Meditation on Makeup

This morning while waiting for the bus, I was seized with a 30-second panic, wondering if I had remembered to put on makeup this morning.

Now, I’m no beauty queen and I don’t spend hours in front of a mirror, but I know better than to leave the house for work without makeup on. I reassured myself that yes, I did everything I needed to do to prepare myself for work and I needn’t worry.

But this got me to thinking – why is it that we, as women, have taken on and accepted as a part of our consciousness that we are incomplete, faulty, most of all, embarrassed – if we don’t wear our makeup? We can’t bear to look ourselves in the mirror – and we cringe at the thought of others seeing us – as we really are.

This is especially hard for teenage girls, when they are beginning to form this consciousness. Oh sure, part of the makeup is that it is fun; part of it is experimenting to find their own “look” – but I believe that the makeup obsession is part of the reason why young women give up their souls – their identity – their strength and their heart – as they go through adolescence.  (Think I’m exaggerating? Read the classic Reviving Ophelia and others like it.)

This morning, when the wind whipped my hair and my makeup faded as my skin paled against the cold, I recalled an incident many years ago, where I first came to realize how the makeup issue can so powerfully affect a woman’s self-esteem.

I was camping (no makeup needed or expected here) and most of the other campers were some good guy-friends and a few families.  One of the families had a teenage son, about 16 or so. Poor guy, he had horrible acne.

I thought – wow – if he were a girl, he would be devastated – but at least she could cover it up with makeup. As a boy, of course, he did not have that option.

I realized if I were in a similar situation – bad skin, right out there for the world to see – that I’d have to “power through” it – I’d just have come to terms with it and move on.  It would actually give me confidence. Self-determination. Inner strength.  What a contrast to what it is like as a girl.

Even though I never had such a severe problem as his,  I realized for myself – even as a grown woman – a blemish here and there would seem catastrophic. I had to cover it up! I couldn’t let anyone see – that I was less than perfect. That I was not completely in control of my own skin and appearance.  That without makeup I was a failure – less of a woman, less of a professional – a perfectly capable but physically (and therefore, by extension, perhaps in other ways, too) flawed human being. Putting all of my failings – by that one little  blemish – on display for the world to see.

Even in the camping situation where makeup was not expected and would be pointless and a pain (it was summer after all), I felt insecure.  I saw this young man – and took courage from him. If he could do it – so could I.

This one experience helped me see the vast differences in how – just even in this one small area – we continue to teach and encourage our young men to be confident and secure no matter their situation – and how we do such a disservice to our young girls by buying into the charade that “without my makeup I must die” mentality that we all seem to have in our culture.

I don’t have a teenage daughter, so I don’t know how I would try to balance her need to explore and affirm he own identity – sometimes via makeup – versus losing herself and feeling exposed, embarrassed, and ashamed if she didn’t have makeup. Perhaps sports or another activity would give her a chance to spend equal time experimenting without makeup and give her a chance to discover herself – her confidence, her true, natural beauty, and learn who her real friends – and boyfriends – really are.

Thankfully, I’m old enough now that I no longer have the fear and insecurity that I had when I was younger. I wear makeup or don’t wear makeup as I choose – though clearly I still follow the cultural expectation that I shouldn’t leave the house without it. (And I panic if I forget!)

© writingreading, 2010

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