Face On, Face Off


I got up this morning, looked in the mirror and said to my reflection what I say every morning, “God you look tired.” I can partially blame my four-month-old, after all he was up at five in the morning. Feeding is one thing but deciding it was playtime is another, and scratching the mesh sides of his pack and play until he finally fell asleep really grates on the already raw nerves. If you haven’t experienced it, it’s definitely the baby equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

BUT… in reality that alone didn’t do it. The truth is every morning, regardless of whether my son sleeps through, I wake up looking tired and I only have myself to blame, well and possibly my husband, as he is a very bad influence on my binge watching addiction. “Just one more show, then we’ll go to bed.”

I don’t wear very much makeup or so I tell myself. Foundation to cover some of the Netflix induced grey bags, blusher to give me a little more colour than Morticia Addams and mascara to make my eyes at least look partially open. So I grab my trusty wake up kit and sit on my daughter’s bedroom floor in front of the mirrored closet. I do it there because I can see her reading her books beside me and I can see my son lying on her bed, kicking his feet. It literally takes me two minutes, which doesn’t say much about my self-care strategy. Sometimes I take an extra 30 seconds to pluck my eyebrows, if I remember.

My daughter, who has just turned two, often stops what she’s doing to watch me. I let her play with an unused blusher brush and she uses it to tickle under her chin, her nose and toes and then turns to dusting items in the room with it. Harmless!!! But today she said some dreaded words “Want to makeup.”

The thing is, each morning as I sit doing my makeup, I think about the impact of having her see me do this every day. Well, not quite every day; if I’m staying at home then I won’t bother putting it on but even if I’m going to the supermarket I’m likely to apply the three staple ingredients in the recipe I like to call Looking Alive. It gives me a little confidence and makes me feel secure, but why? Why do I feel unconfident and insecure without it? How has this complex developed? When I was a teen I had horrendous acne and foundation dulled some of the most vivid patches. It did help, but I don’t have acne anymore! And many girls and women don’t, and yet they wear makeup too.

I’ve previously worried that she’ll think that we women can’t go out without makeup on. My friend actually calls it “putting her face on” and likewise in the evening she says that “she’s taking her face off.” So I tell my daughter, as I do my makeup, “Oh baby girl, you are so lucky that you don’t ever have to wear makeup because you’re just so pretty all by yourself.” I’m not an idiot, I know that one day that’s probably not going to fly and she’s going to wear makeup, but I like to hope (in vain most likely) that maybe, just maybe, it may work. She may not feel the need to put “her face on” before she leaves the house, after all I really do think she’s very beautiful all by herself.

So this morning, she grabs my makeup bag, unzips it and pulls out the blusher brush, the mascara, the lipstick and eyeliner (these last two items used on those rare special occasions when my husband and I get to out as a couple, yes they can be known to happen). I grab each one back, stuffing them into the bag and zip it up,as ifthat’ll keep her from their toxic allure. Come on mama, you’re going to have to be smarter than that. I say to her, “What does mama say? Why don’t you need to wear makeup?” And she looks at me blankly and says “Because Papa?” Whatdoes that even mean? She clearly has no clue what I’m asking her. But then she opens her mouth again and I raise my eyebrows in hope. Then my daughter says, “Want to makeup, yeah?” I sigh. “No, baby girl,” and I proceed to give her my “you’re so beautiful just the way you are…” mantra, “no makeup for you”. I do feel hypocritical telling her she can’t wear makeup ever, as I sit pasting on my face, but I can live with that kind of hypocrisy!!

Sometimes I think men are so lucky. My husband also binge watches, wakes up, does the three Ss and leaves for work. He doesn’t have to paint his face like a groundhog day art project. Does he look tired from a late night TV session? Yeah, a little bit. But does he cover up? No, because he’s a man. I never look at a man and think, “boy you should put something on this morning, some foundation to cover those grey bags!” Nope, we just take men how we get them. I’ve long believed that men truly are the peacocks and we are just the peahens who have discovered Maybelline and Benefit. Could we go as far as saying that makeup is a form of brainwashing, to keep women thinking they aren’t quite good enough au natural like men?

For my undergraduate psychology dissertation, I did a study on the effects of advertising on women’s self-perception. I showed a control group a series of commercials that advertised batteries, sofas, toys and other non-beauty related products. I then showed a second group adverts pertaining to beauty products, mascara, foundation, body lotion, shampoo. Afterwards, I asked each group to discuss the impact of the beauty industry on women. The first group, whom hadn’t seen beauty related products, spent their entire time bashing the industry. They stated that the companies provide unfair expectations and goals to young women and negatively impacted self-esteem, and it was ultimately the products and their creators that were at fault; they were the unfair ones. The second group however spent their time talking about the fact that they didn’t live up to the expectations of society’s image of beauty. They were failing, they felt bad about the fact that they just weren’t pretty enough, young enough, skinny enough; they had lumps and bumps, cellulite, grey bags, flat hair, etc. It was their fault. How unfair is it that adverts alone can make a woman or young girl feel that they have failed?

I know men have their fair share of issues but they aren’t faced with nearly the number of adverts or entire sections of department stores focused on telling you that you just aren’t good enough the way you are,that you are failing to be the best person you can be unless you buy and use all these products. The only way to be your best is to cover what is natural about yourself; to be perfect is to present a pretend version of yourself.

I once had a roommate who told me that she could never stay over at a guy’s house because she would leave half of herself behind on the bed; fake tan, fake nails, fake eyelashes, hair extensions and makeup. She said she could leave and he’d probably think that there was still a version of her beside him in the bed.

