I must admit it came as rather a shock to the system to read the headline for Liz Jones’s latest piece in the Mail:
The bare-faced truth: If confidence comes from within, why do so many emancipated women still need war paint?
Good question! Unfortunately, the article itself does very little to address it. Jones devotes an inordinate amount of words to name dropping her favourite products and detailing her beauty routines, while the few points of substance she does make, such as:
We might laugh at hobble skirts and corsets, but isn’t our dependency on the cosmetics industry disempowering and, at the same time, just as ridiculous?
I’m starting to come to terms with why I have always worn so much make-up – shyness, insecurity; but that so many young women today, with so many opportunities, so many years of feminism behind them, still feel the need to look like a Hollywood star of the Thirties is disappointing, to say the least…
are thoroughly undermined by the accompanying ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of female celebrities complete with mocking captions:
Don’t scream: Courteney Cox Arquette’s bare-faced horror (L) is in contrast to her normally classy appearance
Gwyneth Paltrow looks a bit of a mess (L), but is gorgeous after a spruce-up
Is it any wonder Jones feels insecure without make-up when these are the kind of messages she has been fed by mainstream media from day one? Needless to say, the make-up free photos have been chosen to ensure the stars look as bad as possible (though they appear to have failed when it comes to Renee Zellwegger).
At the end of the article, Jones finally details her own experience of spending a day without make-up:
I had to go for a meeting with a fashion PR in London, get my hair cut and finally have dinner with a girlfriend. While I’d love to tell you how liberated I felt, it was the worst day of my life.
I felt – and looked – tired. I couldn’t meet anyone’s gaze. My clothes looked odd: I wore a smart Miu Miu dress, while my face cried out for a Waynetta Slob-style shell suit.
My hairdresser positively recoiled; he couldn’t bear to look at me in the mirror. The fashion PR kept staring at me.
The worst thing, though, was when I met my best friend for dinner. ‘Oh Lizzie,’ she cried. ‘What’s wrong? Has the cat died? Oh, dear!’
Nice. But to be honest I’m not surprise it felt like the worst day of her life. I think she’s right when she describes make-up – when used on a daily basis, a morning ritual as essential as cleaning your teeth or putting on fresh underwear – as war paint. I used to refuse to leave the house – even just to pop to the shop down the road – without wearing make-up. I would rather arrive late to lectures (OK, even later, I’m always late) than go without at least foundation, mascara and a bit of eyeliner. I’d get up in the morning before my boyfriend awoke to fix my face so he didn’t have to see me au naturel.
I came to realise that this need for make-up was both debilitating and harmful to my self esteem. Why should I feel such revulsion for my own, natural face? Why should I restrict the time I spend having fun, or doing something productive, in order to cover it up before leaving the house?
So I challenged myself to go without. Like LIz Jones I found it bloody hard at first. I felt exposed, worried everyone was looking at me, judging me (much like the Mail’s picture editor). When I went out at night I compared my face to the faces of women in make-up and felt myself to be lacking. It sounds pathetic, but I’d hazard a guess that I’m not the only woman who’s felt this at some point.
Yet it wasn’t long before I got used to living without make-up. I enjoyed being able to grab my wallet and go for a quick pint with a friend without going through the rigmarole of sorting out my face. I got used to seeing my make-up free face in the mirror, and I started to accept and love that face as my own, rather than rushing to cover it up. What’s more, I spent a hell of a lot less time looking in the mirror and obsessing over my “flaws” – it’s amazing how little you worry about what you look like when you cut this out of your life.
After a few months, I felt I was able to make the free choice to use make-up again on occasion, this time in a creative, fun and expressive way, rather than as a crutch. I don’t touch foundation or concealer, because I know that would lead me to worrying about my skin, instead using glitter, colours, eyeliner, mascaras to change the way I look according to my mood. Most of the time, however, I can’t be bothered, and I’m pleased to say that I feel just as confident with or without make-up. However, I recognise that as a student I’m lucky in that I don’t have to deal with the expectations placed on women in many work environments: it will be interesting to see how my make-up free face survives once I get a job.
So while Liz Jones may have had the worst day of her life when she gave up make-up, I’d encourage her to examine why that was and to persevere, because liberation from expensive, time consuming beauty rituals based on the premise that women’s natural bodies are not socially acceptable really is worth striving for.