To make-up or not to make-up


I’ve been spending a week with my mother and sisters, and the stay has mostly been peaceful and wholesome and I feel a lot more relaxed and stable now. On Wednesday I had one of my best friends over from another town, and we talked non-stop, and it was a lot of fun.

Until we got on the subject of hair and make-up, as women often do, and she started giving me unsollicited advice. If I cut my hair into a fringe then it would cover up my (admittedly high) forehead and frame my face better, and all I’d have to do to counter the cow’s lick which has prevented me from having a fringe since childhood would be to get up a bit earlier every morning and blow dry it into place. While I’m at it, I could put on just a bit of mascara, and maybe a bit of eyeliner, because my eyes are hidden behind my glasses all the time and it’s such a shame because they’re pretty and blue, and I should flaunt them a bit more. Of course, she wasn’t asking me to do the whole thing with foundation and all, and it’s only a fringe, how long can it take? And my mother and sister agreed that it would look good on me.

The thing is, I know that a fringe and a bit of make-up would look good on me. This is not a revelation to me. I know how to put on make-up because I learned, like everyone else, when I was a teenager, and like most teenaged girls, I did go through a phase where I put make-up on almost every day, if only to see how much of it I could get away with in school. It didn’t take me long to realise that putting make-up on every day – or doing my hair, for that matter – were not priorities for me. I still get dolled up for parties and interviews and such, but when I get up on a normal morning with nothing special going on, I just wash my face and brush my hair and that’s it.

There’s a reason I don’t do the make-up and hair thing, and that is because I don’t want to. But that didn’t seem to suffice as a reason. She didn’t get why I wouldn’t want to get up forty-five minutes earlier every morning to make myself look more attractive. She didn’t understand how my physical appearance wasn’t a priority for me, or how I could be perfectly comfortable knowing that I’m not particularly good-looking most days. “Who should I be trying to impress?” I asked, and she replied “Nobody, just yourself.” But if it’s for me and me alone, then I’m the one who gets to decide if it’s worth it, right? The irony didn’t seem to penetrate, however, and she spent the next twenty minutes – she’s as stubborn as I am – trying to persuade me to do as she said. In the end I flat-out said “I refuse!” and she pulled her tongue out at me before finally moving on to something else. (The reason we both get on has a lot to do with a common mental age.)

The whole incident bothered me, though. This friend knows that I’m bi, and has never put into question how I can feel attracted to both men and women. She knows I’m non-monogamous (or have been, it depends, we go through phases) and although I know she has no idea what compersion feels like, she’s never tried to persuade me that it was an invalid lifestyle. But my choice to not give up 45mins of my time every day to make myself look better baffled her so completely that she’ll probably bring it up again next time I see her.

My middle sister came round yesterday and agreed that while the suggested modifications would suit me, nobody was forcing me to put make-up on. Both my sisters – including the one who is fourteen – put make-up on every day. The teenager spends hours getting her face and hair just right. Of course we complain about the time it takes, but I would never begrudge them the pleasure of getting artistic with their own skin and hair, in the same way that should anyone ever question my inalienable right to hog the bathroom for three hours before a party, I’d direct them to the nearest cliff. Because nobody ever questions a woman’s right to make-up, although of course people love to judge the way and amount that’s put on.

It has taken the “no make-up selfie” meme to make me realise how many of my friends are actually incapable of going out without make-up. It took many of them courage to take that selfie, and they felt nervous and yet proud while doing it, and for them, it was a sort of personal achievement. I’m not invalidating that feeling, I have my own share of self-esteem issues and whatever steps you take to overcome yours are valid as long as they work.

But the only difference between my no make-up selfie and my other profile pics is this one was a selfie. It took ages to get right because I’m terrible at selfies, when I try to take them most of my head gets cropped out. I took one first thing in the morning, in my pyjamas, to fit in with the “real you” thing (it doesn’t get more real than pre-breakfast me squinting into the camera like a bear just out of hibernation), and nobody was all that bothered. Because really, it doesn’t matter. I’ve pulled without make-up – several times – I’ve gotten laid without the aid of a fringe, I’ve made friends and passed job interviews and proven my worth at work countless times without taking special care with my appearance. It helps that I used to work in childcare, of course, but my point is that I know I don’t need to put make-up on every day to be able to do all the things I like doing. And I don’t want to, either.

So here’s my message to all well-meaning friends: you are allowed to wear make-up yourself, as much and as often as you want. You are allowed to ask your make-up-less friend if you can doll them up one day for fun. You are allowed to offer advice, even. But for godssakes, don’t spend twenty minutes insisting to your friend that they need make-up and a bloody fringe, because that, dear reader, is not good for their self-esteem, and low self-esteem is a really shitty reason to put make-up on every day.


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