Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I don't really "get" makeup. I wear a little bit sometimes, but I don't really understand why, I'm just conforming to expectations. (Or coping with a really horrible zit, but that's not the full makeup monty, it doesn't count.) I guess wearing makeup when I go out represents putting effort into my appearance, but I'm not sure what that effort is for. These are my questions:

1) Is makeup supposed to be sexual? Since it's gender-specific and supposed to enhance "attractiveness," I assume that means sexual attractiveness. But lots of women wear it to work, monogamous women wear it away from their partners, no one's scandalized when teenagers wear it, and some women won't leave the house without it. So I guess it's supposed to be sexy, but not literally advertising for sex--and I don't know what that means. Just a passive expression that one has a feminine sexuality, I guess?

2) Is makeup supposed to be invisible? It's obviously not, in the standard application; no one naturally has red lips or colored eyelids. But when you read articles about makeup, a lot of the emphasis is on concealing or emphasizing your natural features. Blush is intended to simulate a strong cheekbone, not a pink smear on your face. Mascara is an attempt at fooling people into thinking you naturally have really big eyelashes... which is a good thing, I guess? But no one feels cheated to find out that a girl's apparent super-eyelashes were really just makeup. So I don't get it.

3) Does makeup really make that much of a difference? When I put on makeup, I still look exactly like Holly, just slightly palette-swapped. I wouldn't fool ya for younger or thinner or anything. I can't imagine anyone being attracted to makeup-Holly who isn't attracted to me regular.

Unless makeup isn't about the appearance it creates but the signals it sends--"I'm feminine and I put some work into myself." But then the craft of makeup should matter less; there shouldn't be so many concerns about doing it just right, if the presence of makeup matters more than the content. I guess that's where the "work" part comes from, though. Even if it's completely circular work to display the presence of work, you still have to do it right, geez.

This whole subject confuses me.


  1. I've always preferred my women wothout makeup. I'm not going to blow a gasket or anything if she wants to put some on: I just like 'em better au naturel.

  2. Oops! "Without'", obviously.

  3. I have no interest in makeup because you're not actually supposed to give yourself rainbow eyelids. So what is the point?

    And every time I put on mascara, I get myself in the eyeball with it, so my eye waters and it ruins the damn mascara. And my lips are red enough without lipstick, and when I wear lipstick, they feel weird and it just comes off anyway.

    Some women do look good with makeup, though. It creates an interesting effect. And you get to colour on your face! Just not too much...

  4. I love makeup. It's like a daily art project. It's like a madlib/coloring book, except it's your face. Sometimes I want my eyelids to be green; sometimes I want to my hair to be blue. I freely indulge in either impulse. It's easier, of course, to change the eyelids.

    It does make me feel prettier too, although I realize that's my opinion and not necessarily everyone else's.

    Most guys I've been with aren't especially into the makeup thing in concept, but end up somewhere between tolerating and tacitly liking it; many girls appreciate it as fellow enthusiasts.

    The whole "invisible makeup" thing is an urban legend. I'm sure it started to sell makeup, somehow.

  5. "Unless makeup isn't about the appearance it creates but the signals it sends--"I'm feminine and I put some work into myself."

    This. Well, in part, anyway.

    I wear make-up almost every day, and I think it makes me look nicer than I would without it (more defined features, etc) - even though, as you say, pretty much the same set of people would be attracted to me with it than without it.

    But on those occasions when I'm running around my neighbourhood in no-makeup, sweaty hair and tracksuit pants on an early Saturday evening while other women are heading out in heels, short dresses and make-up, it occurs to me just how socially constructed our ideas about female beauty are, and just how much they depend on the performance of making that effort.

    While individual attraction varies, our general ideas of what constitutes a "hot woman" are narrower, and are easily to manufacture with heals, bleach, a fake tan, and even something as simple as mascara.

