So this afternoon I came across an article in The Guardian about rejecting beauty regimes and it kicked into gear thoughts that I’ve been having on make-up. I don’t wear make-up, but neither do I feel like I reject it, hence the title of this article. For some women, not wearing make-up is a rejection of the connotations, and a political statement. For me, not wearing make-up is, basically, an act of laziness.
I do feel the need for a few disclaimers and points of context before I carry on, because hopefully it can add a little clarity to what follows.
First off: I’ve never had acne. I don’t have a scarred face. I had what I would call “typical” skin as a teenager. Spots in their various forms were a pain in the ass, but never bad enough that I even had to consider going to my doctor. As an adult, I’ve still had issues, but again, nothing close to being bad enough to warrant seeing a doctor. I don’t have any other facial skin conditions, either.
So, to context. Having already written about Scotland, I doubt it will come as a great surprise that I am Scottish, and as such am pale and freckled (well, apart from my nose – I have a cold and look like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Or, as is often said here: peelie-wally. Onwards, then?
I was going to go in a different direction to this, but having mentioned being peelie-wally, it’s possibly worth running with that for a moment. During schooldays, one of my girlfriends and I would often go into the city and well, shop. She was far more into make-up than I was and I certainly learned a thing or two from her. One of the moments that never failed to raise a laugh on our trips was when we looked at the make-up counters. A foundation to match our skin was like a bad joke. Even the 01 Fair tones were a considerable shade darker than we were (my friend, especially). It was one of the first things outside of my upbringing to make me question make-up. Why was I looking for something to match the colour I already was? My skin wasn’t like jeans; my skin tone wasn’t going to run when I got in the shower and let the water get too hot.
With foundation and similar products, I know it can afford an opportunity to “cover up” for some, and I can certainly appreciate the desire. At school, I rarely wielded foundation, despite having “reason” to. Whenever I did use a little, it felt like a mask. The sparing touches felt like something to hide behind. In the end ““ without getting into other issues – I was at a point where I simply didn’t care about my skin and make-up became something to use as a defence, not an enhancement or statement. The other additions of a little eyeliner and mascara were used more frequently, but again, it was the feeling of a mask, of something to hide behind.
How I spent my spare time as a teen played, I think, an important role in how I view make-up, too. I used to be up at the stables pretty much every weekend, if not in the evenings, too, if I hadn’t been called in to do a shift at the local kennels. I was used to being sweaty and dirty. And I came to appreciate just being clean once I had made it home and into the shower. It’s a feeling I still love, and so, in a way, make-up felt not dissimilar to the dirt and muck of the stables and kennels.
There is another influence, the most important one, that I need to mention: my mother. My Mum didn’t ever really wear make-up. I remember sitting on my parents’ bed watching her get ready for the big work events and dinners she would go to every few months. It was the only occasion outside of weddings and funerals that I saw my Mum delve into her small supply of make-up. Even then, she used to look in the bag, rootle around, and usually resort to putting a delicate colour on her lips. It was that she felt she had to put on “something”. She was always beautifully put together for work and daily life (if a little, uh, wind-swept, depending on whether or not she was running late). Her hair was washed and neat, her choice of professional clothing clean and uncreased. But she never wore make-up. She has, for as long I remember, worn a dab of lavender oil. But that’s it.
The vibe I always got from my mother, was that she simply didn’t see the need to wear make-up. It’s the lesson I learned, for sure. She was a professional. She was handling difficult situations all the time. She at no point in her daily life needed make-up. Lip balm, sure. But she didn’t need anything else. And her worth as a person and professional was about more than whether or not she donned war paint. My mother never spoke ill of people who did wear make-up, however. She simply didn’t see the need for herself to wear it. She also had other priorities, both in terms of time and money. The other reason that I have been painfully aware of, is that my mother has suffered horribly for many, many years with dermatitis. And she wasn’t about to put something on her skin unnecessarily. I haven’t, thank goodness, suffered with my skin to the degree she has but I am very aware that as result of seeing her go through what she has, that I want to be kind to my skin.
