“I can’t go anywhere looking like THIS! I don’t even have my makeup on . . .”
I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve heard women (mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, girlfriends, wives, colleagues, etc.) utter these words or how many thousands of hours I’ve spent waiting for something other than “this” to emerge from behind a closed bathroom door or makeup mirror over the past 55 years. But what I can tell you, with absolute certainty, is that if I hear them one more time I’m going to scream – even louder than I did the last time I heard them – because, more than a half a century later, I’m still at a loss to understand what they mean. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t understand the literal meaning of the words themselves – obviously I do – I was an English major for God’s sake. It’s just that I’ve never understood what the “this” is that the women who’ve uttered them are referring to and, more importantly, what it is about “this” that makes them so reluctant, at times to the point of near paralysis, to be seen in public with it.
The use of the word “makeup” in the equation only adds to my confusion, because, in my world, “makeup” has always been a term associated with something that needs to be corrected, made whole, rectified – a thing unfinished that needs to be completed. In school, for example, I took makeup tests when I was absent for the real one. At times, I had to makeup little league baseball games that were interrupted or cancelled due to darkness or inclement weather. As I got older, I often found myself trying to makeup for my mistakes, indiscretions or oversights – times when I had let someone down. From time to time, I’d even makeup stories when the truth was certain to get me (or a friend) in hot water or hurt someone I cared about. And to this day, I sometimes catch myself trying to makeup for what I perceive to be my weaknesses by working doubly hard to perfect my strengths. But, none of these definitions ever seemed appropriate to me in the context of a woman’s physical features/personhood – and they still don’t.
What then is the “this”? What is there to “makeup” for that is uniquely a woman’s burden to bear? Is it THE HAIR that, on any given day, seems to lack the desired sheen or body, be the “wrong” color, a little too “frizzed-out” or disheveled? Is it eyebrows that are just a little too thick or a little too thin? Is it the puffiness, circles or slight discoloration beneath the eyes or a few trace wrinkles or lines on their edges? Or is the “this” the length or the fullness of the eyelashes? Maybe it’s the lips – the ones that could be a little plumper, glossier or more colorful? Or perhaps today is a complexion day – a wish that it was a little less pale, had a tad more color – was smoother and unblemished. For some, the “this” is a birthmark, a pimple, a rash, a scar, a freckle (or two!) or a nose that’s either too big, too small or a little crooked. For others, it’s likely a combination of some or all of the above.
For still others, heart-breakingly, the “this” likely runs much deeper than some superficial physical imperfection. Theirs is a “this” that, at least in their mind’s eye, no amount of concealer could ever adequately camouflage – a distorted, battered or broken image of self that demands that it be “masked” or “re-created” before being presented to the outside world, that misguidedly believes that, un-madeup, it is unbeautiful, unworthy, undesirable. I’m not really sure where all of this started and I certainly don’t harbor any illusions that this or any other post will make a meaningful impact on, let alone reverse what has become a way of life for virtually every woman I know and have ever known since I was a teenager. I’m also not about to pretend that I’m capable of understanding all of the social and psychological nuances that are part of the “this” and everything that goes along with it – I am, after all, a guy, albeit one that has always preferred the tenderness and feel of real rather than madeup skin and lips.
But, I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I’m certain I’m not and I’d like you to help me prove it. I want to challenge you to post a “makeupless” image of you on FB or Instagram with a caption that lets your social media audience know that you’ve agreed to participate in a “social experiment” to find out how others will view/accept the “real” you – the one set free from the bondage of its daily makeup regimen. And then, I want you to listen to the responses you get – I mean really listen – as words like “beautiful,” “lovely,” “awesome,” etc. begin to filter into the “comment” box. My hope is that it will inspire others to take up the challenge too and that the collective feedback will lead women everywhere (mothers and daughters!) to at least pause the next time they come face-to-face with a makeup mirror and consider the possibility that the “this” and what’s beneath it is enough. Who knows, maybe one day “Makeupless Mondays” will make the start of the week a little (okay, a lot) more interesting!