A good friend of mine wore make-up last week. You may be wondering why that is worthy of a blog post, but you see Millie doesn’t wear make up. Not that she rarely uses cosmetics. She NEVER wears make up. She doesn’t own any cosmetics at all.
She posted a photo on Facebook, and was debating whether to wipe it all off, when I suggested she leave it for the day and blog about the reaction of her friends and family. She has written about the word ‘cosmetic’ on her brilliant etymology blog here.
You’ve all heard of the bare-faced selfie, where women were encouraged to take pictures of themselves without any make-up on, the assumption of course being that all women wear make-up all the time. Well, I do not. In fact, I do not even own any make-up.
This has long been an issue for a friend of mine who is a beautician, and she has frequently offered to teach me how to use make up and to do makeovers for me. I don’t need lessons, I hasten to add, I do not wear make up because I don’t want to. But, to keep a long story short, when she offered a couple of days ago to give me a makeover, as she has done many times before, I finally said yes, mostly so that I don’t have to hear about it again. I must give her her due, she did a nice job. I didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t feel that it was me.
So far, so good. But I didn’t just wash it off the minute I got home. Instead, I kept it on to see how my day would go. I was quite suprised by the reactions of the people around me, all of whom had never seen me with make-up on before. People stared at me as though I had grown an extra head. It was actually quite disconcerting. One person asked me what the occasion was, what I was celebrating. Another came up and automatically wished me happy birthday, assuming that that must be the reason for wearing make-up. It wasn’t my birthday, of course. I was quite amused by all of this.
On now to darker reactions. One person who I know quite well, and who felt that entitled her to ask some more direct questions came up and asked me if I was all right, and had my husband hit me! I asked her what she was talking about. She had assumed that the only reason I would want to wear make-up would be to hide the marks on my face. It doesn’t help that I had a black eye a few months ago, and again the automatic assumption was that my husband had done it. (It was actually my young son, who has special needs and did not understand what he was doing when he hit my face with a wooden toy!) It was very telling, I thought, to hear the reactions from some other women I know, when I went to pick up my children from school. They asked me if my husband had been looking at other women and playing aound, and I had put make-up on in order to make an effort for him and not lose him. Because, naturally, if that were my problem, a bit of make-up would be the way to solve it!
These were all reactions from adults. I couldn’t help noticing that there was no thought that I might just be wearing make-up because I felt like it, perhaps I wished to experiment with some different colours. The immediate assumption related it either to a celebration (is there some law I have hitherto been unaware of that says I must put make-up on in order to celebrate?!) or to what my husband might be thinking and feeling or doing. It made me wonder about the relationships of the people who said those things to me, and I felt sad for them.
A few people told me I looked nice or beautiful. Although they meant well, and I smiled and said thankyou, I actually found it irritating. It made me feel as though the real me, the one without make-up, wasn’t nice and beautiful.
Finally, we shall come to my children’s reactions. First of all, as I have mentioned, my younger son has special needs, and does not speak beyond a few syllables. He reached up to touch my mouth with the lipstick on and made the sound he makes for “hurts”. He must have linked the red colour to the colour of blood. My daughter said to me “You look beautiful, Mummy! But it’s a bit funny!”
But it was my eldest son, who is seven years old, who was the most direct of all. “What’s happened to you, Mummy? You look horrible! You don’t look like you! Wash it off your face, I don’t like it. I like the real you best.” He continued to tell me to wash my face every time he looked at me, and when I did, he gave a huge sigh of relief. “Now you are you again!” he said. And that was how I felt, too!