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