Sunday, March 30, 2008

Painted on

I bought my first lipstick when I was eight. It was from a drugstore, thick as paste and a particularly vehement shade of dark purple. According to the leaflet by the make-up display, I was a "spring" and was flattered, ergo, by the color of rotting plums.

The lipstick, along with the other make-up I (or rather my mother) bought to go with it, was for the stage. I was to be in a ballet recital, and all the girls had been instructed, by the whippet-thin, chain-smoking woman who ran the kiddie ballet school, to supplement our leotards and tights with industrial-strength hairspray, full make-up, and a hairnet. Down in the dressing rooms we wore the hairnets over our faces, pirouetted through sticky clouds of spray, and gleefully applied enough blush, lipstick, and eyeliner that, once released into the streets, we attracted the half-appalled, half-titillated glances usually reserved for child porn stars.

I've had a strange relationship with make-up ever since. I've used it, abused it, and spurned it in fits and starts. I abandoned it semi-permanently toward the end of high school -not as a part of any principled stand, but rather out of a burgeoning laziness, a lukewarm languor that began, in the last months of K-12, to render my education into oblivion. Nowadays I wear make-up when I perform and that's pretty much it. I own one cheap, utilitarian item per make-up genre. I keep the whole caboodle stuffed in a case with a broken mirror at the back of my drawer.

Yet, it hasn't really bothered me, heretofore, that other people wear make-up. Yes, I think it's strange. Yes, I am convinced most women are more beautiful without it. But if someone wants to spend half an hour every morning blow-drying and styling her hair before painstakingly painting her face in what strikes me as a colossal waste of precious morning minutes, that is her own personal choice. Besides, lots of women think make-up is fun. It can be fun.

Only lately it's started to piss me off.

It started when I entered the job market. Suddenly I had to wear close-toed shoes. I had to make sure I wasn't showing midriff. I had to look professional. The thing is, part of looking professional, for women, is wearing make-up. And styling your hair. Looking, in short, as close to the glam rag ideal as you can get. If you choose to stagger into work looking "unprofessional," you will, in a very real way, reduce your chances of getting hired. You will reduce your chances of getting promoted. You may even get yourself reprimanded by your boss.

OK, OK, I understand that no one at work wants to see my belly button. But why, exactly, is make-up "professional?" Does liquid eyeliner sharpen my evaluation skills? Do children speak better when I wear the appropriate lip liner?

The expectation, be it silent or shouted, that women will wear make-up in the workplace isn't fair. It isn't right. And yet that expectation is being propped up, day after day, by the millions of women who, every morning, drag the mascara wand through their eyelashes because that's just what you do. Folks, we're doing this to ourselves.

I'm declaring war. It will be long and quiet and bloodless, and I'll fight it every day with my naked face.

1 comment:

Eric said...

It strikes me that the need to cover one's midriff is grounded in the practical need to avoid gazing at other people's distractingly attractive navels.

At any rate, I fully support your bare-faced declaration of war.