THE CHALLENGE to go without make up for a week, inspired by this season’s nude face trend got me thinking.
How dependent am I on my arsenal of illuminating, concealing, and colour infused make up? Have increasingly rigorous standards of grooming transformed what was once a simple pleasure into a dictatorial regime? We know women are judged more harshly on appearance than men, so will going make-up free invite criticism and ridicule?
Going barefaced can potentially be seen as a visual expression of willful disregard, militant feminist tendencies or even mental instability. If a woman chooses not to wear make-up, it seems to express a louder political statement than wearing it, so prevalent is the painted female face. Add to this the 2011 Boston University survey which stated that people perceived women to be “more likeable, trustworthy, and competent” when they were wearing make-up and renouncing make-up starts to feel like an act of rebellion.
The recent trend for foundations has been for increasingly light and breathable textures that mimic natural skin — but these still need to be applied over our own “real skin”. So in a season that eulogises bare faced beauty as the hot trend, how realistic is absolutely no make-up, from an aesthetic and a psychological perspective? It’s fine for those dewy ingénues with flawless skin at Marc Jacobs and the stunning Daria Werbowy who stares defiantly, nude-faced, in the season’s Celine adds, but how will it translate to everyday?
While make up isn’t vital it does give me a confidence boosting optical lift. Pre detox, I examine my make-up bag — like a drunk eyeing up their last gin: I gaze lustfully at all the palettes, colours, blushers and bronzers. The appraisal makes me assess how much make-up I wear: after moisturiser, eye cream, sunscreen and primer, there is BB cream or foundation, concealer (two types), powder, blusher, eyeshadow, eyebrow gel, eyebrow definer, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick and lip gloss. Not exactly a minimal approach.
I start my no make-up regime on a Sunday — a day I often go bare faced, so I don’t feel too disorientated. However come Monday it feels very strange not to reach for make-up as part of my morning routine. I’m too much of a coward to forgo groomed hair as well as make-up so I go through the usual wash, condition, blow dry and straighten saga. The upside of no make-up, I am out of the house 30 minutes earlier, the downside, my under eye shadows are peering back at me reproachfully in the driver mirror.
En route to work I meet an acquaintance who is barefaced too — she looks fantastic, the picture of glowing good health, in a yummy mummy, organic, yoga-toned way. I can’t help making comparisons — she looks radiant, while I feel tired, pale and drab. Then I console myself that it’s only day one and that it will take time to adjust. As yet nobody has commented on my pallor but I feel ghostly, Monday mornings are hard enough without looking wretched. It’s not so much that I am white as that make up obviously highlights and defines features and without it my face looks unfocused and bland. I feel semi-invisible, as if this pale imposter isn’t really me but some kind of dreary doppelganger.
Rose Mary (above) with her regular
foundation, concealer, powder, blusher, eyeshadow, eyebrow
gel, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick and lip gloss. Pictures:
Nick Bradshaw and Owen O’Connor Photography
On Tuesday, a male colleague asks me if I am tired — he is too chivalrous to say it but obviously notices a difference while on Wednesday a friend I haven’t seen in quite a while scrutinises me critically and enquires if I have changed my hair colour (female code for “You look awful, but I can’t say that obviously”).
AS THE week progresses I begin to think that while my make-up free face may not be registered directly by people, subliminally there is a difference to my interaction with them. At first I can’t quite quantify the difference, and then it dawns on me — without make-up, I am less visible. In shops, cafes and service stations I struggle to get attention — it’s almost as if without make up to assert my presence, people look through me. It’s disconcerting and I also feel wounded. Is this what older women mean when they talk about disappearing as they age?
By mid-week, my husband still hasn’t registered my nude skin. This makes me wonder whom I am applying the painted veil for? If others don’t really notice, is it just my personal vanity/insecurity that enslaves me to cosmetics? The highlight of my make-up free week thus far, is ironically, not having to remove my face at night, a chore I usually execute diligently if reluctantly. Not having to slough off all the products, particularly mascara, is a little pool of joy in a lacklustre week.
On Thursday I decide to trial my bare face on a cosmetics counter to see if the sales assistant will be disapproving, disdainful or disgusted at my lack of make up. Assistants for beauty brands can be overpowering at best and mistresses of the ultra hard sell at worst. The woman at the counter, sporting quite terrifying levels of maquillage, eyes my shiny bare face inquisitively when I ask about trends for summer. I tell her I have given up make up as an experiment and she looks quizzically into my face, positively twitching to apply some make-up to its bare contours. “But why?” she asks, perplexed, “Don’t you want to look nice?” I decide not to debate feminist theory with her and buy mascara instead.
ON SATURDAY night I go out for dinner with my mother and sister, bare as the day I was born, while they are both in full make up. It feels strange to go out at night without my “full face” — hard as it is to go out barefaced during daylight hours, it is even more difficult at night. Women associate getting dressed up and made-up with nights out — it’s part of the ritual and also the anticipation — it feels like I haven’t made any effort and is disconcerting.
Sunday dawns and the make-up fast is over — I cheerfully apply my cosmetics. It feels good to indulge in their colours and textures again — call me shallow but the mood enhancing and transformative powers of make-up cannot be denied.
Going without make-up became easier as the week progressed — I grew accustomed to my natural face and by the end felt my skin looked clearer. Despite the difficulties, I will do this detox again: firstly to give my skin a breather, secondly to re-assess the amount of make up I wear and edit back superfluous products.
Societal expectations, which constantly emphasise female appearance, play a large part in our grooming rituals — cosmetics allow us to pursue that cultural endorsement. Today with the prevalence of social media and selfies the pressure to look perfect is unrelenting.
A recent UK survey reported that the beauty market has grown by 120% in the last three years — worldwide the beauty business is worth in excess of €100 billion. According to another Marks and Spencer survey, the average woman spends 27 minutes preparing for work which totals 3,276 hours over her lifetime.
Women should be valued for how they contribute on all levels not just visually. If we took a step back from the foundation bottle occasionally then we would endorse that message. I won’t be giving up make-up totally ) but I will be reviewing my use and rationing it periodically to remind myself that a smile is still the best facial adornment of all.
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