My Naked Face

I thought I'd write a bit about my thoughts as it came up in class last night. This is my reasoning for no longer choosing to wear makeup. The transition was slow and quite unlike me - these thoughts triggered by the day I gave birth. I remember refusing to take my eyeliner and mascara off when I was in labour and as I submerged myself lower and lower into the birth pool, it ran in streaks around my face. Such a strange concern for somebody as they're expecting their first baby. But a common one.

Contrary to what people might assume, I don't go without makeup because I don't have time. Each morning I linger over my cup of tea and toast while Judah watches cartoons. I am a busy mother, but I work part time and can grab these snatches of time to do what makes me happy. It's just that cosmetics are no longer part of what makes me happy.

Growing up I genuinely believed wearing makeup was something that women just did. It was a mark of respect to yourself, taking pride in your appearance before all else. I remember painstakingly applying eyeliner and not achieving the affect I thought it would create (Avril Lavigne). Truthfully at age 13 my face looked even younger and it looked incongruous on my youthful face. Really I find it quite worrying that I felt the need to adopt this adult women's rite of passage at only 13. The sexualisation of young girls is something that is unmissable in our culture, you can even buy cosmetics for children. Just a bit of fun, is it? Actually if we look at the functions of make up, it isn't. We use blusher and lipstick to imitate the redness of sexual arousal in a woman's face. We use mascara to make eyes appear wide, youthful and appealing. The juxtaposition of youth and sex. These are the products we are giving to young girls.

When I worked in Starbucks, I used make up to create a mask. This job involved giving so much of myself physically and emotionally to strangers for long hours every day. Make up was a front between me and the customers, an impenetrable layer. It was my way of saying I took my job seriously and that I was a professional. Although physically I can work very hard, my mind was bored and I enjoyed this play acting in lieu of any mental stimulation. I enjoyed the admiration I would get. 

When I stayed over boyfriends' house I would always be scared of the moment I had to remove my make up or they would see me without it in the morning. I felt that maybe I had presented myself differently, that they would feel cheated. They'd bought a vision that was not based in reality and they would despise me for it. They would love me less. The compliments were never for me, but for the cosmetics. That was how poor my self esteem was.
Women who didn't follow suit were the object of scorn. How can somebody let themselves go like that? In a world of made up faces she who does not follow suit is a stark contrast. When I would wear perhaps less of it, the questions such as 'are you ill?' 'are you tired?' would reinforce my idea that this was essential. By foregoing it I was penalising myself merely by the comparison with other women. It was completely integral to my self image and I spent so much money on different products trying to achieve a better, more perfect me. Never mind that in the summer it would sweat off my face, when my pores were clogged it would bobble around my nose, when I kissed my boyfriend he would get mascara smears on his eyes. When I blew my nose the tissue was orange. I was unable to even rub my eyes. This was choice.

When my son was born I will always remember the moment I decided my postpartum rest was over. I was mortified that my visitors had seen me with my naked face, and on day 3 as my husband and baby slept in bed I reapplied my make up, reassured to see that familiar self looking back at me in the mirror. I now felt confident to face the world. I refused to be a plain mother. I wanted to show the world I still valued myself as an attractive woman. I would not give up.

I slowly did. Not for any one reason. It began with my distaste at kissing my newborn son and leaving traces of lipstick. Wanting to nuzzle his face but not wanting to leave foundation smears on his perfect head. As I got more acquainted with my inner self, my intuitive mothering, I found that cosmetics obscured the face underneath. That was slowly maturing and now bore up quite well under decoration but was strong enough to stand on its own. 

Then came the long, wonderful summer where I couldn't bear the stickiness on my face. The longing to just splash my face with water or get caught in the warm rain without needing to do a complete rehaul of my appearance. I got so tanned that summer that I began to fall in love with the earthy bareness that was my skin. Gradually the made-up me began to look like the stranger and I would regard my reflection with discomfort when I wore it. It wasn't even something fun and creative to indulge in, it felt necessary.

Then finally the discovery of radical feminism and the concept of choice. I am hesitant to say I am a radical feminist, because I do not align with some of the teachings. Also I am a heterosexual woman which complicates the ideology somewhat! However, the concept of free choice really intrigued me. Liberal feminism is all about a woman's right to choose how she dresses, what make up she wears, who she sleeps with. And rightly so. The concept of true choice is an interesting one - for a woman who lives her life in a patriarchal society with certain expectations, is any choice truly free? For me the overt discomfort I felt at going without make up came from somewhere. I had internalised it. I've been trying to identify the 'choices' in my life that feel compulsory and make me uncomfortable and challenging them, one by one.

So I no longer wear make up. Partly to see if I could go without it, but also because I've realised I really like my bare face. The longer I have done this the more I begin to appreciate the raw beauty of women. The thought of anything heavy sitting on my face now seems completely unappealing. The beauty of my son's bare face is the same that is reflected in me. I thought make up was something I wore to make myself feel good but as time went on it made me like myself a lot less. 

Then there's the cost, and impact on the environment. My husband and I are currently trying to run three businesses and work two jobs between us. Any spare cash I have is more likely to go on things like food, clothes or enjoyable activities. Not pots of goo that get washed down the drain or expire before I've had a chance to use them. All those little pots fuelling our consumer culture and then going to landfill. Every new product a 'miracle' product. Same formulation, different label and advertising campaign.

That said, I do appreciate the impact of a red lipstick. It just wouldn't bother me if I never got to use one again. The futility of reapplying something and washing it off is partly what has driven me to tattoos and piercings. I want to get enjoyment from something permanent. I sometimes regard a heavily made up face with disconcertment now, but that's probably how some people regard me too.

It is a choice, but it's worth being aware that our choices are made within a structure and framework for how we believe we are supposed to be. I enjoy dissecting these choices and finding a position I am comfortable with. I truly don't care how any other woman chooses to present herself. Whether make up is fun for you, a chore or integral to your self esteem. The marketing and pervasiveness of the beauty industry makes things difficult. Especially for career women who are considered 'unprofessional' if they don't present this flawless appearance. I just hope I never feel the need for it again.