By Alice Koski and Anna Hill
For many women, make up is a normal part of everyday life; in fact, the average woman in the UK wears make up for 341 day of the year. And whilst make up certainly seems like a positive force – for giving women confidence, for being an art, for giving us control over our image – it is definitely not without its problems. The double standards it creates, the pressure it puts on women to look perfect, the industry itself… to name just a few.
With this in mind, we’re tackling the subject of make up by answering and discussing the following five questions together. Here we go!
How were you introduced to make up? When did you start wearing it?
Alice – I was a complete tomboy from the ages of about 7 to 12, and had never wanted anything to do with makeup. It wasn’t until my second year of secondary school that I started to take an interest. My introduction to make up began with a cheap eyeliner from Boots, my mum’s old mascara and a lot of mistakes! Myself and my friends bonded over make up – there were many experiments and many disasters (I’m remembering like the time a fake eyelash got stuck on my real ones!). Make up was one of the things we learnt about together and I definitely count it as a good (bar the false eyelash incident!) experience.
Anna – That’s really cool! I had a similar experience, particularly with the whole tomboy thing at the beginning, and then in Year Seven when I changed friendship groups and I “got into” make up. It was fine, although I think I went with it more to fit in than because I actually enjoyed wearing it, and I still have no real understanding of make up so maybe that’s why. I also actually remember being sort of bullied by these girls who wanted to give me a “makeover” and then tried to make me look like a panda, and I didn’t know how to take it off, so I felt really humiliated. Luckily my now best friend helped me to get it off, but after that I stopped hanging out with them or wearing much make up.
Alice – That sounds awful! Year 7 is a weird time because it’s such a big transition.
Anna – Year seven 7 was a very very tough year for me! I think it must have scared me off make up, but I’m actually pretty comfortable with being a total rookie at it now.
Alice – I can’t remember whether I was genuinely interested in discovering make up or whether I felt like I should be interested.
Anna- I think a lot of girls feel like that! Maybe that’s why we all turn to make up, as a way of coping with the change and the new “grownupness”.
Alice – That’s a really interesting idea. I remember that same sort of time being pretty tough because of having to cope with all the ‘growing up’.
Anna – It makes me wanna ask everyone when they got into makeup to see if it was around the same time. Growing up as a girl is so hard! You’re thrown in at the deep end – expected to be really good at make up immediately and to have a great fashion sense.
Alice – Yes! And it’s all at once – that 12-14 age range. Quite a lot to cope with.
What is your daily make up routine if you have one?
Anna – I don’t really have a daily or conventional make up routine. I actually own very little make up, BUT I do have a kind of self-care routine that involves putting on make up. It’s a little bit bizarre I suppose but I like to view this routine as a kind of therapy! Basically, when I feel really sad, or just sort of lost, or any negative emotion, or creatively sapped, I paint my face with lipstick and/or use turquoise eyeliner to make myself have freckles and experiment with contouring and bizarre shapes and strange lip colours. It’s really fun and it helps me to survive really awful weeks, or it can just be a way to remind myself that my body is my own and I can do with it what I want – it doesn’t have to look pretty or cute – it can be ugly, weird, eye-catching, sparkling, childish, alien, robotic, butch, magical and any number of other things. So my “make up routine” is a really intense one and only happens about once a month. It’s really refreshing and I would 800% recommend it! Just throw caution (and colour) to the wind and put stuff onto your face!
Alice – That’s really cool! Sometimes I forget that make up can be arty. Some would say it’s a form of art!
Anna – I’m not sure if it is or isn’t really, but I don’t mind – it’s purpose for me isn’t art ,it’s just a way of helping me access strength or confidence or happiness. But then I think selfies can be art, so if I take a selfie with the makeup maybe I’ve made it INTO some kind of art piece?
Alice – Yeah, why not? There should be a gallery set up for selfies!
Anna – I would so go to that!! And hope my selfies made it in! What about you? What’s your kind of routine with makeup?
Alice -– My routine is nowhere near as interesting as yours! I don’t own a lot of make up and I tend to keep things quite simple. But I’ve developed a make up routine in the order that I apply things – concealer first, then foundation, then eyebrows, then eyes, then lips. I like doing my eyes best, and I’m a fan of big eyeliner flicks! If I want to keep things more casual, I’ll not put as much on, but if I’m going somewhere where I want to impress, I’ll do more.
Anna – Oh that’s interesting! So if you are dressing to impress do you wear more obvious make up rather than natural- looking stuff?
Alice – Yeah, like if I’m going to a party, I’ll put on lots of eyeliner and probably lipstick, but if I’m meeting friends in the day or going to school I won’t bother.
Anna – This might sound a bit like a therapy question, but do you enjoy putting the makeup on? Like is it a nice part of your day?
Alice – I kinda do actually, especially if I’m with a friend and we’re going somewhere, it’s fun to share make up and help each other. I also quite like seeing the ‘transformation’ of it too.
Anna – Yeah! A mutual and often girly shared experience. And watching your face change, it’s cool. It’s pretty impressive what people who can do make up can do – like contouring is so impressive.
Alice – Exactly! I’ve never tried it but it’s pretty amazing how people can completely change the shape of their face!
Anna – I think this type of stuff is seriously underrated because it is considered girly, and girly ALWAYS equals vapid, stupid, bad, pointless.
Alice – I’ve also seen lot of guys saying that girls who wear make up are ‘lying’ to everyone, which pisses me off.
Anna – I think though they react like that because they don’t really understand makeup – not to be patronising.
