Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Naked Skin: Why I Love My Face Without Makeup

You've probably seen the real version of this ad - a normal and healthy woman sits in front of a camera, and then a bunch of makeup artists and hair stylists change her appearance, before the photo of her is then changed to make her look gaunt and like any other model. I think I prefer the reversed version. Because when it ends on the image of her before the makeup, you can see how beautiful she is, even without any so-called "enhancements."

It's not that I think makeup is wrong or bad. I still take pride in the fact that I wore no makeup to either of my high school proms, but I understood why all my female friends chose to wear makeup for those nights. And it's also not as if I was ever sheltered from makeup. While many of my friends weren't allowed to wear makeup till they were fifteen or sixteen, my mother never stopped any of us from using makeup. When I made my face powder-white to cover my freckles as a ten-year-old, my mother didn't get mad when she found out: she laughed. At the same time, she consistently put on makeup each morning before leaving for work. It was like part of her face. In the same way I won't teach in sneakers, she didn't teach without eyeshadow and mascara (and she certainly didn't teach in sneakers).

I was fourteen before I tried makeup again, but only because I wasn't very interested in it. It was there, waiting for me, anytime I wanted it. So why hurry? But I can vividly remember what happened when I wore makeup again. I was fourteen, and I had brought some makeup to school with me. Although my mother had no rule against it at home, I felt self-conscious putting it on in front of my family. So I went into the girl's bathroom during my study period and applied makeup. It wasn't much, just the basics. And I put on so little that I doubt anyone else noticed. But I knew the difference, and I felt incredibly pretty.

It was only later, when I was washing the makeup from my face, that I realized how damaging makeup could be. I looked in the mirror before removing the makeup, and then after. And - I felt sad. I felt sad because what I saw in the mirror without that makeup there wasn't as attractive as what I saw with it. And I decided in that moment that I would not wear it again. I never wanted to hit the point that so many older women had hit where they could not leave the house without makeup, not even to go to the grocery store. I wanted to be happy with my naked skin. Now that I'm older, I do occasionally wear mascara. But for the most part I've kept to that standard I set for myself ten years ago.

New Hampshire isn't exactly the cosmetics capital of the US, so no one thought it all that strange that I didn't wear makeup, especially in high school. Some were surprised that I refused to wear it even for formal events, but when I explained my reasoning they accepted my reasons without batting an eye. Nobody told me I'd never be professional without makeup or that I couldn't think highly of myself if I didn't start wearing it. And, let's be honest - it's not like they worn a ton of makeup either. In fact, one of my high school friends often complained that her mother was ostracized by the intellectual women in the community for dying her hair and wearing makeup. According to my friend, the local women saw this look as artificial and unnatural.

And as much as it embarrasses me to admit it today, in high school I thought that only women with low self esteems wore makeup on a daily base. The girls who wore noticeable amounts of makeup on a daily basis were often known (or believed) to be having sex with sleazy boys, and they never seemed very happy. As a well-meaning but naive feminist, I pitied these women.

That naive pity transferred to the female undergrads at BYU when I came to college here. It didn't help that my first roommates were always complaining about their bodies. Through either luck or blindness, I'd never encountered such body-hatred in high school. In high school, my friend Beth would pass around magazines with famous feminist quotes (the best ones were from Miss Piggy) to counteract the images in the magazines. Of course we had body issues, but we kept it largely private. So imagine my surprise when I learned that there was such a thing as fat knees! I had no idea what fat knees would look like or how to determine if I had them.

Then I had a roommate who was bulimic, and as she explained the signs of her illness, I saw the signs of dehydration all around me. One day I overheard a girl throwing up in a restroom next to one of the dining halls. I could tell it was forced, by the way she gagged a little before throwing up, and by the fact that she waited till it sounded like I'd left (I think I opened the door to leave and then realized I'd forgotten something). I knocked on the stall door and asked, "are you okay?" There was a long pause, and then a "Yeah."

So I looked around me and saw all these women who were obsessed with their body image. One roommate - a woman I still think is strikingly beautiful - would frequently say things like, "I know I should go tanning. Pale skin is unattractive. But I don't think it would be healthy for my skin." Another time she said,  "I feel bad that I'm not more attractive. Whatever man I marry will deserve a pretty wife, and I wish I could be that pretty for him." So when she told me that makeup was a matter of hygiene, and then I looked around and saw all these women slathering on makeup every day, I assumed (falsely) that they all had low self esteems.

But I've had to repent of that false assumption, as I've found myself on the other side of the false assumptions. For instance, Carl the OMC once told me it was too bad someone as pretty as me didn't have enough faith in herself to make herself beautiful with makeup. He was flummoxed when I said how much I love my body, and he explained that he'd always assumed I didn't wear makeup because I just didn't think even makeup could make me look pretty.

I thought that was just Carl being an OMC, but since then many others have made similar comments. The other night, for example, I attended a church workshop on makeup. When I volunteered for a makeover (what morbidly curious feminist wouldn't?), the lady leaned down and said kindly, "I'll make it really soft. I promise." Since I was one of the very few women in the room wearing absolutely no makeup, she must have assumed I was terrified of the stuff. But her philosophy was this: you have to wear at least a little makeup each day, because wearing a little makeup will make you confident. Little did she know, on the rare occasion that I do wear makeup, I actually favor dark colors.

I was skeptical at first about makeup as a self-esteem boost, but as I looked around me, I watched how some of the other women in the room truly glowed with pride when they saw their faces after the makeovers. She held a little mirror up and pushed a button on it. The mirror said, "You are so beautiful." As a rule, each woman had to say, "Yes, I am," before leaving the makeover chair. For some of the women, this statement was difficult. They weren't used to thinking of themselves as beautiful. For me, it was difficult for a different reason: I hated how the makeup marred my beautiful skin.

My skin isn't particularly attractive. In fact, as far as my natural advantages go, my skin ranks pretty low. It takes more than one prescription to keep it looking like skin and not like a slice of pizza. But it's mine. And I think it's far more beautiful as it is, than with paint or powder obscuring it. So when I looked in the mirror and saw a garrish painting (by my standards only, I realize) staring back, I stumbled. "Yes... I am..." I muttered.

As I walked back to my chair, the lady who had so kindly given me a makeover laughed over how hard it had been for me to say. And it was only then that I realized how thoroughly she believed that a woman who refused to wear makeup didn't really believe she was beautiful.

This entry is already quite long, and so far I've only discussed cultural differences and how my unique experience with makeup keeps me away from it. But that's not really the point to this post. That's really just the background to my main point. The real point is that when I went home, I washed my face. And when I saw my own skin again, I smiled and said, "Yes. That's much better."

In some places and in some times, it's both a fight and a statement of feminism for a woman to wear makeup. In fact, one of the main reasons female missionaries in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to wear makeup is so that people can see how modern and unoppressed they are. But for me, not wearing makeup is my own personal statement of liberty, self-love, and feminism. It's my way of saying that I'm beautiful the way I am. That I'm a woman the way I am, and that I don't need to prove it by painting my skin. It's also a way of saying that I respect God's work so much that I'm not going to mess with it.


  1. Little did that 14 year old girl know that vowing off of makeup so ardently would set a ruddy-cheeked 8 year old up for a lifetime of feeling infinitely better in her own "naked skin." Unnecessarily long sentence of the day. The point is, thanks Emily. :) And thanks for the mushy almost-cliche post. It made me renew my vows.

  2. Can you imagine if the culture was flipped and men had to wear the make-up? I wouldn't stand for it! I recently started dating a beautiful women and it amazes me how beautiful she is every day in her very own "naked skin." Great post Emily. I agree with you. Thank goodness I don't feel pressured into wearing make-up. 80)

  3. I do enjoy make-up and I don't necessarily think it boosts my self confidence, I wear it because I like the way my eyes look, mostly more awake. I guess I'm a conformist in that sense, usually it's just mascara and some foundation to cover the circles under my eyes. When I get my hair cut, I always request no products to be sprayed or mushed or streaked through my hair. The beauticians almost always find a "need" for something and every time I have to come home and wash my hair right away because it feels terrible. SO I can understand how you feel with make up on, if it feels half as uncomfortable as goop in places where goop doesn't normally exist, more power to you! I really admire you Emily, I have ever since we met.

  4. Great post, as always, Emily. It sounds like all these women you know have actually bought into the co-opted feminist messages of cosmetics ads. Incredible.
    e.g. "Because you're worth it" "Love the skin you're in"
    Apparently unless you buy these companies' products, you don't actually value yourself. And you're not a feminist.

  5. Makeup is a tricky issue--my personal experience has always been that it's fun, but not something I need. I like to play with it sometimes, to try certain looks. But I have never understood the people that 'have' to wear makeup to go out in public.

    I don't wear it to work on a regular basis and as far as I can tell, it hasn't made a difference. Aside from one argument with a coworker who kept insisting that all girls wore makeup and when I said I didn't I must mean that I only wore foundation or foundation and mascara or something, I don't think anyone even noticed.

  6. I concur with Kelsie. What a wonderful precedent you have set, and indeed, you are beautiful in your own bare skin, if you don't mind my saying so. As is your sister. (I know, how awkward of me.) :D

  7. I had a similar experience, but it took me a lot longer to break free. I started wearing makeup around age 17. I was in my mid-twenties before it occurred to me that I was teaching myself to see my natural face as wrong. This struck me as so disturbing that I stopped cold turkey. It was hard at first to go out in public. Even though I *knew* it was irrational, I didn't think anyone would want to be seen with me. But I did get eventually get over it and now see my real face as good and attractive. Also, I have sensitive skin, and the makeup was doing me no favors (plus it smells gross!) I have had so many people over the years compliment me on how good my skin is. I'm sure part of it is genetic luck, but also I don't slather it every day with toxic chemicals! It really seems that a lot of women don't see the connection.

  8. Someone is using the bottom picture as their facebook avi pretending it is them Maybe you need to check them out.

  9. nice blog
    great information.
    VLCC Institute Makeup Courses gives you the platform to become a Professional Makeup Artist by learning from the best in the Beauty Industry.
    Our state-of-the-art Makeup Classes will walk you through everything that goes into establishing a successful career in this fun, fast-paced and fabulous industry.
    We give a certificate of completion to our students upon completion.