Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Is make-up a mask?

In my coffee breaks at work I have been reading a book called The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, which discusses how women are bombarded every day with images, discrimination and political and social pressure all relating to their looks and what effect this has on us both personally and as a group. I'm not halfway through yet but it has been a thought-provoking and alarming read (did you know that a judge once sentenced a woman to lose three pounds a week or be sent to prison, which had nothing to do with the actual charges for which she was facing court?!).

Additionally, as I was reading through some of my favourite blogs today I came across a recent post by style blogger extraordinaire Gala Darling, taking a look at how the way we present ourselves affects not only how others percieve us but how we feel, and how strongly we can be influenced by mass media and the pressure from society to fit an image, even when we think we are bucking such trends.

Whilst I certainly don't pretend to have an equally insightful take on the topic of the pressure to be beautiful, it has made me stop and think about my own behaviour. In her post Gala linked to No Make-Up Week, and I have to admit, I cringed at the very idea. Sure, I can go out without powder and heavy black eyeshadow, but don't you dare take my picture, and I haven't been seen out of doors without foundation, concealer, mascara and eyeliner in years.

Five years ago. Bless.
Make-up serves different functions for different people. It can enhance our assets and draw attention to our favourite features. Or we can use it as a mask, to hide perceived imperfections. Many alternative fashion aficionados use make-up as another form of creative self-expression, using their face as the canvas for dramatic and decadent artistry. Some, of course, choose not to wear make-up at all.

But make-up (or fashion) shouldn't be something we feel we have to hide behind. So, OK, I don't photograph well without eyeliner, but surely the thought of seeing my friends without a protective coating of cosmetics shouldn't make my stomach churn the way it does. The fact is that I feel awful if I go out in public without full make-up. Even if I'm hungover and feeling absolutely rotten, I still manage to feel self-conscious and wonder what people are thinking.

In full make-up. That's my 'natural' look. XP
I was surprised to discover that I feel this way about my make-up because on the whole I'm not especially bothered about what others think (I like to think you have to have a reasonably thick skin to show up at work in a tutu). But I'm distressed, nay, frightened, at the thought of exposing my flaws. What's that all about? I don't mind people thinking I look weird, but I do mind if I don't feel pretty? Where is the logic?
My usual look - heavy black shadow.
I'm sure I'm not the only Goth girl who was accused of 'spoiling her looks' when she applied heavy dark make-up, got piercings or dyed her hair. My dark make-up made me feel more me and I didn't like the implication that I couldn't be different and still be 'pretty'. Looking back, I realise that I didn't like being told I had to look a certain way to be pretty, but being Goth or alternative doesn't necessarily mean you don't still feel the same pressure to conform to some larger view of 'beauty'. I have friends who think they need to lose weight before they can wear Goth clothes. The models we see on our Tumblr dashboards, alt fashion magazines and dark music videos may be tattooed, plus-size or shaven-headed but they all have clear skin, even features and perfect teeth, with or without the aid of Photoshop.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but I do wonder, since the alternative worldview can accept different body shapes, outlandish hair styles and body mods of all descriptions without batting an eyelid, why are so many of our visual representatives in underground media so uniformly, stereotypically classically pretty? If we can admire and accept tongue-splitting and scarification, why not cellulite, moles or crooked teeth?

Just a thought.

I'll admit it. I'm a twenty year old female; my body image and self esteem are not great. But honestly, nobody's perfect, and looking like a human being shouldn't be anything to be ashamed of. I know I'm treading around the edges of cliche territory here but I was frankly a little upset to find that some of my day-to-day choices about how I present myself are governed less by personal preference and more by fear of how I might look to others. I want my experiences with make-up to be about fun and expression, not about creating a candy-coated suit of armour.

Fuck fear.
Four minutes ago. The word you're looking for is 'derp'.


Christine said...

I would say no it is not. It is just make-up either you use it or you don't.

akumaxkami said...

I rarely ever wear makeup. In most of my photos I'm not. I guess that's why natural state and anything else feels...costumey?

Anyways, you look gorgeous with or without makeup so don't worry!

Miss Eva Morgan Reeve said...

I hate fondation. I never wear any, or almost never. But I do love playing with eye shadows. Makeup doesn't make me feel pretty/prettier, just more creative sometimes.

