Sunday Reflections: The Summer without Makeup
“Mom, why do you wear makeup every day?”
Both girls asked me this same questions just weeks apart. And every answer that I started to say had nothing to do with me.
I got up every morning, even the mornings on the days where I never left my house, and put on makeup. Foundation to hide all my imperfections. Then I would do my eyes. Blush. Lipstick. It had become an automatic routine, designed and paid for by every insecurity bred by a lifetime of cultural conditioning that had taught me that I was not good enough.
But why did I do it? I did it because I had internalized all the messages that said I had to be perfect, to look perfect. I did it to hide my uneven skin tone. I did it to hide my wrinkles that scream my age. I did it to make my eyes and my lips “pop”. I did it because I had been told so often that I had to look a certain way and I had started to believe that who I was and what I looked like wasn’t enough.
I had started asking to wear makeup at a really young age, just like my girls have been asking.
But the truth is, I hated everything about wearing makeup. I hated the time it took out of my morning. I mean, I could be getting some extra sleep here. I hated the fact that I felt like I wasn’t good at putting makeup on. I hated the fact that even after I put on the make up I still didn’t feel good about myself, not really. It caused as many problems as it purported to solve. And it cost money that I didn’t always have. (Some day we really should have a conversation about how current beauty standards favor the wealthy and highlight our disdain of the poor. All those anti-age creams? Yeah, poor people can’t afford them.)
So when I couldn’t answer my girls question in a way that was healthy, I stopped wearing it.
If my response could have been because I like makeup or it’s fun, I would have been okay with it. And I know people who would have this response, but I was not that person. So instead of answering the question in a way that reinforced cultural beauty standards and put my own self esteem issues on my girls, I stopped wearing makeup. They had obviously been watching me and were paying attention, so I thought I would give them something else to pay attention to.
Not wearing makeup has been incredibly freeing. I sleep in. I stress out less about the way I look. And most amazingly, my skin seems healthier. It turns out that wearing makeup was causing just as many problems for my skin as it was purporting to solve.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I look in the mirror and I see those brown spots and I die a little bit inside. Sometimes lately I have been putting on mascara, because it turns out that I do in fact like mascara.
A few weeks ago, I learned that Alicia Keys has also been makeup free. She posts selfies and attends Hollywood premieres, all makeup free. She is braver then me, I have posted no selfies and there are no pictures in this post. But I still walk out of my house every day makeup free and it is my own tiny act of rebellion and bravery.
Every time when the girls and I watch TV – even the most feminist of shows – we see no less then say 5 ads for makeup. Girls are advertised to in ways and at a much higher frequency then guys are and the message is this: you are not good enough without our product. You are not pretty enough, you are not young enough, you are not good enough. We see this message so many times on television, in magazines, and in the stores that it can be easy to internalize.
I have no problem with the theory of makeup. If you like makeup because you like makeup, that is totally cool. What I do have a problem with is the idea that I am not enough without makeup. I have a problem with the fact that when my girls asked me this question I couldn’t answer it in a way that not only opened them up to but also reinforced harmful cultural issues about beauty standards and personal worth. Many of us have internalized misogyny without knowing it and it is harmful. (Some day we should also have a conversation about how very young, thin, white and blonde current beauty standards are.)
You want to wear makeup because YOU want to wear makeup – totally cool. But maybe we should all take a moment to ask ourselves why we do the things we do. And if the answer isn’t I do this for me, then it’s possible that we are equally guilty of internalizing misogyny and passing it down to the next generation.
I am now into the third month of being makeup free. I’m not going to lie, it is still hard for me some days to see myself in the mirror and not flinch at the age and imperfections that I see. Which is exactly why I keep going makeup free. I’m trying to learn to love myself as I am. It’s been much harder then I would have thought, but I’m going to keep trying until I can really believe that I Am Enough.
When I can honestly get up and say I want to put on makeup for me, then I will wear it again.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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