I started wearing a full face of make-up when I was 11, and pretty much didn't take it off for the next 10 years. For a decade I truly believed that my natural face was too hideous to inflict on the outside world - I wouldn't go to school without make-up on, I wouldn't answer the door (even to the postman) without make-up on, even when I was living in a residential psychiatric unit during my eating disorder, I would set an alarm before the daily wake-up call so that I could spend 45 minutes brushing, lining and colouring in. It really wasn't optional. Not in my mind, anyway.
And the problem is that I wasn't doing it because I loved the ritual, I wasn't doing it as a creative outlet - I was doing it because I believed that I needed to wear make-up to be as visually pleasing to others as I could be at all times. Which is why, since I found body positivity, I've gone through patches of challenging myself not to wear it, as a way of teaching myself that I don't exist to be visually pleasing to others (none of us do).
When I post online about beauty culture and going barefaced there are always a lot of questions. Am I saying that make-up and body positivity don't go together? Can you wear make-up and still call yourself body positive? The thing is, I've never tried to dictate what anyone else should or shouldn't do with their faces, only reassure everyone that make-up isn't something they need to be worthy, valuable or beautiful. And hopefully, get you all to do some questioning...
Part of body positivity (and hello, feminism), involves questioning the beauty standards around us, how much we're buying into them and what the real effect of living within them is. When that comes to make-up, the questions that we can ask ourselves personally to find out whether our relationship with our contour kits is healthy or not go something like this:
- Do I wear make-up for myself or for other people?
- Is it something I do to feel fulfilled, is it a passion, a creative outlet, something that brings me joy, or is it something I do to feel like I'm worthy of being seen in the world?
- If I'd never been taught that my face looks 'better' with make-up on, would I still wear it?
Our personal reasons for wearing make-up will all be different, and only we get to decide whether those reasons are true to what body positivity is all about or not. I'm 100% not here for shaming anyone who chooses to wear make-up. Even if you recognise that your reasons for wearing it aren't the most self loving - I understand that you're just trying to survive in this fucked up game of 'How To Be Beautiful!' that our culture teaches us all to play. But I'm also 100% not here for societal beauty standards that pressure us into thinking that we're not good enough as we are.
And when it comes to societal beauty standards, our individual feelings aren't the only thing that matters. We have to look beyond ourselves and question what our current make-up obsessed culture is doing to our collective self-esteem, and honestly? Today's make-up culture is something that scares the shit out of me.
It scares me that the expectation on young people (especially teenage girls) to have their faces perfectly contoured, highlighted, on fleek and beat just right is so strong now. Seriously what happened to having one tube of blue mascara that you got from the front a magazine and some roll on lipgloss that looked like you rubbed olive oil all over your mouth before leaving the house?
Thanks to the popularity of online make-up artists and the prevalence of polished, posed and photoshopped imagery on social media, young people are being sold dolled up beauty ideals in more ways than ever before. There also don't seem to be too many public figures sending them the message that natural is beautiful too (other than Alicia Keys, I can't really think of any...).
It also scares me that very few people are talking about the classism involved in these expectations - big brand make-up is really fucking expensive, so what happens to the young people who don't have the financial means to follow the trends? How do their peers treat them? I'm guessing similarly to how they treat the ones with hand-me-down clothes, and 'Adidas' trainers with two stripes instead of three.
Can we take a minute to think about the beauty industry itself? In the UK it's currently worth £17 billion, with £1.6 billion spent in 2016 on 'colour cosmetics' a.k.a make-up (and undoubtedly, much more in the US). And no matter what our personal relationship with make-up, that's an industry that only thrives from teaching us that we need the product it's selling. From teaching us that the product makes us better. And in this case, better means more beautiful. Although some of us don't wear it for that reason, a whole lot of that money is being handed over by people who do. And that doesn't sit well with me.
The beauty industry is also notorious for it's whitewashing - the next time you go to the make-up section in Superdrug count how many different shades you see for pale skin, and see whether dark skin in every shade is still simply expected to fit into 'cocoa'.
So, does make-up blend with body positivity? On a personal level, for some of us yes, for some of us no, our motivations behind why we wear it are the only thing that can give us a real answer to that question. On a wider cultural level... very questionable. And don't get it twisted - this is a conversation that involves a hella lot of privilege as well.
- I know that my clear skin gives me privilege that someone with chronic acne, scarring, or other features that are societally considered to be 'flaws' doesn't have.
- I know that regardless of how much I've personally struggled with my bare face, culturally, I have conventionally acceptable features, and that gives me more privilege.
- And of course how make-up culture affects people in more marginalised bodies differently should be acknowledged. For example, me daring to go barefaced is not the same thing as a transgender woman daring to go barefaced under the constant pressure to be 'passing' as a cisgender woman. And visibly fat femmes face far more pressure to be 'presentable' and 'put together' at all times because their bodies are already considered to be unruly and unkempt.
After reading this some of you might decide that leaving the concealer behind for a while would be a positive step in your own self love journey. Some of you might know that perfecting that cut-crease is all about the love of the craft and not something you need to feel worthy. For me? I need to stay bare faced most of the time, at least until I can be sure that I'm putting my face on for me, and nobody else.
So although I can't give you a definitive answer to the question of make-up and self love (because you are literally the only person who can answer it for yourself), I do hope that I've given you some things to keep questioning, and holy crap, I hope you know that you are so beyond good enough in all of your bare faced glory.