Leaving home/not having to live my life under the strict, identity-crushing jurisdiction of a rural Lincolnshire grammar school has left a whole new appearance-enhancing door ajar for me. Waking up in the morning with a pre-lecture regime entirely at my own disposal has given me leave to step gingerly through this shining portal of cosmetic discovery and go fucking nuts with black eyeliner. An undertaking which has probably given me the need to have a quick sit down to readjust/palpitate more than anyone else.
I feel, personally, as if I had the notion of wearing make-up beaten out of me before I reached an age to really fall in love with wearing it. One of the principle institutions I’ve held accountable for my early-teen perception of make-up as a shitty, shitty thing is (surprise surprise) my secondary school. Although quite a few of us got away with the odd little squiggle of token eyeliner, there was pretty much a zero tolerance policy on all students wearing make-up, which lead to a fair number of grumbling, blazered adolescents being hauled from assembly and marched to the toilets to remove the products accumulated on their visages. The question of make up at school is a difficult one; of course I can see that one’s appearance should not take precedence over one’s principle purpose for plonking oneself down at a desk at nine of a morning – that is, to learn. However, much like the recent dispute over the banning of pole dancing societies at uni, placing restrictions, or totally banning, the casual use of cosmetics is synonymous with a decision being made for a person with the intention of protecting them/the image of the educational institution. However, the bans are also responsible for the increasing preconceived negativity towards the forbidden thing and unjustly demonising or undermining those who take innocent pleasure in it.
For me, it’s all about the fear surrounding the choice to emphasise of physical features an attributes of an individual within the everyday. If a woman, or man, elects to enhance his or her features with a dab of foundation, a common assumption made by the outsider looking in is that the person has done so to sexualise or objectify themselves – image becomes paramount, and attracting a partner a priority. I think the notion that a person may use make up as an extension, a suggestion or a celebration of their sexuality (although, quite often, this isn’t the only or principle case) is unsettling to a society which frequently subscribes to a conservative outlook with a tendency to chastise those who wish to appear desirable, particularly (as ever) in women. Perhaps, like the way removing pole dancing magically removed all sexist attitudes towards women, removing make-up will remove trivialisation, the risk of being targeted sexually as a desirable human being and eradicate potential deviations from study. Outrageously, as we all know, magazines, newspapers, even ourselves in our everyday lives, are just quick to slate someone for lacking make up; those who dare to age, to have blemished skin, to lose sleep also face the wrath of their peers and the media for failing adhere to unreachable standards of beauty. We’re meant to look flawless, yet to use make up to achieve the look we want in order to feel confident is a cheat and a fail.
I also think the vocabulary we use when referring to make up is pretty damaging and reinforces negative attitudes. I’ve witnessed people frequently judge women by how much “slap” they have on their face, an informal term which carries with it connotations of pain, malice and punishment. In opposition to the “natural” look which I’ve found is praised and basically universally strived for, bronzing your cheeks or choosing a vibrant red lipstick is “fake”, less than human, undermines your identity. There’s even a brand of make up called “Fake Bake”, a name which I’m not quite sure I get; is it satire or inspiring a tut-tutting as people walk past the cosmetics in Debenhams, in a sense condoning the derogatory labels awarded to it? Regarding attitudes to men and make up I don’t have much experience at all; it’d be interesting to learn about the experiences of men who wear it and whether they face similar discriminations to women.
It pains me to think that a younger version of myself subscribed to the belief that the use of make up equated the projection of a “fake” image, and that those who took pride in their appearance lacked substance, even brains. Now, make up gives me confidence, a way to express myself (I wear B I G eyeliner flicks if I’m feeling particularly determined, for instance). When I’m down, it lifts me up; if I feel someone’s gaze drawn briefly to a splash of bright eyeshadow it feels bloomin’ cool – I’m all like “yeah, I do exist, I am worth noticing, my face has colours on it and it looks suave and YOU SAW THAT.” It’s also my most frequent form of procrastination – when my brain is being slowly fried by constant reading and I find all the words on the page are merging into utter gibberish, twenty minutes on my face is refreshing and motivating, particularly when catching sight of myself in the mirror doesn’t reveal a spotty, exasperated face. I see the kind of face I want to, one that’s interesting, fresh, young and intelligent – applying make up is something fantastically easy I can do to make peace with myself, as well as feel really great. It makes me happy. And if it makes me happy, it makes millions of people happy, so I don’t really see how you could justify hating on people who use it to feel its uplifting effects and a renewed sense of self worth every day.