The Fault in Our ‘Scara: Make-Up and the Rules of Society


I’ve always worn a lot of make-up. When I was young I thought it looked really cool to wear eyeshadow below my eyes as well as above, a great mystery of pre-teen me. When I first wore red lipstick I felt Sassy with a capital ‘S’, even when it smudged onto my chin and made me look even more sophisticated. Now?

When I wear make-up now I wonder if it’s because society says, as a woman, I look better wearing mascara and foundation: some kind of warped, patriarchal obligation thrust upon us by our own history. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I have something to hide, as if my own face isn’t good enough for the wider world to see naked. Then I remember the reason. I paint my face for me, and because it makes me happy.

In 2011 The Guardian reported how a woman, Melanie Stark, was told to wear make-up at work, the newspaper’s website quoting a section of Harrods’ female dress-code: ‘full makeup at all time: base, blusher, full eyes (not too heavy), lipstick, lip liner and gloss are worn at all times and maintained discreetly (please take into account the store display lighting which has a ‘washing out’ effect)’. This seems ludicrous: if men were told this rule applied to them, there would be ridicule. Outrage. Men don’t wear make-up!

But they do. You only have to google “male make-up” to be given thousands of results for what to do and where to buy it. Luxury make-up brand Charlotte Tilbury even has an entire section devoted to products for men, staunch evidence for consumer demand. The problem was when I arrived on the website for health magazine Men’s Fitness: ‘the trend of makeup for men—a.k.a, corrective skincare—is on its way to the U.S.’ Excuse me? Corrective skincare? If anything, this is an insult to men. Make-up isn’t for “correction”; nor does it automatically magic you into a drag queen if you’re a man with a bit of concealer on. It is there, because why the hell shouldn’t it be?

This is what society should be saying to all of us. Not that our lashes need lengthening and thickening, because they’re eyelashes, not cactus needles. We definitely don’t need to be informed that our skin needs the ‘healthy glow’ obtained from foundation, because generally no one wants to look like a mix between Joey Essex and sun-exposed Edward Cullen. Even if you do, then do it for yourself, so when you catch your reflection in car windows it’s you who knows you look holy-s**t awesome today; not because some magazine tells you it will make you look better.

To be honest, I get scared of not wearing make-up, and have huge respect for women who choose not to. People say that some “don’t need to”, which isn’t fair. I don’t need to wear make-up, but I do because as I mentioned, it makes me happy. Why do I get scared? Not because I’m not comfortable with my face, but because I think other people will judge me. If you live in a Bobbi Brown eyeliner pot, when you cup your hands on the jar’s rim and peep over, bare, you get a response along the lines of “oh, you’re not wearing much make-up today”. Thoughts of acquaintances arrive in your head like miraculous brainwaves:
“Someone was in a rush today!”
“She looks way better with make-up on.”
“She looks so tired. Are her eyes really that small?”

No one’s actually told me any of this; I just can’t get my head around people not thinking it. It’s not a case of self-absorption but exactly the opposite: I feel far more obvious with no make-up on than whilst wearing purple lipstick. Does anybody even care? No. Of course they don’t. My eyes could fall out and half the people in my lectures wouldn’t notice; likewise the other way round. Other people simply aren’t ruffled about how you look. It’s a strange mirage conjured up by the media that you will get banished to a land far away if, whoa there, you have a spot that you haven’t covered. Are you sure you can go out looking like that? Really? I’m this great new skin product that will…

No. We’re human, not an army of flawless Delevingnes, and even Cara probably has things she doesn’t like about how she looks. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe I don’t. Wearing make-up is not a disguise, a repair for faults, or a shying away from reality. It’s the same with using no make-up at all: it’s because you can. You don’t need mascaraed eyelashes to bat judgement away because it’s about how hard you blink, not about the thickness of each individual lash.

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