For many women and AFAB folk, makeup is part of their daily ritual—and, for some, even a creative outlet. Recently however, more and more of us are rejecting the notion that we must wear makeup to look ‘attractive’—or, more offensively, ‘presentable’ and ‘professional’. If a woman or an AFAB person chooses to adorn themselves with makeup, this can be an empowering habit. But the expectation that we must alter our appearance in order to be ‘good enough’—‘worthy’—this is patriarchal, misogynistic and, above all, toxic.
As for myself, I have experimented with makeup in a wide range of ways, from treating my face as a canvas, to practising a simplified and curated daily ritual, to, most radically, neglecting or rejecting makeup altogether. More recently, I have found myself happiest showing my bare face to the world, and this essay will explore why this is so.
That said, makeup—and how we adorn ourselves in general—is a personal choice. If you love wearing makeup, wear it! This essay has not been written as an attempt to persuade women and AFAB people to deny themselves something they love. Even as a bare-faced hippie, I fully respect the choice to not go bare-faced. The last thing women and AFAB folk need is more people telling us what to do; the last thing we need is more pressure, more arbitrary standards of what is and isn’t acceptable.
On the other hand, because wearing makeup is the norm, something expected of us, I do think it is important to question our relationship with makeup and why we wear it (or don’t wear it). We ought to reflect on how makeup makes us feel—and experiment with different ways of presenting ourselves to the world—and how those presentations make us feel.
As an AFAB individual who has been through quite the journey with makeup—and as someone who currently makes bread by working in the beauty industry—I feel it is my responsibility, to simply present alternative points of view, different ways of presenting oneself and differents notions of beauty—or, perhaps most radically, the notion that we do not have to be beautiful at all—that we still have value lying outside the realm of beauty!
So, instead of interpreting this essay as dogma, take it as an invitation to question and experiment, to better know yourself and how you prefer to present.
The argument for makeup:
Perhaps, the most obvious argument for makeup is how it can be a form of self-care, rather than self-punishment. Speaking from experience, the process of ‘getting ready’, of putting on makeup, can be very soothing: a grounding ritual practised on the daily.
Furthermore, makeup can make one feel like a ‘better’ version of themselves. We can cast glamours, using our favourite products to mask the things we don’t like about ourselves and accentuate what we do like. For many, the practice of tweaking their appearance feels therapeutic and empowering. (But more on this later when I make the argument against makeup!)
And lastly, although this point will only apply to certain makeup users, makeup can be and is an art form. Colourful eyeshadows, unexpected lipsticks and beyond—there are endless ways you can adorn your face! How could I call myself an artist if I denied other women and AFAB people this pleasure?
The argument against makeup:
…Or, ‘Why I Stopped Wearing Makeup’.
Remember how I said makeup can be a relaxing part of one’s routine? And remember how I said makeup can make us feel like ‘better’ versions of ourselves? Well, here lies the problem: a daily ritual that makes us temporarily feel better. Now, what does that sound like? Addiction.
In Truth, many of us are addicted to makeup. Does the thought of going to the grocery store without your ‘face’ on make you uncomfortable? What about work? What about a date? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you are struggling with some level of addiction. For, if one’s makeup ritual was purely an act of self-care, it would be done consciously and with love—not compulsively and out of self-loathing.
I will speak for myself, as someone who has held a variety of makeup routines—as someone who has worn a variety of looks, from winged eyeliner to very natural-looking, minimalist makeup. In the beginning, my newfound makeup ritual always makes me feel, well, good. It’s like I’ve finally learned how to do the perfect alt-girl eyeliner—or finally found the right colour scheme for my skin tone—and now I look good, now I am beautiful, now I am worthy.
But as time goes on, as said makeup routine becomes something I feel I must do, rather than something I genuinely want to do, the worse I feel—putting it on, yes—but especially when I don’t have it on. When life gets in the way and I don’t have the time and have to go out without it. Or when I’m at home and don’t feel like slathering myself in goop. I will look in the mirror and no longer appreciate my bare face.