I remember, when I was little, seeing a family friend and not recognising her. I was about to ask my mum, when I realised who it was. I had known this person since I was born. How could I have not recognised her instantly? I asked my mum “why does she look so different?” To which my mum answered, “oh, she just hasn’t put makeup on yet.” The thing is, this woman is beautiful all by herself but I was used to seeing her with makeup on. I thought she could be one of the members of The Bangles and I wanted to be like her. In that moment I remember thinking, God I can’t wait to wear makeup. But weirdly as the years passed, that moment stayed in my mind. I’m not sure if I was more shocked that I hadn’t recognized that person in an instant or that I couldn’t recognise the person without makeup on. In reality she didn’t look that totally different, but to a small child it seemed that way.

What’s interesting to me is that I wear makeup every day and I tell my daughter that she doesn’t need to wear it expecting it to make some kind of difference, but it won’t. My mum doesn’t wear makeup (well only on the odd occasion), and I still do. But my mum has always had a slight complex. Growing up she had to wear glasses and felt like the ugly duckling of the family. Her sister is taller and blonde, and wears makeup. My mum would say, “your aunt always looks so glamorous and beautiful.” I remember saying to my mum one time, “why don’t you wear makeup then?” and she said, “Because I’m too lazy”. Again she was the one at fault; there was that negative connotation. If you wear makeup, you look pretty; if you don’t, then you’re lazy. So again I wanted to wear makeup, I didn’t want to be lazy. And my mum encouraged it. “Be more like your aunt, not lazy like me,” she would say, and she’d take me into the makeup sections and help me pick out eye shadows and lipsticks; she still does. “It gives you a bit of colour!”

Whether she wears makeup or not, my mum is a beautiful woman. People often tell me that she looks like the Clue actress, Lesley Ann Warren. Ms Warren played Cinderella in the 1965 television musical. Cinderella is never ugly; she’s the pretty sister, remember mum? Ergo, you are not the Ugly Duckling, wrong fairy-tale lady! And if you ask my aunt, she’d probably tell you that she was the Ugly Duckling, because again, we are terribly harsh judges of ourselves… and often compare our imperfections against the perfections we see in others. It’s a mute argument in my mind; they are very different, but both are gorgeous and wonderful women.

So what do I do about my dilemma? I know that I could just get up earlier and put my makeup on before my daughter gets up. It would probably make a big difference, but my kids are my alarm clock and what with the whole Netflix binging in the evenings, I need as much sleep in the morning as I can get. Then I feel like I’m putting myself and my needs before my child. Err, there’s that mum guilt.

I could stop wearing makeup; I know some people who don’t and are beautiful, and I never look at them and think, “you should be wearing makeup”. I think, “you’re so lucky you don’t have to wear makeup.” Hats off to them for alluding the strings of the cosmetic puppeteers. I just feel like I’ve been wearing it so long now that when I don’t wear it, I do kind of look half asleep. Also I’m not so good at looking after my hair (I get my hair cut maybe once a year, because it’s too bloody expensive – and don’t get me started on the cost difference between basic haircuts for men and women), so makeup is my way of showing that I do take care of my appearance, or try to. I worry that if I don’t wear it, people will look at me and think, she’s too lazy to make an effort. That’s a very egocentric and stupid thing to think, quite frankly who will actually give a shiz. And when I say people, I don’t mean men. We don’t really wear makeup daily to attract a partner (whatever the gender), we don it to feel comparable to the other women we see in society and in media. I really admired Alicia Keys when she stopped wearing makeup; she truly is a stunning woman and looked gorgeous without it. I wish more celebrities would do this instead of endorsing products.

I just don’t think I can pull off zero makeup, but maybe I should for the sake of my daughter’s self-esteem and self-worth. But I’m going to be honest here, despite all my ranting, it’s highly unlikely to happen. I just wish I had never started wearing makeup on a daily basis in the first place so that I didn’t feel so reliant on it; so it didn’t feel so entangled in my self-perception. I literally feel messy and lazy until it’s on. I even apologise to people in advance if they pop round, “please excuse me, it’s a no-makeup-clean-the-house day.” Or I give notice to anyone encountering me, “Pre-warning, I’m not wearing any makeup.” And then I provide a reason; “It’s a lazy day/I haven’t put any on yet.”It’s really stupid!

I think about my friend who says, “I’m just going to put my face on and then I’m ready to go.” If that’s not an indication of her self-identity, then I don’t know what is. Does she not have a face before the makeup goes on? Is she a blank canvas? I don’t use these words, but by wearing makeup every day, I’m practically adhering to the same motto.

My husband buys video games and collects toys and memorabilia. I save my money for makeup and haircuts. To me these aren’t fun things, they are things that I feel are expected in society, but they are also not a necessity, so I don’t feel like I can just take it out of the weekly funds. They are essential-luxury items and are really boring to buy. I’m not sure really what I would spend my money on but if I had a choice it wouldn’t be makeup and hair stuff. If I had a choice? Scoff!!! I do have a choice, who am I kidding? I don’t have to have those things. I just feel like we’re being trapped by the beauty industry to feel all these things are essential. We buy them and yet men don’t have to. I curse the person who started marketing makeup and selling it as a product.

So what will I do about it? Will I remain a hypocrite? Is this post totally pointless? Um, don’t know, yes and yes (I apologise that you’ve spent your time reading this essentially redundant piece). But maybe, just maybe, tomorrow I won’t put on blusher. Maybe I’ll go to the supermarket sans the slap. Hey, I might even make it to the park one day without it all (and I won’t wear sunglasses to hide that fact). MAYBE!!!

Until then, I’ll try to get my makeup done in another room while my daughter eats breakfast and I will keep telling her that she’s beautiful, every single day, in the vain hope that she won’t feel the necessity to slap on someone else’s face, because, quite frankly, I love her face just the way it is… PERFECT!


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