I used to do my makeup on the train to work. There’d never be enough time in the mornings to manage doing it at home, and I became quite a dab hand at applying eyeliner in a moving vehicle (a skill that I’ve since used in the car when running late to many weddings – trickier with speed bumps, but still doable with practice). It used to be a necessary part of my routine; board train, apply makeup and then use the rest of the journey to squeeze in a bit of reflective God time – maybe a whole 10 minutes if I’d finished my mascara by the time I got to Barnham.
But one morning, for reasons I cannot quite remember, I didn’t do my makeup on the train. I would like to say I forgot, that having makeup on at work was such a low priority that it slipped my mind, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think I was just so exhausted that my need to sleep trumped my need to look presentable. Vanity and insecurity are high on my list of faulty priorities, sure, but nothing takes the top spot like laziness.
The funny thing is, though, no one really said anything. And so I spent the next few days not wearing makeup to work. I had time to sit and enjoy my train journey. I didn’t have to worry about accidentally rubbing my eyes and smearing black all down my face. I started thinking, I actually think I look better without make-up on. Fresher. Younger. Not rocking those three o’clock panda eyes anymore. I was ready to write a blog all about how insecurities and the media and the patriarchy may tell us our worth is in our looks, that we need to paint our faces just to make it in the world as normal human women, but that’s a load of rubbish and our real worth is in God and who he made us to be so go forth my bare-faced sisters!
But then my boss came into the office and said, “Wow, you look tired.”
It was just one comment, and someone else quickly told me I look great without makeup on, but to this day it has me questioning my attitude towards makeup. Do I think I need it or don’t I? Am I falling victim to a patriarchal game by wearing makeup, or am I using the tools I have at my disposal to win that game? Is it vanity to wear makeup every day or are you merely a professional woman, putting your best face forward? And then what about your hair, or the style of clothes you wear? On Queer Eye a bit of personal grooming apparently changes people’s lives, and I know makeup artists who can do such amazing things with makeup that it is, indeed, artistry, but then I look in the mirror and feel weird unless I’ve got a bit of eyeliner on and think, That can’t be OK, can it? Does caring about your appearance make you a terrible feminist and/or Christian?
And sometimes I like putting makeup on. If I’m going out in the evening, I often enjoy the process of getting ready, of pottering around with a glass of wine and getting all dolled up. Or getting dressed, doing my hair nicely, putting on makeup, makes me feel good and productive and like today will be a day where something happens. And sometimes I really can’t stand the idea of making an effort, and just throw on something comfy, whack my hair up in a messy bun, and decide I don’t care what anyone thinks. Although that’s really another kind of vanity – wanting to appear to be a super cool person who doesn’t care what people think – and often I get halfway through my day and realise, “Oh dear, I very much do care what people think. And now I’m stuck here until five o’clock with no concealer in sight.”
And if you’re reading this thinking, She’s rambling about a bit more than usual, that’s because I am. I keep wracking my brain for an answer and I haven’t landed on a conclusion yet. I’ve been enjoying going makeup-free in the recent UK heatwave, feeling fresh and clean and showing off my post-holiday glow, but then, yet again, this very week someone asked me if I was OK, because I looked really, really, tired (her words, and an observation that, in general, I think we should all agree to retire. All in favour of no longer asking women if they’re tired because they’re not wearing mascara? The ayes have it. Change approved.)
A few weeks ago, I didn’t have time to dry and straighten my hair before work, so I gave it a scrunch with the salt spray. I thought it looked quite good when I left my house, but when I looked in the mirror later on I realised: I don’t look good today. My hair looks weird. And…I…don’t…mind. I really didn’t mind. I’d been too busy to notice. I knew my friends wouldn’t care. And I was ready to finally get round to writing that beauty blog I’d been thinking about, until, not 20 minutes later, I couldn’t stop obsessing about it. I was itching to get home and fix my horrible, wavy hair.
So sometimes I care deeply about how I look, and sometimes I really – albeit temporarily – don’t. And not wearing makeup to work has been great in a lot of ways; I certainly take better care of my skin now I know it’s going to be on display for the world to see (which I guess is, again, another kind of vanity, but at least it’s a healthier one). And it’s not like I’m trying to attract random men or pretend I’m secretly hotter than I really am, which I guess is what makeup was invented for. And my friends who do wear a lot of makeup get catcalled or sent lewd messages over social media and then I think, “Isn’t that terrible?” And then I think, “Why don’t creepy men harass me, though?” I mean, I don’t want to be harassed, but I also don’t want to look so gross that even creepy dudes on the street wouldn’t bother…
I recently read an article by a feminist who’d stopped shaving her legs because she’d realised she was only doing it because the world told her that’s what women should do. She’d concluded that she might go back to shaving her legs one day, but only when she was completely comfortable having unshaved legs; only when she knew shaving her legs was her personal choice and not one that society had made for her. Perhaps that’s the answer; not finding your worth in how you look, or the attention you get from making the most of your appearance, but making the choice for you if it’s something you want to do to give yourself a bit of time and attention and self-care.
So the best I can come up with is this: think about it. Try looking at your beauty routine, and how important it is to you, and ask yourself where that comes from. Try talking to other people, and making sure the men or young girls or boys in your life know that women are held to a certain standard to which no normal woman will ever live up, and women should be valued for more than their appearance. When you wake up in the morning, maybe don’t automatically reach for your makeup bag – take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you “need” to wear makeup today.
And then, if you decide “yes” and crack on with the lipstick, there’ll be no judgement from me.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti