It’s Nice Not to Wear Makeup Sometimes

Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve me standing in the hallway outside the bathroom doorway, looking up at my mom as she did her makeup every day. It was the 80s, so the colors she used were bright; I distinctly remember fuschia and royal blue. I associate a lot about appearances with my mom. She has a very low self-esteem (I recently told her I liked her hair as it was growing longer, and she responded by saying she felt like a cow), was worried about how we made her look as kids, and threatened (probably not 100% seriously) to not let me walk in her wedding when I had a big zit when I was 11. I remember how deeply humiliating it was for her and her friend to spend so long fussing over it trying to pop it and make it go away. I didn’t think it should matter, I mean was it REALLY that big a deal? I’m your own family, Mom! But whether consciously or because she was just unknowingly perpetuating the pressures she felt growing up herself, one of the lessons she worked hard to teach me was that looks were Very Important.

School didn’t help either. I wore hand-me-downs and got made fun of constantly. I didn’t agree with their judgments  honestly, I think I was probably mentally healthier as a kid than I am now, but I was sick and tired of it enough that before 7th grade rolled around I was trying very hard to choose clothes that they couldn’t tease me for, and the All Black Era was ushered in. Then the teenage angst kicked in, and I specifically recall that unlike being an adult and sighing wistfully at a magazine ad thinking how nice it would be to look like that model, you wouldn’t just like to look that way, you think you NEED to look that way. These women are *everything* and you are *nothing.* Everything is a bigger deal when you’re younger.

But what happens when you grow up? You don’t take it quite as seriously – you at least become aware on a logical level that perfection isn’t even a thing, if not on an emotional one. But old habits die hard, especially when we’re surrounded by the same pressures we always were. And it’s that divide between logical and emotional that often needs to be addressed. I believe in taking pride in yourself and not being just gratuitously gross, but what’s all that gross about a natural face on an ordinary day? This sort of cultural assumption that it is is a big problem.

So I think it would be fantastic if every so often we could take a break from makeup to just plain get over ourselves. On days I’ve worn little enough that people at least thought I wasn’t wearing any, nobody died, or even insulted me. One day I even got a very nice and deliberate compliment from a coworker. Of course, I was not literally without makeup, I’m not there yet. But part of the reason for that is that I don’t like my skin, and one way to get better skin is to stop putting so much shit all over it. So stepping out of my comfort zone could have multiple benefits.

I think makeup is one really great method of artistic expression and some women really enjoy it. Sometimes I’m one of them. But when it becomes more of a chore than a joy, a feeling of obligation more than enhancement, then we need to take a step back a bit and put makeup in its place. We own it, it doesn’t own us. And the more we’re willing to let go the easier it will be for us to realize it.

And if anyone has any advice on helping my mom with her self-esteem, that would be great too.

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2 comments on “It’s Nice Not to Wear Makeup Sometimes

  1. I, too, was a child in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and I, too, was ridiculed for my hand-me-downs. At that time, clothing only a few years old was usually hopelessly out of style. What I really *wanted* to wear were pretty dresses every day, but I was ridiculed for that as well.

    My approach was the opposite to yours, and I took the route of not caring at all about my appearance. I wore sloppy clothes, did not do much, if anything with my hair, and did not bother with make-up. Looking back, I think I am actually relieved that I did not put any effort into the horrible styles of the 80’s. Modern “styles” seem even worse, though.

    I am now reclaiming all of that, and am moving into a style that was closer to what would be called a “vintage” look. I actually found this blog when I was looking for articles and pictures on pin-curls.

    Anyways, back to the subject of your article, I think that the purpose behind making oneself look nice is first and foremost about trying to put forth one’s best self in the world, both in appearance and in manner. It is not about not being ridiculed or looked down upon. Honestly, at the present, it is almost harder to go out well-dressed, clean, and neat in a world where it seems people mostly walk around in their pajamas.

    Actually, I still wear very little in the way of make-up, and I don’t even know what the current style of make-up is. Mostly, I wear it when I go out, and keep it to a modest level. That seems to work just fine for me.

    I hope your mother finds peace with herself. That really is the most important thing.

    • Ava Strange says:

      “I think that the purpose behind making oneself look nice is first and foremost about trying to put forth one’s best self in the world, both in appearance and in manner. It is not about not being ridiculed or looked down upon. Honestly, at the present, it is almost harder to go out well-dressed, clean, and neat in a world where it seems people mostly walk around in their pajamas.”
      YES to this! I completely agree. While I did start trying to dress nicer because I didn’t want to be made fun of, I did much prefer my new clothes and started evolving my style to what I not only liked but that actually felt like me, which has rarely been anything mainstream. I’ve gone from being just plain not interested to actually horrified at what people will wear outside of the house. If someone’s clothes are ugly to me, that’s none of my business and I try my best not to judge, but I do draw the line at pajamas, at least on healthy people perfectly capable of putting on real clothes. To me it shows a huge lack of respect for themselves and those around them. And because our society is *so* casual, I’m often asked what fancy event I’m going to when nothing is going on at all. Jeans and a sweater means I’m really feeling lazy. I’m really glad you’re exploring your own style and what feels pretty to you. I really hope my blog helps with that and if you ever have any questions please let me know!

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