Like many women, I wear makeup almost every time I leave the house. There are varying degrees to the amount I use depending on the setting and occasion. I work in an office which demands a slight bit more than say, lunch with mom. A night out at a bar or lounge typically calls for an even higher level of masking. Some women enjoy the process of ‘making up’ their faces. I am not one of those women. I wear makeup because I believe I need it to make myself look presentable in public. This, despite the fact that I have been told by a number of people that I look more or less the same with or without makeup. At any rate, I view makeup as a necessary evil in this exceedingly superficial society where women are judged by the way we look and compared to airbrushed images of false perfection, rather than actual, flesh and blood humans.
Despite all this, one of my favorite indulgences involves spending an entire day without the makeup mask. This doesn’t happen often, and almost never happens when I have to leave the house for any reason. Admittedly, the decision to hide my flaws, although driven by the outside world, is self-imposed. No one is holding a gun to my head demanding that I paint layers of goo on my face. However, I do feel the pressure to compete with all those images of airbrushed ‘perfection’. And so I capitulate.
A few weekends ago, my friend Liz and I had plans to go out. I decided, on a whim, to make a social experiment of it. I would face a Chicago bar scene minus the mask. I’m not sure exactly what gave me this idea, or what gave me the courage to actually go through with it. It may have had something to do with the fact that I had been bumming around the house most of the day and had no desire to put on makeup at 8pm. Truthfully, the idea was probably born of sheer laziness.
The utterly surprising part was the fact that I even had the cojones to go through with it at all. From the time my parents allowed me to wear makeup, at around the age of 14, I have always believed that the stuff made me look better. This colored powder, cream, and goop had the power to turn ‘ugly’ Billie into ‘pretty’ Billie. There was a time in my life when I felt self-conscious just going to the gym without wearing any. Although, I am proud to say I have never intentionally put on makeup solely for a trip to the gym.
Adding a further twist to the experiment, I decided not to wear heels. Again, probably a result of my laziness but, nevertheless, something I’ve not typically done while out and about. It is a well-known and widely accepted fact that stuffing our feet into painful 4 inch heeled pumps makes our legs and butts look taut and toned by forcing us to contract certain muscles in said body parts. But on this particular night, reasons unknown, I was feeling exceptionally confident in my God-given attributes. Or, maybe, if I’m being honest, I was feeling intentionally lackadaisical. In either case, out I went in my flat-heeled riding boots and naked lashes; flaws exposed to the world.
Recently, the ‘natural’ look has become quite popular. Calling this style natural is a bit deceiving due to the fact that it doesn’t mean one is actually presenting one’s natural self. It’s actually closer to being flawlessly made up to appear natural in a careless sort of way and comprised of illusory organic fabrics against native-looking bronzed skin tones, set off by perfectly coiffed ‘natural’ hair. Don’t misunderstand me, this is a great look. Many women are able to pull it off while fooling men into thinking they aren’t wearing makeup. Other women aren’t fooled though. Regardless of whether or not it presents an organic image, a mask is a mask. Why do we feel the need to hide every single tiny flaw from the outside world?
The idea that makeup is a requirement for all civilized women is, most assuredly, by design. The U.S. cosmetic industry is estimated to generate more than $62 billion in revenue this year. Black women alone spend an estimated $7.5 billion annually on beauty products. This industry feeds off of our insecurities and flourishes by perpetuating the idea that women, in our raw and untouched forms, are unacceptable. The message with which we are continually bombarded, through television, movies, magazines and billboards, is that we are not good enough unaltered and as God made us; we need a little help to be suitable for presentation to the world.
I digress. Let’s get back to my social experiment. As Liz and I entered the lounge, I was a bit nervous. I know …I’m weird. But this was the first time I had ever been out on a Saturday night without makeup and, more than likely, one of the only times I’d been out in flats. I wondered, would people stare in horror and disgust? Would I get the side eye from groups of appropriately made up women, snickering behind my back as I walked past. Or possibly, I would be ignored completely; my lack of makeup relegating me to an inferior class of irrelevants. Again, I know …I’m weird. Nevertheless, I was obviously self-conscious.
Ultimately, I had a good time. We ordered drinks from the bartender, scanned the crowd for hot guys, started vibing to the music, and I began to forget to be anxious about my face and feet. Actually, I quite enjoyed the extravagance of wearing shoes that didn’t pinch and cramp. And, quite surprisingly, I was hit on by a good-looking young man 8 years my junior.
So what do I take from this experiment? When I think about the pressure and anxiety I’ve endured over the perceived need to hide my flaws and present a deceivingly perfect facade to the world, I simply become tired. Why have I put myself through this misery for the past 27 years? Since the night of the experiment, I’ve halved the amount of time I spend on my daily makeup routine. I haven’t been self-conscious about leaving the house sans makeup. And, when preparing for a night out, I stick to my newly condensed masking routine; no longer burdening myself with the constraints of conforming to exceptionally lofty false notions of beauty. In short, I feel a certain sense of liberation. Yay! =)
Psalm 139:13-14 (CEV)
13 You are the one
who put me together
inside my mother’s body,
14 and I praise you
the wonderful way
you created me.
Everything you do is marvelous!
Of this I have no doubt.