. My favorite is a dusky, shimmery, multi-hued purple-brown called Laptop by Everyday Minerals that unfortunately is discontinued. You might be able to find it on eBay at some point, though.
  • Lipgloss: My lips are always dry, so I love lipgloss. I'm not as big a fan of balms. Around the house, I'll use petroleum jelly or Unpetroleum Jelly. (I prefer the real deal … shh.) When I go out, I have a tube of Burt's Bees tinted lipgloss in my pocket that I apply as needed. I like that it's not too sticky and that the shades are subtle.
  • Extras: I don't usually bother with mascara (my eyes are always watering, so it feels too dangerous, plus I don't like not being able to rub my eyes when they're itchy), but I did win a natural brand called Jing Ai that I like. I also always comb my eyebrows into place (with one of those small black school-photographer's combs), even if I'm not wearing any other makeup. Somehow, that makes my face instantly look more put together! For fancy situations, I'll throw on whatever lipstick or darker lipgloss I can find, and I might even brave the eyelash curler. I also have some sparkly lighter eyeshadow and highlight powder that I special-occasionally throw across my cheekbones and brow bones, just for the kick of it.

I swear, my daily routine takes all of five minutes to apply. I don't slave over my face.

Probably more makeup advice than anyone feels like taking from me, but I'll also point out to other pink-skinned lovelies interested in mineral makeup that I found Everyday Minerals to work better for me than BareMinerals, which seemed more neutral- or yellow-toned. I know Everyday Minerals will let you buy a really cheap sample kit so you can easily try out a selection of bases at home. BareMinerals has stores you can go to (including Ulta and Sephora) where you can try on the shades with help to pick the right one for you. I also found eBay a great place to find cheap samples of the shades. When you get a "sample" of a blush or eyeshadow, it can potentially last you indefinitely since a little goes a looong way with mineral makeup. I like using Makeup Alley reviews to help me choose among the options. There are a lot of other mineral makeup companies to check out as well, including several smaller businesses on Etsy and eBay. I buy makeup so rarely now that I use mineral makeup that I haven't had a chance to check them all out.

By the way, I used to be unconvinced at the necessity to spend good money on brushes — until I had the opportunity to try a nicer brand vs. the kind you can get at the drugstore. They're twice as soft, and they take up and distribute the minerals much more evenly, allowing you to use less. Even my two-year-old can tell how much softer the nice brush is; he'll recoil from the drugstore brand! Early snobbery… You can get brush kits for cheaper than buying them separately, or you can score them as add-ons in sample kits from the sites or eBay. You don't have to buy all the brushes available, either: I use the same brush for my base and powder, and you can make do with just one eye brush. Many brushes say they're for some specific purpose, but you can always fudge it if that's what you have on hand and it works!

So that's my take on makeup. What's yours? Do you wear makeup? Do you not? What message do you think it sends your children if you do or don't wear it?

And stay tuned for a post on shaving!


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this! I actually have a post on wearing makeup in my queue waiting to be published :) I wear less makeup now than ever, but I 'need' it more, sigh. I don't think I have the confidence that you have. I don't wear makeup if were just at the house (most days) but if I do go out, I have to put something on. I only get out a few times a week, so I think part of it is just letting me feel like a normal human!

Sara said...

Thanks for responding to my comment! I loved your post. I think it gets old when people brag about whatever decision they've made (referring to the no make-up post linked to on FB) as though they alone hold all feminist virtue. I don't paint my face, hear me roar. Well, I do, and really why does anyone care? Wearing makeup or not, much like dressing 'a certain way' or not has zero to do with who I am as a person. I like it, I wear it, there is no need to make it into an issue of virtue. It simply is what I want to do.

So thanks for your response (especially the snarkiness!), I enjoyed it, as usual! :) And now I need to go check out some more mineral make-up.

kellymseow said...

Great perspective! I wear makeup because I pretty much have to for work, and will occasionally of my own volition for a date night or something, but it's not actually something I would choose to wear otherwise...mainly because of the time it takes and the consciousness of it being on my face all day.

I don't like that there are people in my life who obviously prefer the way I look with makeup, essentially not accepting me at face value. That is the kind of thing that will determine my messaging of it to my daughter when she's older (although she definitely won't be allowed to wear non-organic stuff lol).

I love the Everyday Minerals stuff too!

Brandi said...

