Thursday, April 9, 2015

you'd be pretty if you wore makeup (part 2 of the makeup post)

So the gist of the first makeup post was that I'm pretty pathetic when it comes to makeup, and also all things girly: hair, shoes, fashion, you name it. For most of my life, I looked at the amount of time and money those things took and rolled my eyes. Spend an hour in front of the mirror every morning? I'd end up pulling all my hair out instead of styling it. Spend $120 on a pair of jeans or $300 on a purse? I'd rather buy books or a laser printer. The tallest pair of heels I own? one pair of three-inchers, and I only wear them when absolutely necessary.

I want to breezily say that it's because I just don't care that much, and fashion is silly and frivolous. I have more important things to think about, right? It's what's inside that counts, not how you look, right?

In fact, the original version of this post was going to be a rant about how the beauty and fashion industry has ballooned to the point where it controls a huge amount of our national time and attention, not to mention money. I was going to critique how obsessed we are as a culture about how we look, and how we keep raising the bar higher, forcing ourselves to chase after something that is always out of reach.

I would have pointed out that all this stuff that I've always considered frivolous is turning into TV shows on what not to wear, endless Pinterest pins of fashion and hairstyles, entire websites devoted to critiquing celebrity clothes. Google "how to get the no make-up look" and I kid you not--dozens of results show up with "9 steps to achieving this important new makeup trend." Seriously? If I want to look like I'm not wearing makeup, I just don't wear any.

I remember reading in some feminist publication back in the 80s that the beauty/fashion industry was a patriarchal construct designed to convince women to waste time so they couldn't do anything of serious value. But whoever wrote that was wrong, because it's apparently not the fault of the patriarchy. Forty years after the feminist awakening of the 60s and 70s, our obsession with fashion and beauty is stronger than it ever was. We can't blame it on patriarchy anymore. (I suppose we might try the capitalist-materialist hegemony with more success, but that would be a different post.)

But like I said, that's what the post was going to be about.

Now that I'm sitting down to write it, I can't quite get there. Because if I'm honest, I have to admit that I've realized that the reason I didn't care all that much about fashion and beauty is because until I hit my mid-40s, I was able to look pretty much how I wanted to look without paying much attention to it. I did my 6-8 minutes of hair and mascara everyday, and I was happy enough with the results. Good genes or just too dumb to care? I have no idea, but other than cursing the occasional zit or griping about my stick-straight hair, I thought I was immune to worrying about my looks.

I was certainly never one to worry about age or birthdays or any of that. I flew right past 30 (I've had a 35-year-old personality since I was 8, I told people, 30 suits me just fine). 40 felt like I was finally a real adult. But turning 50 hit me hard. Starting a few years before, my skin changed and my body changed and I couldn't sleep--and I wasn't doing anything different. It just happened. What the hell is this? I've never been as skinny as I wanted to be, but I've never had a muffin top, not until one suddenly appeared a couple of years ago.

And that was when I discovered that I do care about how I look, in spite of having airily claiming not to my entire adult life. It was a little bit embarrassing and it made me mad at myself. Because suddenly I looked in the mirror and didn't like what I saw, and it upset me far more than it should have. Maybe far more than it would have if I'd been paying attention all along.

Since I've always been a bit opposed to makeup and obsessing about my looks, my first response was to dump the whole thing. It doesn't matter what I do, I'm still going to look like a frumpy middle-aged bore, so why bother? I said something like that to a friend a few months ago. I think I might have added, I have serious bags under my eyes, but if I use concealer, I look like a raccoon. Why bother? She was silent for a minute, and then she said, Well, I do my makeup as best I can and then at least I can say I tried.

At first that response really bothered me. What are we saying here? At least I tried to cover up my ugly agedness? It sounded so close to apologizing for being older. I know I look like crap, but I'm doing my best to cover it up.

But as I'm reluctantly experimenting with actually wearing foundation on a daily basis for the first time in my life, I have to admit: it makes a noticeable difference. It feels like people respond to me more positively--which could admittedly be my imagination. But the part that I know for sure is that I feel more confident this way. A couple of weeks ago I went to lunch with a group of women who intimidate me a bit, and I definitely felt more confident facing them because I knew I'd done what I could to look good.

I guess I could say because I tried. Damn it. I don't want it to be true. I want it not to matter what's on the outside. It's what's on the inside that should count, right? And in the long run, an empty head or a cold heart can't be glossed over no matter how much makeup you put on, so it's still true.

But I have to admit it helps my confidence and my courage level to do what I can to look good. And this is certainly not the post I thought I was going to write. I guess there's a balance in there somewhere that I'm just figuring out at this late date. Advice and insight welcome, as always.


dreag said...

Think of all the times we encourage our children to just try -- a new food, a new sport, a hike, a book. When you try stuff you sometimes stumble upon something that you enjoy or is cool or improve your outlook or your world view. I guess make-up shouldn't be any different. Enjoy your new mirror view. Nice post.

BarbN said...

Thanks! I think I've decided that as long as it makes me feel BETTER-- more confident, more empowered-- it's a good thing. It's just when it edges over into anxiety-provoking that I object--when I start worrying about whether or not I've got my "look" right, etc. Social situations are anxiety-provoking enough for me without worrying about that stuff!