  6. I don't much care for women with makeup. Now temporary decorations and patterns, like henna tattoos or bodypaint, that's interesting... but the more subtle changes brought on by ordinary makeup usually just makes them look a bit off somehow, and tells me that they waste time with pointless trivialities.

  7. I wear makeup as a hobby; I think it's fun to apply and I like to play with colors. It's also kind of a form of self expression, just like clothes or hair or anything else having to do with appearance. I'm totally aware that most men don't like makeup, especially bright colors like mine. Honestly, I just don't care, I use makeup for myself because I like to, not to make myself more attractive. Of course, I'm also not one to think every woman would look better with makeup and should wear it. For me it's just a fun little hobby I have.

  8. It's always seemed too much trouble to me. But I'm reminded of a woman I was in a college class with, who always wore very heavy make-up that seemed odd and out of place to me. She came to class one day without it, and looked so different, very sweet and vulnerable. During the class (which was women's studies and touchy-feely) she talked about how hard it was for her *not* to wear the make-up. I don't exactly remember why, but I think it was at least partially a class issue for her; her background was very different from that of most of the college kids. It was a really different perspective on make-up.

  9. I have eyeshadow!

    I use it to paint swirlies on my cheeks for going clubbing!

    I have no useful input about mainstream constructions of femininity!

    This is not news!

    ... no, I don't know why I'm !-happy.

  10. As other posters have said, it's at least in part about fitting in, not sexuality. That's why some employers include makeup as part of their dress code for women. Gross? Unfair? Biased and a little crazy? Sure. Ain't hardly the only screwy thing with gender in our society though.

    But then for a lot of women, it is about sexuality- about feeling attractive, getting noticed, etc. I know as a younger woman, that was the primary reason I wore makeup. Then for a long time I didn't really wear makeup at all. I got comfortable with how I looked and with the sort of guy I was looking for, and I knew that makeup wasn't really a big part of either. These days I've gone back to a little under eye concealer and lip gloss, and on a really wild day even some blush, but that's about it. And that's entirely to do with me liking the way I look. I still go out with wet hair (horrors!) and many days skip the makeup entirely. Just depends on how I'm feeling. Some days if I need a little boost, it's a fast, easy way to do something to feel a little better about my appearance. I think just that modest effort gives me the little extra something I need to be able to face the idiots, the commercials, and all the rest of the nonsense with equanimity and say, "I may not fit the mainstream idea of beauty but I'm happy with how I look."

  11. I used to be pretty OCD about makeup, and wouldn't be seen in public w/o it (I think it was residual freckle insecurity that drove a lot of it.)

    These days, it's just eye liner and mascara to prevent myself from looking like a sheet of lightly-freckled paper with blond hair (a process I refer to as "Hang on, I gotta draw some eyes on my face...")

  12. Generally I prefer minimal or no makeup, but a heavier dose sometimes looks damn good. Also, without makeup a woman who's otherwise dressed up will sometimes look strange. It's a little like wearing running shoes with a suit -- perfectly understandable, and not necessarily unattractive, but off.

  13. One area where makeup is pretty indisputably useful is TV. You WILL look like death has warmed over you nine times out of ten without makeup. Even seemingly impromptu interviewees will get a little dusting before the tape rolls.

  14. Eyeliner = the difference between Flightless at the office looking like she's had the very little sleep she's actually had, vs. looking like a standard alert non-pink-eyed awake officey person.

    That's ... all I've got.


  15. When I was in high school, I wore makeup because I thought that I looked ugly without it.

    In my mid twenties, I stopped wearing it because I got over it.

    Now that I am in my thirties, on a normal day I pretty much either just wear a little concealer to get rid of some dark circles when I get overworked, or nothing.

    I do own a crapton of eyeshadow though, when I go out, I actively ENJOY seeing what fun things I can do with it.

  16. Polls have determined that most men do not like makeup.

    Studies have determined that most men prefer pictures of women wearing makeup to women without.

