Tonight, as I was standing at the bathroom sink, washing my face of my makeup that I wore all day, seeing my makeup case just out of the corner of my eye, I began thinking again about the idea of makeup and why women wear it, especially when it seems men are always telling us that it’s not neccessary, that they don’t like it, that they think we are beautiful without it.
You don’t have to wear makeup for me, is what I’ve heard. Over and over again, I like you better without it.
I think it’s a misconception – this idea that women stand before the mirror each morning, carefully applying lipsticks and mascara for the men that see them each day. I don’t think we apply it each morning to impress the man we sit and have breakfast with, or who watches you on the train each morning over his newspaper, or even the man standing just behind you at the Second Cup while you order your green tea latte (with skim milk).
I grew up wearing makeup so it’s always been part of who I am and therefore, my daily routine. I get up, shower, and in a towel, with my hair wrapped in a second towel while it dries, I stand before the mirror and, using my finger tips and various brushes, apply the makeup that transforms me from someone that is clean and fresh-faced to a finished and (hopefully) more glamourous version of myself.
I wear makeup more often than not, always to the office each day, always when we have company over, always when I am going out for dinner or to the movies with my husband. I sometimes apply it in the middle of the day, even if we’re not going anywhere, sometimes because I want to try something new, or sometimes just because I’m feeling lethargic and need something to perk me up. I’ve been known to wear it if I’m just going to the grocery store, and I’ve been teased for wearing it to the beach.
And over and over again, I hear that I don’t need to wear it.
I think about myself as a teenage, and the makeup I wore then. I’m not sure if I wear less make up now than when I was a teenager, but I definitely wear it differently. I put more thought into what I dab on my eyes and on brush onto my cheeks, and it’s more strategic. Hilighting one thing, hiding another. As a teenager, while I definitely wore it because I believed that it made me look better (especially during my awkward years with bad hair, glasses and teeth), but mostly I think I wore it because it was expected of me.
Makeup to me now is a choice; as a teen it felt like a neccessity.
And yet, I can think about the teenage girl that I was and how, growing up on the East Coast meant so many of the dates I went on with boys involved spending long lazy days at the beach, laying in the sand and splashing in the waves. How the salt water would wash away my makeup and leave my face fresh and clean and how those boys still wanted to kiss that face of mine when I scrambled from the water, and dripped the cold ocean drops all over their sun warmed skin.
I’ve always loved the water and looking back, I can see how much time was actually spent in forms of water that weren’t just the beach, especially when I was hanging out with boys that I dated. The ocean, lakes, swimming pools, showers, baths. Each and everytime the makeup came off, the real me was there for them to see.
They didn’t seem to want me any less because I was without makeup; if anything, they seemed to want me more. I marvel now at how easily I let the makeup wash away.
I think it was around this time, during those endless summer days when I dated more than one boy that I found a print in an art shop in Halifax, probably as I walked along Spring Garden Road one day. I remember standing before it, gazing at the photograph and feeling drawn to it in a way that I couldn’t fully understand.
It was a photograph of a couple with the woman sitting in a chair at the end of a bed, before a mirror, applying her lipstick. In a chair beyond her is a man, in pair of jeans but with no shirt and he sits and watches her. Her feet are propped on the dresser beneath the mirror, you can see that she is barefoot, her hair is tousled, the bed is unmade.
I didn’t fully understand the photo then, mostly because I was too fresh faced and still too innocent to understand what the photo meant. I was too busy going to the beach in my bikini and making out with boys and telling them when to stop before they could go too far. Fresh-faced and innocent.
It was only years later, when I stood before a mirror, lipstick in hand, my hair tousled, the bed unmade and a man behind me, half undressed, watching me in the mirror that I finally understood the photo.
I think about that girl at the beach and what she didn’t know, the intimacies that weren’t shared. I think about how easy it was to be without makeup with the boys that I was with because there was ultimately nothing there. I had nothing to lose because what existed between us then only scratched the surface of what I would experience later.
It’s the difference between being a girl and being a woman, I think.
I think about this funny relationship between men and women and makeup, that seemingly constant tug of war over how much makeup she wears and what he does or doesn’t like. How he might grumble and tell her that she doesn’t need to wear it, especially when she’s on her way out the door and the day is just beginning.
And then, later on, the makeup wears off – it’s rubbed away, kissed away, it’s on the sheets and he tells her how beautiful she is without it and she might turn away or she might not. Maybe she believes him, and maybe she doesn’t. And then, eventually, she gets up, and she stands before the mirror and she applies her makeup and he stands behind her and as much as he might not like the idea of makeup, he can’t seem to take his eyes off her. And in some ways, this exchange of looks that happens in the reflection of the mirror, as she traces her lips with her lipstick, is more intimate than what had happened in the bed before.
And I wonder, if somewhere in there, in the looks that pass between them in the mirror, is the truth behind the makeup that she wears. The clean fresh face, with the makeup washed away, is the part of her that she has shared with him, that she has given so willingly. And then, when that time has passed, when she stands before the mirror with lipstick in hand, is the realization that she is not doing it for him because he has seen her without.
She is doing it for herself.