Last weekend I set myself a challenge. For some people it’s going to seem like the lamest non-challenge in history but I imagine there will also be women out there who can relate. I decided to go without make-up (as in, not even a scrap of the stuff) for a week. I’d secretly hoped for a month but I think a week did the job adequately. I feel I should probably explain, for those sceptical of the legitimacy of my challenge I’ll give a little bit of background of my relationship with make-up. I normally try to make my blogs a bit abstracted from my personal life, so apologies if this comes across as slightly self-indulgent. I just felt like it was something I needed to do. Deal with it.
‘Deal with it’ is currently my favourite phrase of the moment (‘good grief’, ‘heavens to Betsy’ and other very British idioms have their place in the top 5 though). I normally say it to myself, in my head, when I’m leaning towards the unhelpful end of neuroticism. This happens frequently. I digress.
In this instance it should probably be more like ‘deal with your face’ because that was the whole thought process behind the slap free week. It’s aggressive, sure, and although I mostly believe in self compassion, I also think there’s a time and a place for aggression. Anyway, so why do I want to deal with my face? Well, it occurred to me that my relationship with make-up (and therefore, ultimately, my face) was becoming less than healthy. Hey, I’m not suggesting I hit the gin at the mere glimpse of myself in a metallic surface, but I questioned it nonetheless. I’m a sociologist, and god knows we love a good question.
Now for a brief history to give this a little bit of context. I will leave out the tiny violins, don’t worry. I’m normally a proud advocate of the Caitlin Moran brand of ‘Each to Their Own Feminism’ and have always been happy to admit that I am extremely ‘girly’. Whatever that even means. I’ve always been adamant that I enjoy make-up and it’s something that I find creative rather than oppressive. Nonetheless, as I like to question why I do things (and invariably think way too much) I wanted to look deeper and work out whether this was in fact the case. If you don’t even attempt a bit of self improvement now and then, life is pretty meaningless in my opinion. And I have too much time on my hands, yes.
Growing up I suffered with severe acne. As if being a teenager is not horrible enough with the mind games and compulsory maths, many people such as myself also have to deal with skin trauma too. Acne in your teenage years has very unfortunate timing as suddenly it seems everyone starts becoming overly aware of where they fit on the food chain. Needless to say, I was the teenage equivalent of a dormouse, except evidently less cute. So make-up, and in particular- foundation, concealer, powder. Ie. anything ‘concealing’ – became my crutch. As I grew up and the skin troubles faded I still continued to use make-up on a daily basis, partly because I did enjoy it, but partly out of habit. It wasn’t necessarily a problem and to be honest, there are worse habits to have. But recently I found myself wanting to buy more and more products. Suddenly I started to think I needed primer and highlighter and bronzer… Soon it became very clear that what I really wanted, and it pains me to admit it, was to be airbrushed. Mo’ make-up mo’ problems, you could say. (Sorry).
So I kept a diary this week, to document my journey, as it were. I was pretty slapdash at it to be honest and only wrote a few entries. In my defence there were some incredibly important matters I needed to attend to, like funny cats on YouTube and such like.
With the first day done and an outing into the public domain sans make-up completed I can start to reflect. I made it through an evening out at a restaurant with dim lighting and overly compensatory hair. So far I’ve found it nothing but liberating. I wish I was referring to having some sort of feminist apple-on-the-head moment but in reality it’s simply down to laziness; I was ready for bed in under two minutes. Now that’s liberation.
Today’s my first full day without make-up. Yeah, that’s right, I started this challenge halfway through yesterday. Like any important life affirming moment, it doesn’t hit you at a useful and convenient time like, say, 10pm the day before when you’re taking off your make-up for the last time. That kind of moment would only happen in a film, accompanied by poignant music and a solitary tear. No, I’ve decided my empowering moment of change happened at an appropriately non-appropriate time of 2.30pm after I’d eaten some tuna and houmous out of a pestle and mortar. I like to think that symbolises the perfectly imperfect nature of each of us, the very thing I’m trying to celebrate. Yeah, yeah, we’ll go with that.
