To make-up or not to make-up?

The recent media attention paid to Gwyneth Paltrow for attending a red carpet event au naturel centralises the social pressures placed on women to adhere to the rules of self-perfection. The story was shat across the pages of the vast majority of the nationals, with the Daily Mail condescending to praise Paltrow in a somewhat patronising, ‘good-for-her,’ fashion for “dropping the glam” in favour of a “sweaty, relaxed, down-to-earth look.” Surely, the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow, daring to step out-of-doors without a slab of cosmetics stuck to her face like a layer of sticky icing, is considered international news is, in itself, testament to the fact that too much emphasis is placed on women’s relationship with make-up? And why is it that we are expected to look effortlessly (but with effort) flawless all the time in order to be considered attractive?

Type ‘Gwyneth Paltrow no make-up’ into Google and you will be met with pages of reactions from around the blogosphere, many berating Gwynnie for her perceived faux pas and equating her decision with a downward turn in her career. But what’s the message here? Do we have to paint our faces in order to be perceived as successful? I wrote a blog post on this subject last year, and yesterday was asked to speak on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC Radio Five along with The Times journalist, Sarah Vine, who was “irritated” by Paltrow’s decision.

But what is the big deal about make-up? While I understand that many women feel considerably more confident when wearing make-up (it is, after all, like a mask), perhaps what needs to be addressed are the reasons why women feel they need to cover-up their perceived “imperfections” to begin with? That Paltrow, a woman whose face and appearance have been a commodity, felt comfortable enough to defy Hollywood convention in this way is refreshing in a celebrity world where vanity reigns supreme and airbrushing is considered as vital to survival as breathing air. She is not flawless. Her skin is not perfect. She has wrinkles. And yet she is still attractive precisely because she is real.

Personally, I rarely wear make-up, and only do so on special occasions or when going out in the evening time, not because of an inner compulsion but because I know that it’s expected of me to do so. If I don’t, I’m not seen as having made an effort, or having pride in my appearance. What’s wrong with me for not wanting to ‘make myself look pretty?’ Once we reach a certain age we are expected to adhere to a carefully delineated set of criterion that outlines the way women should look, and if we deviate from the widely conceived norms then we are automatically denied our femininity. I don’t have perfect skin. I am not beautiful. I’m probably less than average and I’m not confident about the way I look, but I am also not prepared to become slave to a band-aid beauty regime that offers no permanent solution to self-esteem issues, which ironically makes me feel more confident in itself.

Make-up does not change the person underneath, and I do not want to develop a dependency on it to such an extent that my daily machinations are orchestrated around throwing on the slap in the morning and frequent touch-ups. Friends and family members are caught in this cycle, convinced that their relationships hinge on the fact their partners believe that their eyelashes really are that dark and voluminous, and their lips really are that red and luscious, to such an extent that they are afraid to bare their pasty faces for fear of ending up alone. Of course, this is not true, but as women every facet of our lives have become so entwined with the way that we look that it’s understandably why some women can’t even leave the house without putting their foundation on with a trowel.

Surprisingly, as I have got older I feel more comfortable in my own skin, and I think this is partly because I have accepted that make-up or not I’ll never look the way I would like to, but so what? There are very few people who are completely happy with their appearance, it’s just unfortunate that society tells some women that this means that they are, in fact, physically repulsive, and have to do something about it.

In response to the Paltrow story, the Daily Mail offered a feature in which a Harley Street surgeon and celebrity make-up artist look at photographs of celebrity women – including Uma Thurman, Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen, to name a few – both with and without make-up, offering critiques of their appearance, and reasons why they look so ‘awful’ without it. I don’t see a problem with them, and I’m sure a large percentage of women choose not to wear make-up regularly owing to the fact that they literally don’t have the time to preen themselves all day, so making this news does nothing but perpetuate the idea that if you don’t paint on your face you are inherently flawed as a woman.

But what do you think? Make-up or no make-up? Do you believe this is something that has an influence on the way you are perceived by the outside world, and the way you present yourself in it?

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