by MICHELLE KONSTANTINOVSKY
Makeup can be fun. It can be transformative. It can mean the difference between a red-rimmed, puffy, public admission of late-night debauchery and bright-eyed office decorum. It can be artistic, subtle, theatrical, expressive. Makeup can be great.
It can also be a complete pain in the arse.
Fresh off a two-day girls’ trip to Arizona, I feel I can say with some authority that skipping the liner-mascara-gloss routine (or primer-powder-bronzer procedure/shadow-concealer-foundation drill—whatever your poison may be) is incredibly freeing. Recklessly rubbing your eyes without the fear of smudging, clumping, or smearing feels like a heavenly embrace from your fingers to your lids (though your opthamologist may not agree).
Grabbing breakfast, splashing around in the pool, and reciting passages from Fifty Shades of Grey to your sunbathing friends without a worry about lipstick reapplication is so liberating (that embarrassing admission of poolside reading material didn’t go unnoticed, did it?).
And obviously it doesn’t take a girls-only getaway to facilitate barefaced abandon. Plenty of women save the makeup for special occasions, and many forego cosmetics altogether. It really comes down to personal preference, and as a society, we’re generally very accepting and tolerant of women’s individual choices.
Yeah, no, that’s not exactly how our culture operates. Clearly there are endless norms and expectations set by the media, our peers, our traditions, etc. regarding women’s weight, shape, wardrobe and more. We’re definitely not obligated to follow any of these helpful (i.e. oppressive) suggestions (i.e. laws of the land), but it’s hard to not feel gently encouraged (i.e. poked and prodded into submission).
But while everyday women certainly feel the pressure to keep up appearances, well-known female leaders and celebrities undoubtedly have it worse.
Nothing could have articulated society’s sucky stance on women in the spotlight quite like the recent brouhaha over Hillary Clinton’s makeup-free face.
In case you didn’t catch the hundreds of headlines (that’s actually a lie—Google News cites over 3,000 articles) dedicated to this earth-shattering story, allow me to summarize. During a trip overseas earlier this month (to talk about things like human rights violations in China and India’s reliance on Iranian oil—you know, the sort of stuff you’d need long lashes and a matte pout for), Clinton appeared in public sans-makeup. Cue chaos.
Outlets like Fox News and the Daily Mail were quick to point out how “tired and withdrawn” Clinton looked (right up top, in their articles’ ledes, no less). Others quickly jumped to her defense, saying the 64-year-old looked good for her age and others still claimed it was an issue of respect and the politician should have put her best face forward as a public figure. Clinton herself laughed off the controversy, telling CNN she basically couldn’t care less and that worrying about her appearance is “just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.”
Two weeks later, I’m still confused as to why this was news. Unless Clinton was in Bangladesh to promote her new sassy line of Lip Smackers or announce herself as the newest easy, breezy, beautiful CoverGirl, why should we care what’s on her face?
In another inane debate over the right to bare skin, readers seemed shocked (shocked!) to see Zooey Deschanel squeaky-clean and makeup free in People. Joining other celebrities for a spread in the magazine’s annual “Most Beautiful People” issue, Deschanel braved the inevitable backlash to show readers she’s a living, breathing woman under the glitz and glamor, and admitted she was “really terrified” to do so.
Just like clockwork, blog comments rolled in, dismayed by the dissonance between Deschanel’s high-definition-friendly New Girl look and her unadorned, freckled face. The snarkiest commentators (who, by law, should really be required to submit their own makeup-free photos along with their negative energy) tore down fresh-faced 14-year-old Paris Jackson. I’m sorry, I must have missed the national memo imploring all prepubescent girls to spackle themselves in the tradition of Toddlers in Tiaras.
Fed up with the makeup frenzy, 90210 actress AnnaLynne McCord took to Twitter last week to show fans that television contracts and magazine covers don’t magically eliminate human imperfections. “I woke up this morning and decided I’m over Hollywood’s perfection requirement,” she Tweeted, along with a photo of her unadorned face. “To all my girls (and boys) who have ever been embarrassed by their skin! I salute you! I’m not perfect—and that’s okay with me!”
Grateful comments poured in, and the move was certainly gutsy, but the question is why? Why has it become an act of heroism and sacrifice for a woman to show her makeup-free face in public? Why are people outraged to know an actress is not a flawless automoton, but a blemished, laugh-lined human being? Why is it international news when a female politician sports glasses and skips the blush?
We’re all well aware of the double standard that exists around physical appearance. Regardless of all the progress women have made, equality is a long way’s off, and rigid beauty standards rage on (and on and on). But all the talk about Clinton’s bare face indicating a lack of respect made me wonder if there was some sort of male equivalent for the makeup propriety paradigm. Was condemning Mark Zuckerberg for donning his trademark hoodie to an investor meeting last week on par with criticizing Clinton for going makeup free? Was his wardrobe choice as “disrespectful” as her decision to walk out into the world without a layer of camera-friendly cosmetic coating?
It’s not a fair comparison I guess, but that’s probably because women are still unfairly singled out, scrutinized, and summed up based on their sex appeal. And in our society, sex appeal isn’t limited to clothes, curves, or confidence. It’s painted on with sometimes-fun, often-obligatory makeup magic.
My mascara-free eyes deserve a good reckless rub right about now.
At the beginning of this month, Mamamia asked readers to send in photos of themselves without any make-up on. This was the brilliant result:
This post was originally published on HelloGiggles here and has been republished with full permission.
Michelle Konstantinovsky is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and an avid admirer of shiny objects and preteen entertainment. You can find her website here and her Twitter here.