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Why should women feel guilty if they choose not to wear make-up?

Ellie Rose

95003751 300x224 Why should women feel guilty if they choose not to wear make up?In Saturday’s Guardian, Katie Puckrik mused somewhat cynically on the “latest celebrity ruse”: not wearing make-up. She writes about her terribly trying adventure of not wearing make-up for a whole day, and reports how “self-consciously unglamorous” she feels. She actually uses the words, “The line between fetchingly low-maintenance and letting yourself go is easily crossed.” Hey, Katie, the 1950s called – they want their rhetoric back.

It’s totally infuriating, not least because if somebody chooses not to wear make-up, it’s not a “trick”. It’s the complete absence of a trick. All women go barefaced sometimes, and some of us do it most of the time. For about six months recently, I chose not to wear make-up except on special occasions – not for any particular reason, but simply because I didn’t feel like it. And lo, the world kept turning. The fact Katie found it hard and in some way remarkable not to wear make-up for one day is pretty shocking. But we can’t blame her, for she did not build the weird cult of waxing and plucking and make-up and vajazzling. That culture has been gaining momentum for a long time, and it’s a curiously ubiquitous malaise.

During my six (largely) make-up-free months, some of my female friends confessed to me that they were occasionally “too lazy” to don warpaint to work. “Jeez, ya big slobby slattern. How do you look at yourself in the morning?” It actually made me feel sad, because that notion of laziness betrayed a sense of guilt (“I ought to do it, but I don’t/can’t”). It’s the result of that aspirational culture championed by the majority of the media – from the Daily Mail even to Stylist magazine – that believes it is somehow in women’s interests to encourage them to be career-driven as well as glamorous as well as keeping it natural as well as being well-read as well as great mothers as well as being able to afford lamps that cost £2,000 as well as staying slim as well as throwing incredible dinner parties…I can’t tell you how many exhortations I read every day telling me to improve myself in oddly conflicting ways, but I can tell you that they annoy me.

In the first few days of the six months of no make-up, one male colleague commented that I looked tired. On another occasion I was asked if I was ill. Well, in fairness, I guess I am tired, and so are many women – because we’re all trying so hard to do so much. Does the effort show on my face? Gosh, I’m terribly sorry, I appear to be totally human. How embarrassing.

I’m surprised with the Guardian for letting a voice of shame and fear (I paraphrase, but it’s along the lines of “I feel vulnerable without my make-up. Pass me the lip gloss, I can’t bear it any more!”) speak on behalf of women on this subject. Whilst the shame and fear is understandable (we’re subjected to so much scrutiny and criticism – not just from men but from each other), perhaps it would be better for everybody if they published something that looked a little more in-depth at the reasons behind and results of the pressures that are integral to the experience of being a British woman in the 21st century.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t wear make-up. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t acknowledge the shame and fear that arise if we expect ourselves and others to use it constantly – just that maybe we oughtn’t reinforce those feelings.

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  • http://twitter.com/KatiePuckrik Katie Puckrik

    Hi Ellie – I was interested to read your observations on the whole makeup yes/no quandary.

    I’d like to clarify a few things with regard to your comments about my Guardian article. Firstly, you lopped off the end of my sentence when you quoted me: “The line
    between fetchingly low-maintenance and letting yourself go is easily
    crossed…” which is “…at least according to the language of
    the gossip magazines.” The 50s are welcome to keep their rhetoric –
    and so are the gossip magazines. It is theirs, not mine.

    A small but simultaneously huge point: while the 400+ online commenters under my article exploded into a debate about whether they liked themselves wearing makeup, or approved of others doing so, the article itself actually addressed a
    slightly different angle. The angle being that certain celebrities,
    people whose job it is to look “attractive” (whatever that means
    for them), are seemingly sticking up two fingers at the man by
    flashing their bare (or nearly-bare) faces on the streets and on
    Twitter. Celebrities, particularly female ones, have their looks
    continually judged and assessed by their employers and the public. It
    may seem trivial, but for these young women whose livelihood depends
    on looking a certain generic and consistent way, the fact that
    they’re increasingly out and proud with no slap with flouts the
    unspoken rules and can be seen as a bit of a rebellion. In my
    article, I didn’t mean to imply that any Tom, Dick or Harriet who
    chooses not to wear makeup is doing something contrived or making a
    stand – my points centered on this celebrity trend. It is telling
    how loaded and personal the topic is that the discussion went off in
    so many directions in the comments.

    In my article, I wasn’t speaking for all women – nor would I presume to. I was very specific that I was
    speaking about my own experience, and about my rinky-dink
    insecurities that popped up when I went to a fancy party without
    concealer and lipstick.

    As for your comment: “perhaps it
    would be better for everybody if they published something that looked
    a little more in-depth at the reasons behind and results of the
    pressures that are integral to the experience of being a British
    woman in the 21st century.” My piece was written to a specific
    commission about barefaced celebrities, but you’re right that the
    bigger topic – the lipsticked elephant in the room, as it were –
    are the pressures for women to look a certain way. I thought that the
    staggering number comments under the article do a great job of
    exploring that. I’d written the piece in a very light-hearted way, not fully aware of the extent that the wearing of makeup was such an emotionally and
    culturally-loaded subject for men and women alike.

    Thank you for continuing the discussion here. There’s always more to say, and different perspective from which to view the topic.

  • Katie Shapland

    No you’re not! You’re just playing silly buggers now. Everyone knows that Batman is gentleman … and on the side of goodness. Btw, my apologies for the ‘man up’ bit.

  • No_Key

    “Everyone knows that Batman is gentleman”

    First you tell me that I’m not a gentleman then you apologise for something else entirely!!

    This schizo sociopath behaviour could only be …
    …THE JOKER!!!!

    TO THE BATMOBILE !

  • Katie Shapland

    Noooo, nokey, not ’something else entirely’ at all. But don’t worry, your secrets are safe with me. ;-)

  • No_Key

    There’s a padded cell waiting for you, Joker!

    Now come along quietly

  • Katie Shapland

    Quietly…?

  • No_Key

    “Quietly…?”

    Or it’s time for BIFF! SOCK! and KAPOW!


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