I have the power to, temporarily, rid myself of the things that make me feel insecure—my light-coloured eyelashes, the bags under my eyes from the early mornings I put into writing, the lines forming on my forehead from thinking too hard. This feels like a blessing; but, ultimately, I have found it to be a curse—because, once I find a look that makes me feel better about the things I typically don’t feel all that good about, it becomes even more challenging to feel good about those things when I am not masking them.
‘So, why not just mask them everyday?’ you might be wondering. And many of us do just that! But I have a big personal hang-up with this notion. Putting on makeup is a daily task that eats up our most precious resource: time.
On average, women and AFAB individuals spend about two years of their life, cumulatively, applying makeup. Two full years. When I first learned this statistic, I was appalled. I am no makeup artist, so why should years of my life be spent applying makeup? This feels like a massive value misalignment, when this time could, instead, be spent doing something my higher self does value, like reading.
In fact, I have ditched my makeup ritual for the thing I value most: writing. Yes, at the time of writing this essay, I work as a hair-stylist. But the thing that makes me happiest, the thing most important to me, the thing most aligned with my highest self is my writing. I, currently, pay my bills by making people feel more beautiful, but would feel most congruent with my values if I paid my bills by giving people things to read, stories to lose themselves in, essays that make them think. This is what my time is best spent doing—not applying makeup. If I waste time everyday applying makeup and it adds up to two years total, think of how many books I could have written instead.
Now, remember, I am speaking for myself here. Only you can know how your time is best spent. If you love makeup, then perhaps it is best spent applying makeup. Maybe that’s meaningful to you. After all, life is meaningless; all meaning attached to life is a construction of the mind, of the ego; you choose the meaning you ascribe to it. And maybe, for you, that meaning is makeup. But makeup isn’t particularly meaningful to me, not anymore. I find my meaning elsewhere, and refuse to allow others to project their notions of what is meaningful, and of what is beautiful, onto me. You get to make this choice for yourself: how do you want to spend your time?
And time is not the only resource makeup eats up. Makeup also costs money. Think of the thousands upon thousands of dollars woman and AFAB folk pour into makeup. With this knowledge, just as we have to consider how we want to spend our time, we must consider how we want to spend our money.
I used to be addicted to, not just applying and wearing makeup, but purchasing it as well. I was never content with my makeup collection. I was always hankering to buy something shiny and new. Lipsticks and eyeshadows—these were my weakness—and at my worst point I had dozens of each. I saw my face as a blank canvas, on which I could create anything, and I wanted every option available to me.
While I loved, and still appreciate, the creative expression behind this practice, in time, I came to realize how much money I was spending on makeup products. I was handing over my hard-earned cash to major corporations, just to temporarily feel better about myself, just to get the thrill of an ego-boost. Just as I realized my time could be spent in a manner more aligned with my true values, I realized my money could as well. I now spend the money I once spent on makeup on books—I am building quite the home library!
Once again, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Just as it is with your time, how you spend your money is your prerogative. I cannot tell you the appropriate amount of money to spend on makeup each month. Whether than number is in the hundreds or whether it’s twenty dollars or whether it’s zero dollars—that is for you to decide.
One last reason why I, personally, have given up makeup, is because of my cripplingly sensitive skin. It seems a week cannot go by without me breaking out into some kind of reaction. I suffer from eczema, as well as allergies. For this reason, I do find it easier to just lay off the makeup altogether—and my skin sure has been thanking me for it!
Makeup simply isn’t worth my time, money and energy—nor the health of my skin! But hey, this is just how I am feeling now, and maybe one day I will start dolling myself up again.
Regardless, my lack of makeup does not make me less presentable; you can tolerate my bare face. Nor does it make me less professional—even though I work in the beauty industry. It doesn’t even have to make me less beautiful, if I don’t choose to define beauty under such conditions. And even if I do choose to define beauty under those conditions, even if I am less beautiful for not wearing makeup, I am still just as valuable as a human being.
My worth is not tied to how beautiful I am or am not. My worth is not tied to whether or not I have applied some overpriced, craftily-marketed goop.