Amy Asphodel said...

Interesting how I feel more dependent on it and you guys can take it or leave it. >.< I felt like a drag queen the first time I wore much eye make-up but now I have friends who have never seen me bare-faced (until now I guess!).

Thanks akumaxkami! :-)

SkeleDuck said...

(I was going to blog about this this week - but you've done it better so I'll leave it for now!)

I am in your boat Amy, I can't go halfway down the street without Something covering my face, at least a quick wipe of powder to hide my skin. I have, but dislike, going without eyelid colour and mascara. I hardly do anything with my lips, as my make-up is light by, er... goth standards? But Gods do I feel dependent on it.

Amy Asphodel said...

Oh please post yours! Especially if you have pics ;-)

I'm kind of glad not to be the only make-up-dependent around! Although it probably isn't healthy, hence this post.

TropigothMama said...

I am okay with being around our apartment building make-up free. As in, I don't put on eyeliner-mascara-shadow to do laundry in the downstairs laundry room.
I'm okay with my husband seeing me makeup free.
I DO NOT like going out without makeup. I feel insecure and weird without it. I need my earrings in and I need *at least* mascara on.
I had a boyfriend who asked me to not wear makeup. When I came to my senses and broke up with him, I felt like ME again when I put on eyeliner for the first time.
I have makeup-free photos on my blog but I don't really like them. I prefer me with my "war paint" on.

SkeleDuck said...

I would Amy, but I've lost my camera! Otherwise I'd join you in your bravery.

I wouldn't say it's unhealthy so long as it's not holding us back. In an emergency I don't stop to apply concealer and mascara and I'm sure you're the same; the alternative would be bad.

Makeup is a mask - but society and communication are built up on little falsehoods, diversions and defences. They make it (on the whole, IMHO) more pleasant. Sadly, they can be taken to extremes. Cosmetic surgery on 'imperfections', 6'10" 6st models, depression shunned and mocked... But makeup is not the monster.

Amy Asphodel said...

I agree! I've considered cosmetic surgery during particular low points whilst growing up and have only lately been realising how disturbing it is that we live in a society where it's considered normal to pay thousands of pounds for invasive surgery to 'correct' perceived flaws. Of course not everyone has cosmetic surgery for this reason but for many it seems to be a motivator - having a perfect little nose and big boobs to feel sexy, for example.

But I also agree that little illusions can simply make the everyday more bearable. Hair dye, for example, is obviously 'masking' your natural colour but it isn't a sign of low self esteem.

Nightwind said...

I've read Naomi Wolf before and I consider her brilliant and sometimes brave. That doesn't mean that her opinions are right for everybody; after all, she's coming from a head space in which she's concerned about the objectification of women. That's a legitimate concern as women are often exploited, not only by men, but by advertising agencies as well. To a lesser degree, so are we guys. Not all of us can look like Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Here's what you said and I think this is key: "I want my experiences with make-up to be about fun and expression, not about creating a candy-coated suit of armour."

I doubt that Ms. Wolf specifically had Goth ladies in mind when she was talking about makeup. In alternative culture it is often about creative expression, which is one of the things I find compelling about Goth.

Of course, no one is happy with their imperfections and we all try to cover them up one way or the other. But here is where I have a certain parting of the ways with the feminist philosophy: I think it's normal for a person, male or female, to want to appear attractive to the opposite gender, especially for younger people. If making yourself up accomplishes that goal...well, what's wrong with that?

The important thing is to not measure oneself according to Madison Avenue's standards, which in my opinion, are sterile. That seems to be the crux of Ms. Wolf's argument. Also, it might be good to keep in mind that we are our own worst critics and although we might dwell on what we see as our imperfections, other people don't even notice them. We are our own worst critics and there's more to a person than outer beauty.

Let me spend a few minutes with the so-called most beautiful woman in the world, but if she doesn't have anything of value going on inside of her such as awareness, intelligence, self confidence and personal integrity, I'll lose interest in a heartbeat. Let a lady have those attributes and she suddenly becomes attractive to me. She doesn't have to be a model either.

Anyway, I thought you might like a guy's perspective.

Anonymous said...

I had to take a small step back and really think about how I feel about makeup.

