When my daughter was a toddler, she said to me one day, “Mommy, you should get some make-up.” I looked at her slowly and said “does Mommy wear make-up?” and she answered “no she does not.” I nodded and we moved on with our day, her remembering that it’s not any big news story. Like so many other things in Western culture, I’m aware of it, and yes, I’ve tried it. With that said, I simply don’t engage this industry or market, and I’m sure I never will. Although largely this post is discussing make-up, the broader sense we’re talking about is the “beauty” industry. Similar conclusions can be drawn regarding hair care and other bath products.
Above and beyond the many reasons to follow, top on my list to avoid make-up is our environment. It doesn’t just take ridiculous amounts of mining to collect various ingredients to put in this stuff and market it. It takes huge quantities of hydrocarbon based additives, countless chemicals and natural resources to put in both product and packaging. It takes monstrous amounts of fossil fuels to get the various parts, make the products, then package and distribute them. The packages are tiny containers that hold very little considering how make-up is used so often and replaced so regularly. Many packages do not dispense the entirety of the product they hold, wasting that leftover portion and the efforts of everyone involved in its creation and purchase. The make-up also degrades over time in contact with air and moisture, leaving countless amounts of unused products to fill up landfills on the regular.
Despite the absurdity, many of these products come with more disposable aspects like mirrors attached, guides, and other features that are rarely used. Make-up uses applicators that are almost exclusively disposable, or meant for temporary use. It needs special cleansers to be washed off properly, and those cleansers need to be washed off skin correctly as well. The water use alone connected with these practices should be giving most adults some pause, because it’s that significant. The small size of make-up containers also necessitates various boxes and holders to secure them, like small bags and purse liners. Caddies and organizers for make-up enjoy their very own niche, thanks to the storage industry.
Aside from the immense environmental damage and waste of resources make-up causes, it’s also worth note that this stuff is generally bad for human skin. Oh, it’s been tested on countless little rats and bunnies to ensure you won’t cry or swell up too much. But our skin is an organ that is unique in the way it breathes. Our pores exchange oxygen as well as producing natural emolients which are released, and our skin needs it to maintain appropriate moisture levels and elasticity. When make-up is applied it clogs and blocks all those pores, preventing natural balance and healthiness. Blemishes, rashes and acne develop often; there’s an entire section of the industry dedicated to covering those up too.
It may seem irrelevant, or outside of my purview, but I’m going to touch on the time this all takes in life. If a person shops for these products a few times a month, they’ve probably spent even more time looking at advertisements or sale flyers inbetween. Most of the people who use this stuff have an ongoing relationship with brands and product lines that enjoy fierce loyalty. The time spent researching items and prices is only the beginning. The use of these products is widely varied, and ever changing. Tutorials, lessons, tips and tricks abound now more than ever. Online resources as well as in-person communities support widespread knowledge sharing. Techniques and designs evolve with the times and this medium is infinitely flexible. That evolution results in domination of many user’s time, to the point of detriment to other activities or relationships in their lives.
Although my next angle on this topic touches on the deceptive nature of altering our appearances, it’s not that anyone is deeply fooled by the make-up facade. We all do understand you’ve got a face under there somewhere. But talking about the way that make-up is fake is part of the other side of things: the motivation and the cultural associations we build around this practice. The fakeness that make-up highlights shows a lot more than just society’s judgment of attractiveness. Workplace culture considers make-up a sign that we want to work with others, that we’re more cooperative by nature. Mothers who wear make-up are seen as more competent than their plain counterparts. Make-up supposedly instills added confidence to the wearer, like power suits or big earrings. That obvious fakeness is seen as proof of your willingness to reinforce social standards – it’s a way of conforming.
We are given to understand that using make-up is a sign that we take care of ourselves, which always struck me as particularly backwards. Or, not backwards as much as there is an issue with my feelings on this concept. Caring for something can mean to like it or be personally invested in its future, or to take action to maintain its integrity. I have mixed up the meanings in my mind because I feel like we should care for ourselves if we care for ourselves, but I suppose that’s annoyingly confusing. My point is that I believe we should care for ourselves as we are, rather than changing ourselves into someone that we think others care for. When we use a facade we cover up who we really are, and that’s not really caring for ourselves. When we put forth a veiled version of ourselves, we are not being accepted for who we are – we’re being accepted for who we think others want us to be. To me, if others don’t like the unadulterated us, then at least we all know what they’re rejecting.
One of the funniest parts of this topic to me has always been that when I say I don’t wear make-up, I often hear “you don’t need it anyway.” The concept of “needing” make-up automatically implies we’re talking about ugliness, or some similar detractor that needs to be mitigated. Yet, if the topic comes up of why people employ make-up , those who use it almost always fiercely deny that aspects of this practice are so closely tied to vanity or insecurity. It’s funny coming from those who say things like they would never leave the house if they weren’t made up first. People who use make-up use it for lots of reasons, but they aren’t always honest about all of them.
Lots of folks who wear make up tell us it’s their form of self-expression, and I can understand that – but I don’t think that’s all it is for them. I’ve decorated my body with tattoos and it’s a form of self-expression, but it’s not intended to cover perceived flaws. I’ve never claimed that they enhanced my beauty, confidence, or self-esteem. They stand alone as art, and do not occupy any space as an enhancement technique. I’ve never used a single beauty style to draw attention to or away from any of my natural features. I have never been embarassed to be seen in a state of comfort or repose. The difference between make-up and self expression has a lot to do with what we’re expressing. Expressing ourselves shows who we really are, but changing ourselves to be other than what we are is not expression of who we are, it is denial of who we are. It’s in their belief that they “look better” this way. “Better” is the operative function, it’s that mindset of needing improvement which belies the dominance of feelings of inadequacy over mere artistic license in this setting.
Ready availability catapults babies into a world of make-up crazies, and it starts before they can fully walk and talk independently. They see it all in the media, on the strangers they go by, and of course with their own friends and family. From too young they are taught it is shameful to be without, and it’s ever so much better to have it, not to mention the gender normalization involved. They are taught to cover sickness, sadness, and fear with layers of chemical warfare. The ultimate extreme of these cultural ideals that demean results in “permanent makeup” and cosmetic surgery. A permanent change in our size or shape that is not based in health or need, is to erase some sort of shortcoming. Of course there is probably a contingent of emotionally healthy and well-adjusted make up users. But on average the masses buy and apply untold tons of product because they don’t feel like they’re good enough.
As much as people enjoy rituals, some border on obsessive behavior. When questioned or debated, some who participate can get really heated. There is surely no survival function or overt necessity tied to using make up. Yet the depth and breadth of the affection some hold for this medium can be surprising. Although rooted in shallow spaces, vanity’s grip is tenacious, and it can manifest in myriad ways. Most people want reassurance that they’re wanted and accepted, but then, many strive for superiority. Competition to be the most good looking is a long-standing tradition. As much as I can admire the desire to be the best, there’s a limit to how much I’ll change about myself to prove it to all the rest. The court of public opinion is fickle; no matter how hard we strive, it holds no loyalty, it only sees the next best thing.