Healthy Mind

Brushing up on the politics on make-up

Like a lot of people my age, I wear makeup. And like a lot of people my age, I have a complicated relationship with my face. You know that Sylvia Plath poem, “Mirror”, where she examines her face in a lake, “searching the reaches for what she really is”? Yeah, I’m the same, but instead of a lake, I have a dusty Ikea thing that tends to fall off my dressing-table late at night. It may sound narcissistic, but I spend a lot of time looking into the mirror – are my eyebrows wonky? Is one eye bigger than another? IS THAT A HAIR ON MY UPPER LIP? The struggle to be pretty usually involves getting up much earlier than my flatmate and setting to work on my pale, blotchy, tired-looking visage.

But now, the caveat to the expected rant about how “pretty hurts”: I love makeup. I love matte foundation, blacker-than-black eyeliner flicks, red lipstick, pink lipstick… OK, any lipstick really. I love applying makeup and turning myself into someone glamorous and high powered. When I do my makeup properly, I like to think I give out serious “This lipstick was eighteen euro, don’t mess with me” vibes.

It’s a complicated relationship I have with something that is, of course, an instrument of patriarchy — a billion-dollar industry that thrives on insecurity. The roots of the cosmetics industry are steeped in sexism; when we are told a new eyebrow pencil is a “must have”, the implication is that our own eyebrows are unseemly and somehow wrong. So we buy into this; of course we do. I buy into it too – but not comfortably.

I’m not sure how many people share my feelings – for many people, it is simply a part of their daily lives to varying degrees. I have friends whom I’ve never seen without makeup – and friends who look alien-like to me with even a hint of mascara. I’m somewhere in between – there are days where I simply am not bothered with the routine, and head to college bare-faced. But those days are numbered.

The trouble with makeup (aside from the whole capitalist patriarchy thing) is it’s addictive. In my first and second years of college, I regularly barrelled in to class, uncaring that I looked a little like a zombie. This is, amazingly, de rigeur; recent campaigns for girls to “go natural” can be seen flying around Facebook every so often, from the #NoMakeupSelfie to Lydia Bright’s recently launched campaign.

We are bombarded with articles about how young women are ruining their skin/self-esteem/chance to find a man by wearing too much makeup. It’s confusing enough: makeup is bad…but not-makeup is also bad? After much consideration, I have decided that I don’t care.  And I believe we, as a society, shouldn’t care who “applies their makeup with a trowel” or who doesn’t know which end of an eyeliner pen is up. God forbid a woman should do something to make her feel good about herself… It’s not a key issue in feminist discourse, but all the same, it’s important to remember the positive impact make-up has on women’s self-worth. Yes, it stems from patriarchy and yes, it’s an evil global industry. But is your mascara-obsessed friend going to listen to this? Nope, because she likes looking awake at 9am. Am I harming my chances of ‘the ride’ because I ignore the “lips or eyes” rule? Possibly: But I’d rather not be involved with someone that shallow anyway. While I’m uncomfortable with the background and reasoning behind the cosmetics industry, I nonetheless will continue to reach for my powder and eyeliner each morning, because it feels good, dammit.