Anyone who's read my blog has seen that I favour rather elaborate styles that tend to involve red, purple or black lips and that I like to play around with eyeliner.

I wouldn't really consider it a mask, although I feel kind of odd if I go out without my eyebrows on. If I just can't be arsed, I don't do it. Of course I feel better if i've got a bit of foundation on to even out my skintone and a bit of mascara, but it's not really a matter of life and death.

I've gone to the takeaway before with no eyebrows, no other makeup and hair strewn every which way...I kind of enjoy the confused looks that I tend to receive :3

Mal. said...

I'm never good with this conversation. Ever since my youth when trying my mothers make up I've never really liked it. When ever I try it the way i'm told it's supposed to go I feel like I'm caking mud onto my face. So as a result I just make sure I put a good light moisturizer everyday( heavy and greasy ones have the same effect as make up). then when I do hit an occasion for make up I just put on some clear mascara, a small amount of liquid eyeliner and lipstick. Some times if I've been doing to much activity my face can look to flush in pictures, but I feel I'm always better at taking the picture than being in it.

Faery Jay said...

I pretty much only wear eyeliner - no foundation or any other fancy stuff. Occasionally I'll do eyeshadow and right now I really like the look of white eyeshadow against black pencil eyeliner.

My reasons for not wearing heavy make-up are not only that I can't be bothered (though I really can't). The other is that I fear becoming so addicted to make-up that I can't go out without it. I already feel a little less pretty when I don't have some form of eyeliner happening.

And by the way, you look beautiful with or without make-up. ^_^

cali said...

My friends who sometimes do see me without make up tell me i look asleep without make up on.

My mom continually tells me i have the most perfect skin out there and doesn't understand why i put so much on.

Dani DeathBiscuit said...

I like to keep my make-up to a minimum :3 although I do love eye make-up.....

Amy, you're beautiful with or without makeup.

You're still you :D and I'm glad you were confident about posting these photos x

Jade Layton said...

I feel that when I have my full heavy eyeliner on and eyeshadow I feel at my best, and thats only really on weekends due to work and having to wear less makeup.
So at work I kind of feel like a toned down version of myself and as though i'm not completely "me".

At the same time, I don't mind if people see me without the eyebrows and the eyeliner and stuff, but i'd still rather be wearing my makeup!

V said...

I enjoy wearing makeup. I love playing around with different colours and looks, but on the other hand, I'm also quite happy to pop to Tesco without any on at all.

Amy you do look lovely either way! :) Xxx

Dirgesinger said...

No, you look awesome, without makeup too. Makeup is not able to create a swan out of a frog, so if you look like the angel of death in makeup you have to be close to that in reality:)

Anonymous said...

I think you're beautiful with and without makeup either way. I also usually wear makeup and I sometimes don't, so I get a break from wearing it all the time and to be more diverse in what I'm comfortable with. However I preferably like to wear makeup in most days.

Leena said...

I have an blog award for you! <3

Julietslace said...

"Of course, no one is happy with their imperfections and we all try to cover them up one way or the other."

Really Nightwind? Because I'm quite happy with my big nose and scars even though they're considered flaws, they're a part of me and I don't try to cover them. It's just typical that a "guys perspective" would feature generalisations, sigh.

Willow said...

I never wore make-up unless for a special event until my senior year of high school. I was always afraid of being one of those girls who got so used to wearing make-up that they looked unfamiliar, and in their words, ugly without it. I know girls who wear sweatpants and ratty t-shirts almost everyday but refuse to leave the housr without a full face of make-up. (Which still makes no sense to me. The choice of clothing destroys how they present themselves, not the make-up. In my opinion anyway.)

I started wearing make-up (and dressing nicer overall) because my life became so chaotic that it gave me a better sense of control and I felt better if I felt and looked presentable. I dont have to wear make-up in order to leave the house but I dont like to go anywhere if I look like I just rolled out of bed. (Even if I have). For me, it's all like wearing a costume and the more obsessive I become about my appearance, the more grounded and stable I feel. Take it as you will.

Nightwind said...

Apparently Julietslace is unhappy about my "generalization" concerning how we view our imperfections, so let me re-phrase what I said.

