I am a feminist. As a teenager, I lived my persona out loud with shaved head, pierced nose and political t-shirts. I was outspoken in school, ready to defend the feminist perspective any chance I got. The way I looked made sense; it jived. Then I became a mom and my appearance took a back burner to the little loves of my life. (As did my politics.) Hair was about ease, clothing was for comfort and make-up somehow became a part of my morning routine. I didn’t really think about how I looked during the baby and toddlerhood days, but I performed what I thought “mom” should look like.
These days? I am done having kids, work outside of the home and have discovered a passion for fashion! I fall somewhere in between Vogue-ready and Ani Difranco wannabe. Clothing is an outlet that more and more, helps me feel like “me.” So let’s get this straight: I am an eyebrow-waxing, shoe-loving, bra-wearing feminist who feels fine about all of those modifications but who has a serious conflict between my feminist ideals and wearing make-up.
initially, I hoped this experiment would enable me to confidently embrace my natural beauty. It turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.
Pre-experiment, my daily routine consisted of: bronzer or blush, eyes done up with neutrals, mascara, chapstick and sometimes a deeper brown eye shadow or eyeliner for a more dramatic feel. While I wasn’t applying a lot of make-up, I held onto my routine pretty consistently and felt naked without it. Here’s my stash:
Day 1: Last night I stayed up late watching Criminal Intent. Sleep is incredibly valuable to me and I did not get enough last night. My eyes are puffy and on a normal day, I’d conceal it with some extra eye shadow. Not today! I sleep in, skip my shower and pull my hair back in a sequined headband. I scrub my skin clean and check out my rosy cheeks in the mirror. I am excited to do this! At work, I go to the restroom and find that my rosy, just washed cheeks have returned to their normal winter hue; a sallow pale color with grayish undertones. My eyes look seriously tired today, but perhaps that’s just because… I’m tired. I don’t feel “underdone” as I thought I might. I don’t feel like something’s missing. So far, no one has asked me if anything is wrong. No one appears to have noticed my lack of make-up.
Day Two: I find that I am obsessed with make-up this morning. Dropping my kids off at school, I check out all of the teachers’ faces. Arriving at work, I’m on the hunt for eyeliner and lip gloss. I’m surprised to find that I cannot tell if most of them are wearing make-up! I just assumed that everyone did. It’s all very practical and no-fuss.
Moment of truth: while applying make-up every morning, a part of me feels like a “bad feminist”, like I have allowed myself to absorb the standards set by a patriarchal society. I understand that many women have no problems with make-up or the potential politics involved. I’m just not one of those women. Applying it makes me feel less than authentic. Today, I am finding that it’s just not that simple, though, because I really miss my bronzer! How can I make a choice that’s right for me, regardless of what Glamour publishes or what’s acceptable in my neighborhood? I am feeling totally confused, but still hopeful that this experiement will shed some light.
Day Three: I have on my favorite casual dress, my favorite boots and my favorite cardigan. But my face? I feel really, really blah and as though my face doesn’t match my emotions. Why isn’t it acceptable to just put on make-up in the morning and, know that, although it’s not my natural look, it’s still me? I plunked a flower in my hair instead, and walked away from the bronzer, determined to figure this whole thing out. When I walked downstairs, feeling totally dowdy because of my face, I kid you not, I was greated by my husband, who exclaimed, “wow, sometimes I am just blown away by how beautiful you are.” WHAT??????? By the way, he had no idea I had changed anything about my appearance. Momentarily, I felt beautiful again. But by the time I got to work, I was back to feeling ho-hum.
Day Four: On Saturdays, everything is relaxed. But, I am truly missing my make-up today and decided to see how I felt wearing it, after three days without. Here’s me before:
And after some bronzer, mascara and chapstick:
I felt pretty initially and kind of relieved but by mid-afternoon, the mascara had begun to bleed into my skin, giving me the dreaded racoon-eye appearance.
Day Four, evening: I went out with my girlfriend. I put on a good helping of make-up and only felt a little guilty. While strolling down Church Street, my eyes spied the MAC store. Immediately, I veered in, as thought propelled by some other-wordly force and asked if they still carried the eyeshadow shade, “retrospec.” They did and moments later, I walked out, deleriously happy to have my favorite shade in my possession. I also found a sequined vest and a sequined shirt at a downtown consignment store. Totally fabulous.
Day Five: It’s a Sunday and I’m back to no make-up. Although last night I caved, I felt fine this morning staying in my natural state. I didn’t think about it all day.
Day Six: Daylight savings time. Alarm failed. Overslept. Made conscious decision not to put make-up on. Definitely missed my shower, but other than that, I felt fine.
Day Seven: The final day. I chose to wear make-up this morning. I didn’t use eye shadow, just bronzer, mascara and clear chap stick. As I put my hair back in bobby pins I thought about how the media depicts women in airbrushed beauty. I thought about the thinness, the overwhelming array of Caucasion, tanned skin, the glossy hair, the pouty lips. My head started hurting.
As much as I want to be, I am not superhuman, I’m not immune to the media’s effects. When I stand in the mirror, thinking that I’d finally be happy about my body if only my stretch-mark covered, saggy belly was smooth, I’m affected. When I wax my eyebrows, I’m affected. When I put make-up on, I’m affected. Although I have experienced a bit more comfort with my natural face, I feel like I am back at square one again…clamoring between wanting to feel good and also be true to myself. My body has been through three births and has been scarred. My self-esteem has been scarred. How can I build it back up again and still be me?
Post-Experiment Thoughts: Today, finally, I felt some resolution. I had fun dressing today and only applied my sacred bronzer. After dropping the kids off at school, I started the car to find one of my favorite songs playing. The words hit me.
So I’ll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies
-From ‘I Will Wait’ by Mumford and Sons
It became clear to me. Applying make-up generally provides me with a moment of pleasure, an instant of confidence. It doesn’t make me happy. My strong cup of coffee, a happy, peaceful morning with my children before work, a good, sweaty run, a can’t-put-it-down book, an uninterrupted conversation over breakfast with my husband: I am left feeling really happy after these kinds of things. Driving past Lake Champlain, I was (as always) in awe of the natural beauty. I felt humbled by the natural world and started thinking about my girls. Day after day, they watch me apply make-up in the mirror. They watch me make a more airbrushed me. I never, ever want them to airbrush themselves. They are beautiful girls and will grow up to be beautiful women. And like that, I remembered my own mother, who gently supported my politics and my various shades of hair in high school. It’s when I no longer lived with her that my need for beauty products began. But still, she is a gentle force in my life.
As I pull into work, I hear her voice as clear as anything. “Your hair looks so nice when you just let it go.” “Oh Trish, you are so healthy looking, you do not need to lose weight.” and her comment on a picture I posted on Facebook, “see how good natural beauty can look?” This is the voice that I want my girls to hear when they are grown. Body image goes so far beyond what I want and what I am comfortable with.
Gently but surely, I have power to build their confidence. Gently, but surely, I have power to build my confidence. I’m a work in process for sure. Will I ever feel unaffected by society’s dictations on beaaty? I doubt it. But, today, with just a touch of bronzer and some flapper-glitz, I am feeling more authentic than I have in a long, long time. In a world plastered with images of perfection, I am powerful. I am.
And if I want to rock it on a girl’s night in my consignment sequins and my glittery gold eye shadow? I’ll still be my fabulous self.