Every once in a while, someone will say to me, “You’d look better natural” or “Wow, you’re wearing a lot of makeup today.” In response, I usually bat my pretty eyelashes, fortified with the hard crystalline crust of Revlon’s LashBlast, and smile at them through the velvety smoothness of MAC’s indomitable matte formula. Only after gauging how serious they are do I ask, “Why does it bother you so much?”
“Because you shouldn’t care about that stuff,” some will say. “Because you’re prettier without it.” “Because that’s not the real you.” If they say that last one, I’ll usually smile wider, so the flush of Benefit’s Posietint make the apples of my cheeks glimmer like jewels. “You are seeing the real me,” I’d say. “I’m standing right here. I’m real, aren’t I?”
What they want to say is, “I want to see you without your armor.” And it’s true; I use makeup like I use clothing, to cover myself, protect my soft inner parts, to create a mask through which I see the world. It’s how I cope.
To some people, that sounds like a fabrication. That’s when I’ll tell them that I sometimes do go bare-faced, and when I do, I’m usually mistaken for a sick patient. On those days, others will say, “Oh, you look horrible, you should take some meds.” You can’t blame us for trying to fit into the beautiful lies on the cover of magazines when we are punished for returning to nature. So back into the armor I go.
Here’s how us makeup lovers can respond to various insults on our product usage:
“Because you shouldn’t care about that stuff.” Why…not? Why shouldn’t we be interested in body adornment? Warriors and priests from all cultures have been doing it for centuries, but somehow it’s silly because girls are now interested in lip gloss?
I know the stereotypes that they are referencing—the perception that girls who wear tons of makeup are “stupider” and have to rely on their looks to make up (pun intended) for what their brains lack, that makeup somehow indicates a shallow and insipid personality. That’s ridiculous—beauty and intelligence not a mutually exclusive prospect, and I’d argue that it takes a certain level of skill to artfully paint a face.
Let’s not pretend that mascara glues girls’ eyelashes together to the point where they can’t see the blackboard or compute an equation. I know several beauty bloggers with more knowledge of carcinogens and parabens than the general population, who can rattle off the foreign substances that are banned in the EU but not in the US. Makeup fans have to internalize so much specialized knowledge in order to argue about the merits of Lancome Lash Hypnose over Maybelline’s Great Lash, discuss companies that don’t ban “the big 3” in nail polish, and bemoan the racial overtones that permeate our culture’s beauty standards.
When you dismiss an entire culture of women and men whose specialized knowledge spans websites all over the world because “makeup is superficial” and “you shouldn’t care about that stuff”—what you are really saying is “You care deeply about something that I don’t like, so stop doing that. You know too much, and I find that unsettling, because why else would I try to mock it?”
“Because you’re prettier without it.” Men feel cheated when they think that our perfectly trimmed eyebrows and dark eyelids are products of the cosmetic industry—but so what? If our personality is what you are really looking for, then our efforts to improve our beauty shouldn’t really matter, right? And if beauty is what you are looking for, then aren’t we just bringing you what you want? Instead, when people tell me that they don’t like makeup because “I’m prettier without it,” I know that I should never trust them. No one can objectively look at my acne-ridden and red-tinted face and not ask for some foundation and a good brown eyeliner.
What makeup critics are really scared of is the fact that makeup gives us power. I’ve been told by many that I look “scary” in full-face, perhaps as part of their attempt to discourage my use of products. There’s a reason that villains are portrayed as heavy makeup wearers: Ursula in Little Mermaid, Maleficient in Sleeping Beauty. Even Hades’ sunken eyes and lips make him look like he’s rocking some goth lipstick, and don’t tell me that Gaston doesn’t invest in some exfoliator and toner for his mug. We are taught to believe that makeup = evil = something to hide. That’s why, when Youtube gurus showcase their makeup transformations, people comment “it’s not fair that girls can use makeup to lie to guys,” as if women are stupid enough to believe that a flawless complexion will net them a husband (makeup has to come off every night, you know…)
It’s the same reason that passerbys get skittish when girls flounce past looking more like Queen Jane than Plain Jane; for a moment, they are compelled towards a face, attracted by something they can’t control, before they realize that charcoal lids and red lips have never existed naturally. For a second, you undermine their composure, and they try to regain their high ground by denouncing you as a manufactured myth. All the while, you watch them struggle, veiled behind Urban Decay ‘Kitten’-dusted eyelids, a gem they will never get to touch.
If you are a villain, so be it. Embrace the power that it gives you.
“Because that’s not the real you.” If they say this to you, get angry. Get very angry. They can see the real you all right—it’s in front of them. The real you is in the kind words you say, the way you treat your friends, the optimism you exhibit for others. The real you is the way you handle distress, forgive your enemies, fall in love and burn with jealousy. Those qualities make up the real you—someone more complicated than a pretty face and choice dabs of contouring powder.
But if the powder is all they see—and if that’s what they choose as the basis of their perceptions of you—show them that the ‘real you’ will not put up with this BS. Some choice comebacks: “I have eyeshadow palettes worth more than you,” or “Now that I’ve seen the real you, I don’t think you deserve to know the real me.”
The real person that you are will continue to exist, with or without makeup. And hopefully, the real you will never be as shallow to judge someone by the way that they look. So give your critics one last good sneer with your perfectly painted pout before you turn away. Then flounce out of there, staring some poor boy down on the way out, leaving him cowering with the impression of a burning goddess wheeling past him in a blaze of light.
After all, you are nothing if not beautiful and powerful—and armor only gilds the outside what you must already possess on the inside.
Images derived from Jezebel.com, Femside.com