“Is It Worth It?” Or “Let Me Work It”: The Makeup Debate

Via instagram/xmelissamakeupx

I deliver around 20 speeches per year at (mainly) universities and women’s conferences. And while I really enjoy talking about the You’re Not Pretty Enough Project and its impact, my favorite part comes after: when we open up the floor to questions and discussion.

There is an energy in the room and a shift in thinking that is tangible and exciting because I can see not only the shifts in individuals, but I also see the beginnings of a community forming to support the lifting up of its members. The Quinnipiac University Chronicle told this story well after I spoke at the college in March.

 

We discuss many things – and a somewhat frequent topic is whether or not to use cosmetics.

At one university a young woman said, “I don’t like wearing makeup. I just don’t think you need to.”

Another woman in her early forties responded, “wait and see how you feel when you’re older.”

There are many reasons women don’t wear makeup. Some like the way they look without it, and feel it’s better for their skin. Some feel it’s too much effort and money, or that wearing cosmetics will make them look fake. Others don’t want to give in to cultural pressure as a statement. All of that’s valid. I love a gal who loves her barefaced self, and there’s a freedom in that choice that I envy.

I don’t wear cosmetics all the time, but I do apply it lightly for work – blush, lipstick, light eye-shadow and mascara – and then jazz it up for nighttime events or social activities by including foundation, sparkly eye-shadow, and maybe some bronzer for effect. But even in someone like me – I like wearing makeup – an internal conflict exists.

On the one hand, I don’t always feel like putting on makeup or doing my hair for work. But I always have, and I wonder if I stop will my co-workers think, “wow, she’s really letting herself go.” It’s not like that’s a paranoid thought, either. Studies have shown that people who wear makeup are judged as more competent.

But makeup also pleases me. When I am getting ready for work and feel like applying makeup, I find the ritual soothing and a way to help me focus on my day. Maybe I’m thinking about the presentation I’m going to give or the meeting I’ll soon have – what are my opening lines? How might they respond? How will I respond? By the time I’m done with hair and makeup, I look in the mirror and think, “Girl, you look gooood. Go get this day!” It’s not only looks that I’m focusing on when I see my reflection. I’m also thinking, You are prepared and smart. You got this. 

Plus, it’s fun. 

This mood setting is also present when I’m getting ready to hit the town with my ladies or husband. I put on some music and think about where I’m headed and who I’m going to see. I get dressed and go to my bathroom, which is littered with a mix of drugstore and designer products. It’s fun for me to treat my head as a canvas that can project sweet or sexy or sophisticated depending on my vein, and the occasion.

I don’t take more than 30 minutes getting ready anymore (which was about the minimum timeframe spent when I was a teenager), but I still like the ritual.

There is another, quieter segment of women in the makeup debate who feel they’re not worth the effort. That putting on makeup is an invitation to be seen, and when they don’t feel worthy of that, it can make the desire to attempt being seen feel scary and fraught. As Natalie says in a video we shot for the site:

“[Wearing makeup] became a self-worth thing. I didn’t think makeup was worth it because I thought people were never going to see me as anything other than a disabled person. Not even female. Sometimes not even human. I want to wear makeup, there’s no reason that I shouldn’t.”

That’s one way the “not pretty enough” feeling can be so insidious. It can turn something as seemingly simple as whether or not to use makeup into something more opaque, dark even.

But it doesn’t have to be.

To anyone who wants to wear makeup but is hesitant, go ahead and adorn yourself if you want. Put on that bright lipstick if it makes you feel good. Work that cat eye (and if you do, pass on your tricks because I’ve never been able to master it). Put on that fancy dress. Don’t wait until you feel “pretty enough” for it. Do it on a Tuesday. Do it next Tuesday.

There’s no default here. No ironclad rule on using cosmetics or engaging in fashion. Whatever face you want to show to the world, we’re ready to see you. And we should support each other in those choices because honestly, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

 

  • Deanna

    I wear make up and I pretty much always have. I don’t look good without it. What I find is that some women (not all) who choose not to wear make up somehow think they are being more ‘feminist’ than the rest of us. This I do not understand. If you feel comfortable with how you look without the aid of some color then by all means don’t wear it. Some of us just need it or think we do.

    • Jennifer Tress

      Yep, we should all be supportive of each others’ choices in this area. Thanks stopping by!

  • L

    I am still ugly with make up. If I don’t wear make up I feel people may think I am not trying.The truth is I am ugly. I know its true so I will not allow myself to be fat. FAT AND UGLY IS HARDER TO HID.

  • Bec

    ‘…That putting on make up is an invitation to be seen, and when they do not feel worthy of that, it can make the desire to attempt to be seen feel scary and fraught..’ It actually gets worse than this.
    I am considered not particularly attractive, well ok ugly. In my younger days I would wear very dowdy cloths and no make up. I remember being 19 and thinking, if I want to be taken seriously then I had better clean up my act and wear decent cloths and a bit (only a bit) of make up.
    The reaction! WOW, I would get comments ‘Do you like someone?’ ‘how come you are dressing differently?’ ‘there is a boy you like isn’t there, I can tell by the way you are dressing’ ‘Are you going for a job interview?’ ‘who are you trying to impress?’. Seriously. I am not joking. I was grilled, smirked at, people looking at me and then each other with knowing looks.
    Attractive people can dress well and this is not seen as out of place. However when unattractive people do it, there must be an ulterior motive. Soliciting male attention etc.
    Well I went home after a day of hell and took off my nice cloths and make up. The next day it was back to the dowdy cloths and no make up.
    Repression through clothing choice. How to make someone feel bad when they dress well all because it is deemed that they are undeserving of the look/clothing.

    That
    putting on makeup is an invitation to be seen, and when they don’t feel
    worthy of that, it can make the desire to attempt being seen feel scary
    and fraught – See more at:
    http://www.yourenotprettyenough.com/v2/is-it-worth-it-or-let-me-work-it-the-makeup-debate/#sthash.X7wi69wi.dpuf
    That
    putting on makeup is an invitation to be seen, and when they don’t feel
    worthy of that, it can make the desire to attempt being seen feel scary
    and fraught. – See more at:
    http://www.yourenotprettyenough.com/v2/is-it-worth-it-or-let-me-work-it-the-makeup-debate/#sthash.X7wi69wi.dpuf
    That
    putting on makeup is an invitation to be seen, and when they don’t feel
    worthy of that, it can make the desire to attempt being seen feel scary
    and fraught. – See more at:
    http://www.yourenotprettyenough.com/v2/is-it-worth-it-or-let-me-work-it-the-makeup-debate/#sthash.X7wi69wi.dpuf

  • E.T.

    Truthfully, there are times I seriously ENVY those girls who can get away with just the essentials or who possess natural, effortless beauty. For me, it is a full on 45 minute sitting; and at 35 years old nearing 36 I am just about over it. The contouring, the baking (google it) , the highlighting, the “adhd” eyeliner that has to be perfect everytime and the eyebrows. Needless to say, it is a mask I wear for the world, it makes me feel good to receive the compliments and the stares, but all in all, I want to be natural and not some piece of art anymore. But I am scared that if I don’t wear the mask I will lose a part of myself. When in truth, I want to take off all of this gunk and be the real ME. I wish it was so easy to become that….*sigh*