When I imagine myself and the way I appear to people, I envision myself beautiful, with prominent cheekbones and slender cheeks, slightly concave but not sickly. I visualize eyebrows several shades darker than my hair, eye lashes black, eyes big, wide. I see lips that are glossy and red, enveloped by skin quite fair. It’s a beautiful painted picture.
I love makeup. Perhaps it was the effects of growing up on a stage, or having older sisters, or just living in this world of Madonna’s. Whatever it is, I love makeup. I love eyeliner and mascara and smoky eyes and outrageous lipsticks. I love my work appropriate makeup and my out-with-the-girls makeup. I love it all.
I never felt oppressed or mad that I loved makeup. I have read the words and heard the opinions of those people who see makeup as a lie. And perhaps it is – a lie fabricated and presented perfectly by the beauty industry without even the veiled attempt at hiding what they were doing, evidenced by the settling upon of “makeup” as the appropriate name for this accessory. Though, to call it simply an “accessory” is, of course, insane, since we all know that makeup is imperative. Imperative to invest money in, to invest time in. So imperative that without our faces done, we are seen as less competent, less likeable and less trustworthy than our made-up colleagues.
But still I bought makeup, relished a trip to Sephora, asked for expensive pallets as Christmas gifts. I did not feel mad that I loved makeup.
On Saturday I spent the day at the office. I first went to a yoga class at 830 and hurriedly got ready for a more-or-less private day at my desk. But I hadn’t had enough sleep, and I had run out of eye cream, and when I got to the office I looked haggard. I tried to shrug this feeling of unprettiness off, reminding myself this isn’t why I’m in the office today, reminding myself of the jobs I was there to do. I went to the kitchen for coffee and saw an Avon magazine on the table. I flipped through it and landed on a page advertising the “Ideal Flawless CC Colour Corrector Pencil“.
I looked at this correction-enabling tool and wondered if it would, indeed, correct me. Make me better, prettier, probably happier. And then I became mad. Mad at the idea of being “corrected”. Not enhanced, not elongated, not brightened up, but corrected. Fixed. All of the errors that I was born with could be disguised until they look the way they should look.
I was mad because there I was on that particular day: working hard at my career, practicing yoga and meditation, by all accounts being productive. I was going to meet my boyfriend later for pints. The day was sunny – cold, but beautifully wintry and sunny. Nothing was wrong. Except for the errors in my face so desperately needing correction. I felt mad because they were successful in getting my attention, that despite the dearth of wrongness in my life, I did, in fact, believe: why yes, I could do to have that pencil.
This drove home the other lies – the lies that my eyebrows must be two shades darker than my hair; and that without makeup, I am less competent, less trustworthy, less likeable. I looked at the page and I felt so mad, and I also felt so sad because if it hadn’t been for the name of that cosmetic, I probably would never have had this reaction.
As I said, I never felt hurt or mad because of my affinity for makeup before now. I have viewed makeup as art: extravagant, radical, self-expressing. I overlooked the part of makeup that isn’t for spectacle, the part that is simply fixing and correcting. But all these corrections are things that are just me, my lines, my spots, my face. To hide them away is to hide pieces of myself away. What a dark, ugly thought.
And so what is the measure of how beautiful we must be? Or rather, of how flawless, how corrected? How many filters and edits can fix a photo? How many beauty products do I need to be beautiful, not because of how I look but because of how I have managed to correct myself? What are the errors in my face that I can buy a pencil to modify and perfect, until I’m not the girl I wake up as, but rather the real-time advertisement for a cosmetics company?
None of this seems beautiful at all.