The Record

Defining beauty: my senior year without makeup

Ariella Greenberg/ Art Director

Ariella Greenberg/ Art Director

Emma Jones

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What does your face really look like? This might seem like an obvious question, but many women have two faces they wear, one of which is completely artificial. For most of high school, I really liked to wear makeup. I thought eyeliner was fun, and I’m grateful for the way that colorful makeup allowed me to express my own style. But this year I came to the somewhat disturbing realization that I…well, didn’t really think about what my own face looked like. My makeup had become an extension of myself, a mask of sorts. And I didn’t think it was healthy for part of my face to be something cosmetic I had to pay for and maintain. And no matter how much I told myself that it was part of me, it wasn’t.

So this year, I decided to stop wearing makeup.

One of the things that led me to make this decision was the fact that makeup is considered a standard for women and not for men; in many workplaces, women fear not being respected if they don’t wear makeup to the office. Men do not have to worry about their appearance being commented on by others if they don’t perform an arbitrary standard of beauty every single day. Unless they’re noticeably unclean, men just have to show up in the morning having done what most people naturally do. For women, showing up in the morning means having practiced an artificial and performative routine.

Makeup is an addiction to feeling like your face is acceptable to others, and the fear of losing that acceptance is what keeps girls coming back to Sephora to spend hundreds of dollars on nude-shade eyeshadow and lipstick. Makeup companies like Sephora profit off of low self- esteem and desperation. That’s not just “business as usual.” That’s exploitation. Makeup also does not exist in a vacuum, it’s a product of the norms we want women to emulate in our society. And of course every woman cannot fit that norm. Trends like “highlights” and “contours” are ridiculous standards to set for young women. Why should girls be expected to create a fake “healthy glow” on their faces, or thin out their cheekbones to make their unconventional features fit the standard of how we think a face should look?

But going makeup-free isn’t always inspiring and empowering for me. The hardest thing to stop doing was wearing concealer, which I felt like I needed to be palatable for other people to look at. Like many teenagers, I have acne, and through a combination of misfortune in the genetic lottery and the products of an active lifestyle I have a significant amount of it. There were some times when I woke up and wanted to just wave a magic wand and give myself clear, clean, painless skin. But I reframed my acne as something positive, and I realized that I don’t exist for other people to look at. If I am not conventionally attractive in the way my skin looks, who cares? My acne is a part of my face, and its unwillingness to go away is, in a way, just like my stubborn and indomitable personality. I accepted it as a part of me. When I thought about it that way, I felt better about it. Eyeliner was not a part of my face because it was something I could take off. Acne, for better or worse, is on my face and I can’t take it off.

Last week, I was invited to an awards ceremony for a short story competition, and it took all of my self-restraint not to put makeup on to this fancy event in Chelsea. But I reminded myself that without makeup, there were many beautiful things about my face; my striking light eyes against my flowing dark hair, my sharp Cupid’s bow and angular nose, my deep cheekbones, the uniqueness of my chin dimple. My presence there was based on my intellectual ability. If I wanted to be beautiful for that event, I already was.

There has been a trend in third wave feminism to say that makeup can be empowering if you choose to wear it for you and not to impress men, but I caution people to go back to the fact that makeup is corporations exploiting your need to live in a lie for other people. You might “choose” to wear makeup, but you are doing so in the context of our patriarchal western society. No one who wears makeup can truly say that they don’t care what other people think of them. I certainly wasn’t insecure about my appearance in the conventional way when I wore makeup, I just did not want to wear my “real” face in public. It felt disingenuous. No matter how you feel about yourself, makeup is not real.

There becomes a dissonance between who you are wearing makeup and who you are underneath. I am an artist, a student, and an athlete and to be taken seriously in any of those things I should not be required to fit a standard of prettiness. My face belongs to me. It can’t smear off in the rain or under the sweat of my fencing mask. It won’t smudge when I cry. When someone touches my cheek, they will not swab a part of my face away on their finger. Your face is a part of who you are, which is something that you can’t take off in front of the mirror at the end of the day.



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Defining beauty: my senior year without makeup