Last night I had a conversation over drinks with some colleagues after the ALIA Access Conference. The alcohol was flowing freely and, as usually happens with alcoholic lubrication, so did the truth.
It was the last day of the conference. I was dressed reasonably casually as I would normally do on a Friday, especially when at a conference. Jeans, comfortable shoes, relaxed hair doing its own thing. The shirt was a little better than your average t-shirt but nothing really dazzling. My ensemble was topped off by one thing that I always wear…make-up.
I had reapplied my lipstick and removed the shine from my nose as a few of us walked the last few metres to the pub. When there, I jokingly kissed an old friend on the cheek. A single male friend. I thought it would be fun to leave a lipstick mark on his cheek. He’s always game for stuff like that so he played along. However, the joke was on me because I’d been wearing Colorstay lipstick (i.e. “it won’t kiss off!”) so the transfer to his cheek was invisible. So, determined to make it happen, I reapplied by lipstick liberally and puckered up and planted one on him before the lipstick had a chance to set. Poor (lucky?) “Bean” was branded on the right cheek for the remainder of the night.
Not long after this, I was asked if I wore make-up all the time. I answered honestly, “I wear it most of the time.” This prompted the question, “Why?” Again, I answered honestly, “It’s my mask.”
I went on to explain how I don’t really feel comfortable with my natural features, how make-up gives me more confidence. I can stride out into the world feeling good about myself, that I am more attractive than I really am. Rightly or wrongly, this is how I feel.
There are times when my face is bare. When I’m at home, when I have been in hospital…occasions such as these. But, for the most part, I nearly always have at least foundation and lipstick on at all times.
I felt like I was really defending my choice to do this. I have since reflected on that conversation and wondered why I felt the need to justify my stance .
Is it more or less socially acceptable now to wear make-up than be tattooed? I don’t have any inked skin. How does it compare to body piercing? I only have a single simple piercing in each earlobe. What about other body modifications? I have no implants. I don’t wear hair extensions. I’ll admit to dying my greying hair but I have plans to stop that in the not too distant future. So why is my choice to wear make-up so strange that the question was raised in the first place?
My vulnerabilities and insecurities about my appearance are partly assuaged by putting my face mask everyday. When I paint my face, I create a persona for that day. Each day is slightly different. Some days I play demure, some days I go for tough, some days I go for vamp. Wearing make-up allows me the flexibility to change my persona as often as I choose. I like the freedom to change my personality as the wind blows. I don’t like to be pigeon-holed. When I change my make-up, I change my look and I change my persona. Is that a bad thing?
While I have nothing against body modifications such as tattoos and piercings, I’m actually in awe of people who can make that level of commitment to a physical change. I could not possibly commit to something so permanent when I know I can’t even commit to a shade of eyeshadow or lipstick.
My father used to say, “So you think you can improve of what God made, huh?” I don’t know about that but I do know how it makes me feel inside. I don’t feel so exposed, so bare, so vulnerable.
So, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll just continue to paint that armour on my face everyday and go and face the world on my terms.