For me, being kind to my skin is one of the primary reasons I don’t use make-up. I have seen my mother suffer and feel not using make-up is one of the small kindnesses I can show towards myself. I do paint my nails and certainly there are some delightfully toxic chemicals involved in that process but from what I’m aware, the application of polish to my nails doesn’t affect my body. My skin is a living part of me, in a way that my nails aren’t.
It also, to an extent leads into the idea that if a person chooses not to use make-up, that they choose not to care for their skin. Skin care is something I’m very much aware of, though I do take a very simple approach to it. There are occasions like just now, where the weather is particularly warm and bright, and sun screen becomes one of the means by which I take care of my skin. It’s also a point that was driven home by my uncle’s diagnosis of malignant melanoma. And so, skin care is also not a point driven by “beauty” either, necessarily. For me, it isn’t a case of wanting to control how my skin ages, for instance, but a part of caring for my body as a whole.
On the note of sun screen, I would hazard a guess that fake tan comes under make-up. It’s something that I don’t use either, primarily because I see it as unnecessary for me. I don’t tan naturally – I go pink and burn, if not protected – and don’t see the need to fake the effect. I do appreciate that some people feel it gives them a “healthy glow” but it’s not how I define healthy for myself.
When I consider where my influences lie, I become aware, too, of who I may be influencing. Whether by intention or not, my actions have an impact on our son. Juniper Junior is almost five and so his awareness of the world is increasing every day. He is becoming more aware of appearance and only a couple of days ago, said to his Grandma, “My mummy looking very pretty today.” I have more than just a hunch as to where the concept of pretty comes from. Almost every day, whenever we’re about to go out, I ask Mr. Juniper, “Do I look pretty?” and every day hear, “Yes.” Mr. Juniper’s exasperation at answering may be a sign I have asked once too often. This could easily lead into an article of its own, so I will try to keep it short. I’m left trying to reconcile how I behave and how our son perceives prettiness and beauty. Prettiness is not the be all and end all but I am aware of the gladness I feel that Juniper Junior is growing up with pretty being a person as they are. Especially as I don’t want him to grow up with the idea that beauty is intrinsically linked to something that is not the person themself. It is an instance of wanting Juniper Junior to take after his father. Mr. Juniper has never insisted I wear make-up. He’s never shown disdain at my bare face. He has never suggested that I would be better if modified. In a way, it goes back to the influence my mother has had on me and how I perceived her growing up. Yes, she was pretty when she went to an “event” but she looked pretty the rest of the time, too.
In the article I mentioned earlier, the writer also makes a point of rejecting make-up to equate to accepting being “unpretty.” I find this a little confusing. In choosing not to use make-up, I have not chosen to see my beauty as inherently linked to a product. My beauty is me. It isn’t something I apply to myself. Choosing not to use make-up does not render me unpretty. And I resent the idea that choosing not to use make-up means I may consider myself not to be beautiful or that others may consider me not to be beautiful. Again, it’s a moment where I think of Juniper Junior. I don’t want him to think that going without make-up means going without belief of beauty. I want him to see that a person’s beauty is more than whether or not they wear make-up.
There is also the point where my choices on make-up lead me back to what I consider to be my own laziness. My feelings about myself aside, I find, like my mother, I have other things to do with my time. I can’t say my activities are better or more meaningful than applying make-up but that they are different. They are how I would rather choose to spend five minutes or fifty. I can certainly spend an hour of an evening doing my nails if I choose, but that’s the point I hope has become clear: it is my choice. Some people might spend that hour experimenting with make-up. It is not an attempt to pass judgment or undermine others when I say I have other things to do with my time, but it can at times feel like it is perceived that way. It is simply that we all do different things with our time and make-up doesn’t occupy mine.
In a nutshell, I guess I’m trying to say that for me, choosing not to wear make-up is a personal choice but like many choices – taking my husband’s last name, for instance – I find it difficult when my choice is judged and assumptions made on how I arrived at that choice and how I perceive others as a result. It is a personal choice, and in that is the most important part: it is my own. My choice is not up for dissection by others and neither is it to be presumed a statement unless I choose it to be. It is my choice: nothing more, nothing less.