I have met very few people who are not self-conscious about their appearance and imperfections, many of whom try to cover them up.

There, I hope that's better. Then again, just because I'm a guy it doesn't mean that I'm incapable of observing people's behavior--in general of course.

Miss Eva Morgan Reeve said...


''It's just typical that a "guys perspective" would feature generalisations, sigh.''

Isn't that a generalisation in itself? I think Nightwind had a valid point and he was as delicate and politicly correct as possible when he voiced his opinion.

Anonymous said...

I can't really think of anything to say that hasn't been said already, but I just have to say- Amy, you always have looked amazing, and your smile overrides all your considered 'imperfections.'

I'm serious! It just lights your face up! What better way to enhance your features?

Also, I can imagine this took guts to post up, so kudos to you. It's nice to know some people are willing to be human and show it. Inspiring as always.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel makeup is a mask, as I think of a mask as something that is used to *hide* ones identity. Personally, I feel more hidden, almost invisible, when I'm not wearing makeup. When I'm out running errands and such, I don't necessarily want to call attention to myself, as I don't typically have the time, nor the energy, to be social. However, when I am attending a social function, or work (as I always have a cusomer facing job), I *always* wear makeup. I feel it just completes an outfit; if I'm going to put time into my clothing, the logical step is to finish it off, just as with any accessory. I am, by the way, a "makeup addict", but it does not prevent me from going out in public with a bare face when (what I feel) is appropriate. I just love makeup artistry in the same way many are drawn to other visual arts.

I've actually been seen in public by other local members of the "goth elite", and I was still recognized, so although I wear *alot* of makeup to clubs, etc, I don't hide or alter features too much. I actually went to a club in jeans and bare faced one night, and I am quite known for my elaborate wardrobe, but I had the same confident attitude I always have. Another time, I was at the video store, in my pajamas, and again, I was still recognized, and I wasn't the least bit embarrassed.

I personally have issues with Naomi Wolf. I think she actually incites insecurities in alot of women, and gives them excuses to feel "victimized", by putting the responsibility on society, rather than the individual.

Anonymous said...

* I would also like to add, to what seems to be contrary to popular opinion of people like Naomi Wolf, that when I see a woman (or man) who appears to put alot of time and/or effort in their appearance, it tells me that they are actually more confident and secure in their appearance, as the want to stand out and be noticed, whereas a person who just throws anything on doesn't care to be noticed, and is actually insecure. Again, just a personal perception.

KatSaw said...

Hey Amy

First of all, props to you for posting the last two pictures! That must have really taken courage. We salute you.

Your musings on makeup are interesting because I don't often wear any myself, and your reasons for feeling awkward without it are semi-congruent with mine for electing to go without. I got my first eyeliner pencil at age nineteen, and it's still going strong four years later because I don't 'do' makeup every day. It's not just a time thing -- the main reason is that I found that when my friends (and my sister) started using makeup habitually they became accustomed to how they looked with it. Their faces with makeup (even if it was a lick of eyeliner) because the face they pictured in their minds. Thus without makeup they felt they looked 'below par', so to speak.. I figured I'd rather go without and then be pleasantly surprised at how I look when I do feel like 'prettying up' (or putting on my hotgirl disguise, is how I like to think of it).

I do think that it is lovely to make an effort every day though, even if it is to look nice for yourself. For example, my cousin was on holiday with us on the Wild Coast of South Africa -- it's basically a village with some huts and cows and goats on the beach, and you don't know anyone, and there are no cars, and the dirt roads are awful, and we don't have tv or radios or newspapers and generally wander about in baggy t-shirts over our swimming costumes all the time. Anyway, she would put mascara on and curl her eyelashes every day. Whatever makes you happy I guess.

Again, oo-rah on the courage it took to post those photos.

Ria said...


I'm another make up dependent. Lately I enjoy dark eye make up and high coverage foundation for a porcellain doll skin, after I slacked of for a while. I never really feel comfortable make up less, because my skin hates me most of the time and my lashes/eyebrows are blond (practically invisible).
But at work I wear much less then I could get away with, partly because I'm to lazy to get up another 15 min earlier, partly because almost everything looks runny after 12 hours (thx to commuting).

My close friends know me make up free, and the comment that really says it all is 'Your face looks naked.'