I think a lot about putting makeup in front of my little toddler. I worry that it sends some kind of message that we have to conceal and perfect before we're okay. But then I remember that my mom criticized women who wore makeup and staked some of her feminist territory on her position. So, I think you're right. The bigger issue is to send the message that makeup is something some people do and some people don't, but it's not tied to our characters or whether we're better people or not. I'd much rather apply mascara and work on non-judgement than skip the makeup and harsh on everybody.
As a side note, I've been using the products from because I read about them on your website, and they've changed my life. It's time intensive and more money than I would like, but it is so worth it to me. I've never felt happier with my own face. So, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Here's why I don't wear makeup. I hope you don't find it too judgmental. I don't feel that I judge women for wearing makeup (in fact, when it's a reasonable quantity I don't much notice) but I became kind of horrified as I recognized the cultural messages I had internalized about why adult females "HAVE" to wear makeup.

I think your position is pretty reasonable, and it's great that you use the more natural cosmetics. Some scary stuff is allowed in makeup!

Laura said...

Over the years, I've gone back and forth between wearing make-up, not wearing make-up, using only natural brands, and throwing caution to the wind and buying whatever was on sale.

In the end, I love make-up. It's fun and I have the stupid adult acne, too... so if you're going to cover up something you are uncomfortable with, you may as well play up something you like about yourself. In my case, it's my eyes.

There are days when I don't wear anything and days when I have fun in the mirror. I have no problem going to church or the grocery without it, so I figure I have a healthy balance in my perspective with it. My 2 year old is a GIRLY GIRL. I mean, there is almost nothing you can do to distract her from sparkle. She loves to come in while I'm doing my make-up and participate. I don't feel guilty about it because I know I'm not slathering her with chemicals :) And you know what, if she could learn to feel confident regardless of how much time we spend playing with colors in the mirror, then I will consider my work done.

I'm Katie. said...

My 5-year-old yells, "Mom!! Why are you putting on makeup? You are pretty enough without it!" Mostly he's trying to get me out the door more quickly, but I'll take what I can get. ;)

As a fellow "not-pretty" woman, I admit I'm more comfortable with makeup on. I realize it stems from the cultural values I was raised with. Eh. It's not something I'm willing to throw on the Guilt Wagon I drag along. Hopefully my kids pick up on the "meh", too.

Christy said...

I appreciate your perspective in this post. I do wear make up, but usually for work or fancy occasions. I like going make up free on my days off. Not because I am a feminist (which I am) but because I really don't like the horrible ingredients in commercial make up and I find "natural" make up so expensive. I'm experimenting with making my own make up and so far so good.

I do understand how you feel about acne. I have some scars on my face (mostly around chin and nose) and I feel better when I cover them up. I feel like it makes me look dirty (my baggage, I know).

So I guess you could say I'm sitting on the fence with this one, a little of each side.

Inder-ific said...

Great post, Lauren! Like many heterosexual and "femme" women, I second guess my choices sometimes. I like to wear makeup, I shave my legs, I prefer skirts ... does this make me a bad feminist? This debate is not just in my head - it is in the whole feminist community.

Basically: It's complicated. I mean, this is the world we live in. Wearing make-up doesn't mean you support a culture that tells women that they *have* to wear make-up. You do have a choice.

What's not cool in my book is judging other women for not being feminine enough (or feminist enough) or whatever. OMG, can we say internalized patriarchy, OMG, AAAAAAGGGGGH.

Anonymous said...

As I've gotten older, I've started to feel more self-conscious WITH makeup. I used to wear A TON, and then a nice normal amount, but lately I've been feeling like I'm overdone if I wear it. I almost never wear foundation, although I do love mineral makeup. (I have adult acne too and I just had a baby and OMG it's so bad. I also have a freakshow worthy post-partum beard.)

I love eye makeup but I can't be bothered to mess with much. I probably will once I start wearing contacts again.

I think you've just motivated me to buy some new makeup actually.

I find telling women not to wear makeup MUCH more anti-feminism. It reminds me of friends whose parents (mostly FATHERS) wouldn't allow them to wear makeup.

Cassie said...

I LOVE this post! I don't wear make up because before i had kids I worked as an electrical engineer. I worked with all men who didn't wear make up and so I decided one day... they don't wear make up why should i.
BUT i'm with you, i reserve the right to change my mind. I mostly don't because i'm too lazy. But I sometimes want to put some on. I really think it's someones choice. I don't think you should feel that you have to, but you should feel that you want to... just like what you do :)

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