Between a Rock and a Blush Brush

On my favourite website, Man Repeller, one article pops up in their Trending feed more often than any other. It’s a post written by the founder of the site called Why I Don’t Wear Makeup. And every time I feel like my own makeup routine is getting a bit out of hand I’ll re-read that article, scroll through the 59 accompanying photos of bare-faced women, and get some courage to put down the eyebrow fillers and concealer. This post is why I finally gave up all but BB cream, blush, and occasionally some all-natural brown mascara.

The last time I did get “dolled-up” my husband told me I looked like the past. It was an awkward phrase, he is a non-native speaker and this was one rare occasion that the words came out a bit wonky. He simply meant that I looked like I used to, before the makeup purge, but I like how he put it better. I did look like the past and going nearly makeup free is my future.

But I am definitely in the minority of women, especially my fellow millennial women, who feel comfortable showing the world and Instagram my actual face. And, depressingly, many of those women who don’t feel comfortable turn that insecurity into judgement of ladies who do. Leandra Medine, Ms Man Repeller herself, complete lady-boss and fashion blogger pioneer, was told by an Instagram follower “you could be cute but why don’t you wear makeup?” As if she ever asked for tips on being “cute.”

Before I go further, let’s get some uncomfortable facts out-of-the-way: women who wear makeup get paid more and are seen as more competent; and in both those instances there is a “right” amount of makeup to wear to achieve those salary benefits and the perception of competence in the eyes of your peers. It’s a psychotic game that society plays on us that every woman will have failed at.

You fail when your eyeliner refuses to be even so you end up with a thicker line than you’d like and your snarky colleague mentions “ready for a club.” You fail when you wake up late and one part, or the horror, every part of your makeup routine gets left out leaving your colleagues concerned, “are you feeling ok?” Or they say with unmasked judgement, demanding a response, “you look different.” Back when I was teaching English in Prague and wearing a shit-ton of mascara every day one student told me “I almost didn’t recognise you!” the one time I woke up too late to apply it. I’ve never been into Kardashian kontouring so it really was just the absence of mascara that threw him off so much.

I suppose I could have grabbed the mascara tube and done my best to apply my usual 5 coats on the way to the lesson… oh but wait! If I had dared to try to apply some makeup while on my commute I would have been “ugly to see” according to a new ad campaign in Japan that is meant to educate people on the etiquette of riding public transportation. This is one in a series of ads promoting better behaviour and the others address looking at your smartphone instead of who you’re about to run into, and dragging on massive bags that take up a lot of space. Running into strangers and taking up more than your fair share of space are equal to the horrific site of a woman doing her best to get society to trust her and her boss to pay her an ok salary.

This is even more insidious for women who are mothers. Even if they have a male partner or husband it is well-documented that they are doing more of the unpaid family upkeep work than he is, the Second Shift. So when are these women supposed to find time to work, take care of their children, take care of their homes, and take care not to offend anyone else’s outdated sensibilities by daring to leave home less than perfect?

Both men and women feel uncomfortable seeing ladies put makeup on in public because it means that a) the woman left the house without a full face on and that is just not done, and b) that they themselves are complacent participants in a cruel society that demands this of women.

And now I’ve got a personal struggle going on: should I keep on wearing almost no makeup, or should I bring a backpack full of it onto the train and very publicly finally figure out how to Kardashian kontour? How can I best challenge women’s entrenched role as objects in society while still having fun?