The Mask

There’s been some recent (at the time I started writing this; publishing may take a few days) political “scandal” regarding Hillary Rodham Clinton not wearing make up that one time. My first response to this was, “The fuck? I would like to have so much free time that I had time to fabricate drama where none actually exists.”

Seriously. I go without make up all the time. In public. To work. Even to formal events. Granted, my job is not so spotlightish as is the Secretary of State’s, but still, my make-up-less face has not brought public education in the US to a screeching halt. (Or maybe it has and that is to blame for this whole thing, NCLB be damned.)

Not only am I comfortable with my make-up-free face, but I actually don’t think I look any worse when I’m not wearing it. Further from the standard of “magazine beautiful,” sure. But that’s one type of aesthetic preference, not universal truth. Not, as it happens, even an aesthetic preference that I generally share.

Photo of me kissing my dog.

Look! My dog is not wearing makeup either! Oh, the humanity! The… canine-ity?

On a good day, that is.

When I’m feeling healthy, energetic, and relatively pain-free, it’s easy to look in the mirror and be happy with the face I see. I’m generally in good humor, and my face is expressive in a way that pleases me. On a bad pain day, however, there are lines. There are dark circles. There’s a dullness and a permanent strained look to my eyes and jaw.

Those are the days I’m more likely to wear make-up, as a mask to cover up the pain.

I can’t make myself look healthy, I don’t think. I can’t cover up the pain so I don’t see. But I can paint myself, quite literally, to signal that I am at least playing the “magazine beauty” game. Often when I do this, it’s a plea asking others not to look too closely. It’s a sign that I’m trying to conform — hoping I’ll go unnoticed, that I’ll fade into the background. That I won’t have to explain myself when others look at me.

Which is why I really love that picture of Secretary Clinton — and every picture and mirrored reflection of me not wearing make-up. Because to me, they look like all the days when I don’t care what other people think. And yes, I get how wonderful and fearful a thing that is to the world.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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4 comments on “The Mask
  1. Amelia says:

    I agree completely. I hardly ever wear makeup. I like the way I look just fine without it. For me, putting on makeup and putting that extra little bit of effort into my appearance is fun – every once in awhile. It never fails to get a reaction out of my coworkers or friends because it’s so out of the ordinary for me. I like glamming it up and soaking in the attention. But that’s not every day. If I felt like I had to do it every day, it would become a chore. No thanks!

  2. Yes! Also, I am bad at applying make-up, so I definitely look better without it, besides the whole “it makes my face itch and i can’t touch my nose and augh why would I do this to myself” factor. ^^

  3. My first thought was, “Wait, is that the picture of her without makeup? No, it can’t be. Something’s not right. I know what it is, she’s wearing red lipstick. That must not be the photo. Maybe they didn’t get a picture of her without makeup…”

    Of course, it is the right photo. Wearing lipstick has been redefined as “not wearing makeup”. Your entire face must be painted over. Comparisons with the niqab are probably a little much, but did come to mind…

    The second thought was, “THIS is why “Dressing for a man” needs to dig her heels in and NOT wear makeup.”

    Not wearing makeup is still(!) being framed as unreasonable, at least in mainstream media/pop culture. Maybe we need more no-makeup-sensible-shoes-type feminists. I suppose in this context, a lot of people will think that I’m being unreasonable, but I’m seriously insulted if people think that my face isn’t good enough to appear in public, that I must paint it over in order to look “professional”.

    (For that matter, since I always tended to think of makeup as something you put on to look sexually attractive, it seemed weird when I found out that wearing makeup was framed as more professional, since wearing spaghetti straps or a very short skirt is framed as unprofessional.)

    I don’t think that I’m hurting my career by not wearing makeup. We have a dress code, and it pretty much takes the form of limiting performance of femininity rather than encouraging it (e.g. makeup, if worn, must be conservative, earrings must not be larger than 1/4″ diameter, nails must not extend more than X past the fingertips, hair ornaments must be conservative, hair must not extend below the bottom edge of the collar…) I don’t make any of my money through sales, and salary is pretty much dependent on seniority unless you screw up pretty obviously or you get an award for something significant. There are few, if any, situations where the subconscious influence of makeup would tip the balance.

    • Tori says:

      I noticed that about the lipstick too but made the jump pretty quickly to “not wearing ‘enough’ make up.”

      The “make up = presentability/professionalism” thing really bugs me too. From the age of 12 (when I was first allowed to wear make up and when there was a junior high expectation that all girls would do so) through at least the first semester of my freshman year at college, I never, ever went out in public without make up. I wore make up to the barn, to the beach, to the doctor when I was sick. I understand how very much self-policing I went through with that, thinking I needed to put the extra time every day into wearing make up, that I wasn’t pretty enough to go out without it.

      It was very much a revelation in college when I realized that: 1) there are women who don’t wear make up all the time (or even at all); 2) this does not, in fact, change my estimation of them as people; 3) people who are worthy of my respect will not think less of me for going make-up free, either.

      That make-up is still equated with public presentability and make-up-free faces are still cause for scandal is another way of saying, “By yourself, you are not enough.”

      I leave room for the possibility that I am hurting my career by not wearing make up. At least, I know that some of my higher-ups react to me much more favorably when I wear make up and skirts and express disappointment that I don’t do so more often. There is still room in my evaluation rubric for someone to decide that “professional dress” requires make up. (Although I would grieve the fuck out of that in about one second flat and would likely win, it would still mean making myself a test case. And I don’t know that the subjectivity will change unless someone does grieve it.) Then there are issues that are even less clear-cut: selecting people for professional development conferences, to chair committees, etc. I don’t think this is true for everyone working above me, or else I’d find new employment — but still, no place is perfect.

      Either way, though, I don’t feel like the warped priorities of some people means that I’m obligated to change my face. 😛

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