Alice – They set a double standard as well by saying that girls who wear make up are fake/liars, but girls who don’t are ugly/aren’t making any effort!
Anna – I think that’s why it’s just important to really think about WHO you are wearing makeup for. It’s okay to want to look pretty and impress people, but make sure that YOU think you look pretty.
Why do you/don’t you wear make up?
Alice – I wear make up most days, as I’m either going to school/university or seeing friends. There are a lot of reasons why I do this, the main one being that make up makes me feel more confident in myself, and that gives me a boost. Another reason is that, after having worn make up for a few years now, it feels almost like a necessity. If I go out ‘bare-faced’ I feel a bit naked. I would never judge another girl for not wearing make up, but there is a certain standard I set for myself – if I’m going to be seeing certain people or if I’m going somewhere where I know I’ll get my photo taken, then I feel like I should wear make up.
Anna – That’s really interesting because I go out bare faced the majority of the time, but I do USE makeup in a similar way to you – sometimes I wear it to feel confident. I’m much less interested in looking pretty than I used to be. Now I care about looking like myself, being feminine, being interesting, being confident through the makeup I use. I also really like TRYING to look ugly - it’s so much fun and it takes all the pressure off!
Alice – These ‘expectations’ that I have for myself cause me to feel like I need to wear make up, but if I stopped wearing make up, what’s the worst thing that could happen!? Your attitude is great though, I definitely feel like I have to try and look pretty. Trying to look ugly is not something that’s ever crossed my mind!
Anna – Unfortunately it does take a lot of strength to shun those expectations, so you know, baby steps – not to be patronising! It’s fun, you should definitely try it some time.
Do you feel different when wearing makeup or more judged by others?
Anna – I do feel different! I think part of that is because it’s quite rare for me to wear makeup and because of various issues with my skin I’ve never felt comfortable putting on make up, so when I wear makeup I wear MAKE UP (with flashing lights and bold colours), rather than the: “I woke up like this with a flawless face and most men can’t tell that I am wearing makeup at all” look”. So I guess I must get judged by people who think I dress/am alive to please them, BUT I do not care for that. I enjoy confusing people though, for example once I sat on the tube and I had some turquoise freckles for confidence and strength and also fun (I was going to a Beyonce concert!!!), and these two guys opposite me were clearly SO CONFUSED by it all. I enjoyed screwing with their perceptions. I think I like doing that sort of thing because of my identity too – as a Queer person I often feel like media only represents me when it subverts what is seen as “normal,” so now I claim subversion as my “thing.” I’ve also gotten used to people judging my “look” because I have body hair which I don’t really cover up (leg hair is so effective at keeping me warm in the winter!), so I like to play with those stereotypes when I wear make up too – i.e if you don’t shave you are dirty and lazy, but then if I don’t shave and look really well put together, I’m proving them wrong and hopefully making them question those judgments.
To get back to the question properly, I do often wear makeup and it makes me feel feminine and powerful which I like. The red lipstick I wear sometimes is so full of obviousness and vivacity so that’s great for confidence and making me feel unashamed to be here, to be taking up space.
Alice – Wow, super interesting. My response is that I suppose I feel a bit of both. Different, because make up makes me feel confident, more attractive, and more powerful like you said! But on the flip side, I do often feel judged for my make up choices. If I go without make up, I feel like people (especially girls) may judge me to be lazy or not making an effort. However, when I do wear make up, although it makes me feel confident, I feel like people make assumptions about me too. In particular, I’ve often encountered guys who see me wearing make up, ‘fashionable clothes’ (and not to mention I have the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype to live up to) and judge me to be ditzy/vapid/slutty, which is not true, and something I wouldn’t want to pin onto any girl.
Anna – No! It sucks. It’s basically like anything a teenage girl does is stupid. It’s one of those things that is SO difficult to sort out, because you don’t need to spend your life trying to show them how complicated and clever you are – and it’s not your job to educate them, but those stereotypes can be really harmful and REALLY hurt girls’ self esteem.
Has make up helped you, and if so how?
Alice – I feel like make up has helped me – with my confidence, with making friends, with growing up. But when I think about it – I didn’t need make up for any of those things. I’ve always enjoyed doing my make up and I enjoy wearing it, but I can’t tell if it’s for the right reasons.
Anna – This one is difficult. I think agree, but because I basically like to paint my face a lot, it’s helped me personally – but I’m not using it in the same way that most women do.
Alice – I can’t really justify that make up HELPS women. Maybe it does at surface level, but on a deeper level I think it’s maybe quite a damaging thing. I don’t know!
Anna- I guess it’s not the actual ACT of putting on make up, it’s the context of our situation. The kyriarchy/the patriarchy MAKE make up problematic, but the activity itself isn’t really a problem at all. It’s difficult because I never want to be the type of person to be like “women you cannot do a thing you like to do,” but there are definitely issues with make up and it can quite easily be used as a tool to manipulate and subjugate women. Which is not cool.
Alice- Totally agree… maybe it’s not that we stop using it, it’s that we change our attitudes towards it?
If make up is a problem, can it be solved? Is it more of a bad thing than a good thing? Can we change attitudes and prejudices towards it? We feel almost more confused now than we did before our discussion! However, hearing about each other’s experiences and points of view was both interesting and enlightening. We encourage you to have your own discussions about make up with friends (you can use the questions from here if you like!). We guarantee you’ll come out of it a little confused and a little enlightened…and if anyone comes to any definite conclusions, let us know!