    The upshot is that men like makeup when it's subtle enough that they don't notice it conciously; for example when it's used to simulate the kind of unusually healthy skin which has no small variations in color.

    Personally, I like obvious makeup (lipstick, eyeshadow) occasionally as a source of variety, but not most of the time.

  17. Columnist Cynthia Heimel believes that a woman wearing makeup is "offering herself up as prey," which is why a pre-teen wearing gobs of cosmetics looks ridiculous. I would tend to agree with this - makeup is a social signifier not unlike a mating display. Even if a woman is in a happy monogamous relationship, it's still a self-esteem boost to show the world that she's still sexually viable.

    I think my appearance is enhanced by makeup, but I'm too lazy to go slathering shit on my face all the time. Also, I feel like makeup is almost like an apology for my real face (another Cynthia Heimel sentiment). When I do wear makeup, it's usually more to be artistic than to try to conceal or "fix" my hideous, hideous god-given features.

    And I know guys think they don't like makeup, but they probably don't realize it's there half the time (unless they're close enough to the girl to be making out with her) because so many women wear at least a little bit that it's hard to remember what a naked face even looks like anymore. Show most guys a picture of a woman wearing foundation, blush, concealer, pink lipstick, a touch of mascara, and some subtly applied neutral-coloured eyeshadow and they'll believe she's au naturel.

    I'd like to see the photos they showed men of women in makeup vs. women without in order to determine what men prefer. Were the makeupped women painted up like clown prostitutes or just wearing a typical amount? Did any of the non-makeupped women have acne/broken nose capillaries/dark undereye circles/invisibly pale eyelashes, or were they all relatively free of "flaws" in the first place? For that matter, is the guys' distaste focused strictly on the appearance of makeup or is it more about "She's hot but if I was making out with her I'd get goop all over me"?

  18. Like Starsky, I used to wear make up because I thought I was ugly without it. Then stopped once I grew a spine. Now I'm a proud owner of 150-ish eyeshadows in all the colours of the rainbow.

    And yes, yes I do put rainbows on my eyelinds. :P

    I also tweeze my eyebrows to have, um, more space for rainbows. Yes. :D

    All joking aside, I know quite a handful of women who are quite happy with themselves but love painting their faces for the sheer artistry of it. Really, it's fun. If I didn't have a day job, I'd make my mother's heart stop.

  19. For me, it is an expression of creativity and individuality. But everyone is different! :-)

  20. I realized that in the struggles with my prior post (why does Firefox hate, I forgot to ask a question of Holly: What do you think of men in uniform?

  21. I don't really get it either, but my wife freaks out without it and I like her a whole lot.

  22. I've heard that some makeup mimics sexual arousal. I've read that some women's eyelids get darker and lips get redder and fuller when they are highly aroused. I do think it makes women look more beautiful, but I'm usually too lazy to bother with anything besides mascara.

  23. I have wondered this EXACT same thing. I always just figured I was doing it wrong, since it made no difference to me. I'm so glad other women wonder this too.

    Sometimes I wear lipstick so I can feel "dressed up", but it's purely a psychological thing.

  24. I used to wear it as a teen because I had awful acne that killed my self esteem - it was hard to leave the house without makeup on because I felt ugly.
    For a while I was wearing make-up just because I like playing with pretty colours. Now I've got terrible hormonal acne (thanks depo provera) and it's back to the old panicking about people seeing how bad my zits are. Not that they're easy to cover anyway...
    It always bothers me that it somehow matters that men don't like makeup, or so the studies go.
    I don't give a toss, I'll do what I like doing and I'll do what makes me feel better about myself.

  25. I only wear it when I'm larping and then it's like lullabee said, 'rainbows on my eyelids' (only more likely to be on my face and not my eyelids because eyelids are hard to do things to and are more likely to get irritated if makeup is on them for long)

    I think part of it is that when I'm larping.... I know what look I'm going for. "I'm a scary vampire" "I'm a free spirited fae"

    I don't 'get' what the 'modern woman' look is.