I think the latest discussion about make up is batshit crazy. Only the mass media can preach enough that all make up should be completely 'invisible' and natural looking, but at the same time tell bodyhair especially on women is completely evil. It's so awkward that some women feel completely grossed out by hairs that grow out of their own bodies, even in areas very few people will ever see. It's a matter of personal taste, but the 'You have to be bald all over or you're a filthy hobo' is going on my nerves.

Love, Ria

Jessie Aaker said...

I feel like a complete frump monster without all my layers of primer, foundation, concealer, and powder. It can really effect my mood and confidence. The silliness of how grumpy I can get without eyeliner crossed my mind many times, but I never seriously thought about until reading your post. Why is it that we put so much importance in makeup and the way it makes us feel? Makeup or not I'm still me so it shouldn't matter what my face looks like when I go outside. And not just referring to just work or social events where a pleasant appearance is a plus, I'm also talking about running to the grocery store for one loaf of bread. Does the checkout lady really need to be impressed by my makeup skills? Definitely not. But somehow to me it does matter.

Corin said...

I also feel bold without make-up so I know what you mean, but I do occasionally give my skin a break when I know I'm not going to see anyone familiar. I feel less pretty without make-up, but mostly I just like to be creative with especially my eyeshadow. It's fun to doll oneself up. I'm not ashamed of my 'true' face, but it definately boosts my confidence to stress my positive features and camouflage the ones I'm not that happy about. I wouldn't calle make-up a mask unless you're trying to be someone you're not. Enhancing your natural beauty is not a bad thing in my opinion. It's sad though that we feel uncomfortable without it, but it's a general matter of self-confidence I guess. And like you mentioned, social pressure. Anyway, you look really pretty both with and without make-up! One is not better than the other, just different.

kakuidori said...

im not really afraid to show my 'naked' face but i enjoy 'drawing' my face so much, like myself so much more without my acne prone skin showing, with my fake lashes, heavy eyeshadow, lipstick etc that my mailbox would not recognize if i went there 'naked' ^^ for me makeup is art but people can be / are pretty without it, too!

Maeam said...

I'd love to have my own business in the (far) future and have models that would show up in a natural appearance...No makeup whatsoever from time to time, including myself...

I don't wear much make up at all 99.9% of the time and when I do, it's just some eyeliner and lipstick. I don't want to wear a lot of makeup, even in the future, unless it was for a very special event...but of course, I'm aware I may change my mind in the future...

I like to think makeup isn't a mask...but I know it can be.

BlacKat said...

This is actually something I've thought about a lot...for me, as both a goth and a fairly active feminist, makeup can be a way of "drawing attention" to the feminine. It helps that I'm in a field where, as I like to put it, there's mostly guys and they tend to expect the girls to act like guys. No showing interest in frivolous things like hair and clothes and makeup! Goth became my personal way of retaining my claim to being female in an often quite sexist field.

yunXhee said...

I used to feel so ugly without wearing foundation because I have chicken pox scars and acne scars that I would just love to hide as often as I can. I don't remember what happen but eventually wearing foundation wasn't a priority for me.I think I was doing more homemade skin treatments(using oatmeal or egg)And this required me to not wear make up for a little bit.Now wearing foundation is more like a luxury for me.I've personally have started to wear lipstick.I never was really into eye make up because no matter what I did, it always come off as raccoonish to me.I'm African-American so wearing dark or heavy make up at that would look very odd on me.

Anonymous said...

I used to be the opposite, actually. I used to not wear make up because I didn't care what others thought. I recently went through a "self re-discovery" phase, because I kind of lost myself for a bit. I wear make up now, because I feel that I am a canvas and it is a way for me to get creative. So is my hair. If I want to cut it, then I do. My looks are mine alone. I don't wear clothes, do my make up or hair to "fit" the classic style of beauty, I do this for me. I have my flaws and my insecurities, but those will dissolve in time. I enjoy wearing makeup and getting creative with it. -my two cents..

Phoenix said...

You look gorgeous without makeup. I very rarely wear makeup during the day now, though I used to. I save makeup for night time now, it makes dressing up more special for me. Plus, I can't be bothered with makeup melting everywhere when it's really humid :P

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