So anyway, I had a moment this morning. I looked in the mirror and felt the usual combination of terror and confusion regarding my post-sleep hair style. I think this dates back to my acne days where I’d wake up praying, PRAYING that by some miracle I wouldn’t have grown yet ANOTHER mountainous peak in my sleep. Nowadays I don’t have that problem, but I still like to know what the current situation is. Face was kind of puffy, kind of pale, kind of… grey?? Whose face is grey! And then it hit me. This is your face. You can’t change it today. Deal with it.
Well, it’s fair to say that the novelty has well and truly worn off now. I start an internship tomorrow. And it hits me that my exposed skin which is usually reserved only for the shower, bed and gym will be out there in the public domain. I know I’m ‘lucky’ in the sense that these people don’t know me, and therefore won’t necessarily be able to make judgements like “Did Sally go out last night? She looks like a 90s house party gone wrong”. Nonetheless, to quote Rachel from Friends, they are people WITH EYES.
Don’t get me wrong, I have seen the liberating aspects of not wearing make-up. And when I’m feeling particularly grumpy about something I like to think of the positives. So here we go, here is a truly Polly-Anna list of things I am so far enjoying about this challenge. None of which I am saying through gritted teeth. Promise.
- I love how little time getting ready takes. I mean seriously. Wash, moisturise, leave house. It’s a miracle of Biblical proportions.
- I love how I can rub my eyes and not get mascara embedded in my eyeball.
- I love how when it rains I don’t have to worry about the effect on my make-up.
- I love how I can see my face. My actual face. I may not actually feel comfortable with it yet but I can see it.
I realise there’s a bit of inconsistency going on here, yes, but let me explain. If I was clever and conniving (which, in many ways I kind of wish I was at times) I would pretend not writing every day was all in my big master plan. Oh yes, I had planned to not write to give me time to contemplate. Mmm hmm. But no, I will be honest; after all, this challenge is all about accepting myself authentically. So, it just kind of happened. Half of me thinks life just got in the way, and half of me- full disclosure- wasn’t sure whether I wanted to document all the feelings I was feeling.
I stepped out into the world and walked around in it quite a lot these last two days. I met a few new people, naked face and all. At first I dealt with a few feelings of shame and started cultivating elaborate plans to make a t-shirt with “APOLOGIES FOR MY FACE. IT’S NOT NORMALLY LIKE THIS” emblazoned across my chest. Oddly, in the absence of being able to do anything about said face, except pinch my cheeks occasionally (was suffering serious blusher withdrawal), I started to think more about my hair. Even though my hair has not changed a great deal in the last week, it suddenly seemed very offensive. In a bid to change this I tried out a highly intricate and incredibly fashion forward hairstyle which I was extremely proud of. My boyfriend was less of a fan; I just think he was jealous.
Final thoughts, Jerry Springer style. Make-up is not, and should not be seen as a necessity. Men do not feel as if they need to ‘hide their imperfections’ or ‘enhance their looks’ to this extent and therefore, in the name of true equality, neither should we. I thought I would be champing at the bit to get some foundation back into my life after the week was up, but in actual fact I haven’t touched it. I’ve decided to only continue to use make-up that feels fun and non-oppressive; which will inevitably be context specific. For example, I genuinely think getting ready is one of the best bits of going out so in those instances foundation will probably be part of the equation. And what I’ve realised is there’s nothing more empowering than a red lipstick or more sultry than a good mascara at times. So choose your weapon girls, just make sure it really is your choice.
[Disclaimer: I have no make-up on in the photo above to demonstrate I did this challenge truthfully. It is, however, heavily Instagrammed. I have a new IPhone and I’m Instagramming my entire life currently. Please look forward to a post in a few months about the inevitable ‘No Instagram Challenge’.]
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