In which I wonder when showing one’s actual face became laudable

Now from that title you might be expecting me to weigh into the issue of Muslim women wearing a full face veil. Well, sorry if I disappoint but that ain’t going to happen around here.  Wear a veil if you want to; don’t if you don’t. I really have nothing more to say on the issue.

What I do have something to say about is this – the Children in Need Bearfaced Campaign. Not wearing make-up has, apparently, become so socially abhorrent, so embarrassing for women, that they can get sponsored to spend 24 hours without foundation. Hold the front page! There are pictures of some women showing the actual unadorned skin on their noses and foreheads. Try to control your inevitable feelings of horror at the sight.

What? I’m sorry. We’re all familiar with Children in Need sponsorship options – you can sit in a bath of beans; you can wear a duck costume to the office; you can undertake some form of physical task (sponsored walk, bike ride, swim, hop etc etc). Leaving the house without make-up on isn’t a sponsorable activity. In fact, at the risk of causing horror amongst whole sections of society, for a huge number of the women, and nearly all the men, it’s just normal. We get up and leave the house without painting on a better face than the one we’ve been lumbered with every single day. And here’s another shocker – nothing bad happens as a result. No children are scared. The police aren’t called. We aren’t carted back to our homes and required to mascara-up before we venture out again.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing to wear make-up. I personally only paint it on a couple of times a year – in the photo on this site, for example I believe I’m wearing lip gloss, but I think that’s it.  Wearing make-up every day just makes me feel sweaty and like my face is on too tight. There is, however, nowt unfeminist about an interest in sparkly pretty things. Some women enjoy wearing make-up, in the same way that I enjoy stroking shoes I can’t afford to buy (and would probably break an ankle in if I could). That’s fine and dandy. But wearing make-up shouldn’t be such a self-evident expectation of womankind, that not wearing it is viewed as hardship or faux pas. There shouldn’t be anything brave about not bothering with eyeliner.

To nick a thought from Caitlin Moran, a good basic starting point for rooting out sexism is to ask yourself, “Are the men worrying about this?” Are male office workers, or indeed male tv presenters, actors etc, getting up half an hour earlier every day to paint out their blemishes? Well on TV, to an extent they are, but we’re talking a brush of powder to take the shine off, rather than an intricate layering of primer, concealer, foundation, bronzer and more.

Your face is your face. If you like to paint bits of it pretty colours, then that’s fair enough, but as soon as we start applauding women for being prepared to show their faces make-up free, we accept that doing so is an act of courage, and it just shouldn’t be. A face is a face is a face. Some of them are a bit blotchy. Some of them are spotty. Some of them are wrinkly. Some of them have slightly hairy top lips. And none of those things matter, and all of them are entirely ok.

So, wear make-up if you want to; don’t if you don’t. Just don’t embrace the idea that not wearing make-up is brave or empowering, because as soon as you do, you also accept that it’s Not Normal, and the bigger, broader and more inclusive we make our notion of normal the more people we share common ground with and the happier we will all be.

And that ends this week’s sermon on the subject of lip gloss. Thanking you all muchly for your time.

Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

3 thoughts on “In which I wonder when showing one’s actual face became laudable”

  1. Please more people go barefaced. Some mornings on the tube I expect the army of orange-faced, pink-lipped blondes to start making clockwork noises and come at me with their razor sharp nails and stiletto eyelashes like I’m stuck in Doctor Who’s little shop of Chuckies. There’s nothing wrong with looking human!


  2. I think I was probably in my late twenties before I even left the house without foundation. For about a decade I’d rather have gone topless than display my naked face to the world. I even put foundation on to walk the dog, just in case someone saw me. Acne, you see. It’s calmed down now, and so have I, but while I don’t usually bother with a lot of other makeup, the thought of going out-out without a bit of concealer at the least fills me with utter dread.

    Which is why I don’t understand why women with perfect skin prefer to turn it a thick matt orange. Girls, you really don’t know what you’ve got!


  3. ** Applauds loudly **
    As a TV reporter, I had to wear makeup to work every day. On my days off it was such a treat to leave my skin clean and able to breathe. I worry what we are teaching young girls when we insist that they ‘improve’ their faces before they dare be seen.
    There are times make-up makes me feel good – great. If it feels good – do it. But no-one should ever paint their face because they “have to”. And no-one should ever make not wearing makeup seem in any way brave or out of the ordinary. Not wearing makeup is how we came into this world.


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