I wrote this a couple of years ago, when I was clearly having some sort of identity crisis. It was published in Brawsheet.
At the grand age of 21, I became interested in make-up.
I was surprised too. After years of only owning an eye pencil and sometimes mascara, I started doing what many of my peers had done six years previously: dip my toe in the vast ocean that is cosmetics.
When I started to get interested in beauty things, I suddenly noticed that everyone was wearing make-up. Well, I had noticed the very dramatic and the badly done looks, but so many of the women I saw everyday did it so subtlety, so cleverly, I didn’t notice. Like, everyone. Not even that, but women I admired, women who were intelligent, witty, sassy. They were all that I aspire to be, but were also embracing what I perceived to be superficial femininity. How could this be? How had I not noticed this?
It seems such a frivolous thing, unnecessary even. You have probably read many a tirade against the expectations placed upon women to HAVE to look perfect; to conform to society’s understanding of beautiful, with backs breaking under patriarchal expectations. Many ask the question: by wearing make-up, is a woman participating in the culture that oppresses her?
Unsurprisingly, I have come to the conclusion that this is utter rubbish. There is a reason that it is such a popular industry, and why so many wear it: it’s an enjoyable indulgence. It’s fun playing with how you look, expressing something different each day, and getting creative. It’s also fun to not wear anything at all. Look at the overwhelming popularity of beauty bloggers and vloggers, with millions of readers and subscribers.
What many do not realise (previously including myself), is that make-up is not necessarily for covering up; if you get your skincare right, cosmetics can be used to enjoy and enhance your face. You can still look like yourself, just with a bit of decoration. Skincare had always been a must for me, thanks to my mum and her careful attention to her own skin. However, I had a routine and I stuck to it, rarely deviating from the Clean & Clear products that I knew. Thing is this routine consisted of an exfoliator DAY AND NIGHT, followed by a moisturiser. I now recoil in horror at the thought of this. My poor skin! You can rest assured, dear reader, that this is no longer the case. Anyway, je divague.
After the grand realisation that this was something that most women did, and that it even looked like fun, I ventured to the Body Shop, equipped with advice and recommendations, ready to begin my expedition into this brave new world. As with most things, starting is the hardest part. I mean, where DO you start with something like this? So many foreign names and things that I had no idea what they did. In addition, upon asking a person with a full make-up bag what their essentials are, they will all inevitably answer something different. I bought things like face powder, blusher, eye shadow, and a starter brush kit; I now have things like eyelid primer (who even knew that that was a thing?) and tinted moisturiser (mind blowing).
I feel however, that unbeknownst to me at the time, I was not actually alone. It’s intimidating and it’s an area wrought with politics and opinion, accompanied by an unshakeable feeling that you are ‘giving in.’ Especially if you’re not a teenager anymore. Especially if you see yourself as a thinking person, too busy with writing essays on intersectionality to be concerned with this guff. It is also difficult because make-up, just like periods, is one of those things that people just don’t talk about. It’s as if it should be effortless, and if you do talk about it, you are admitting that it does take conscious thought and that you don’t have it all together.
I’m not saying that you have to. I’m saying that if you want to, you can, and that make-up does not mean you are a traitor to feminism or a ridiculous human being. Now, let’s just sit back, relax, and paint our nails while watching Newsnight.