I recently attended a women’s retreat that specifically requested the participants not wear any makeup.
And as silly as it sounds, I was actually nervous about it. I couldn’t remember the last time I went out in public without makeup on. I always wear at least foundation: it’s like a shield from the world. Maybe it’s because I’m pale, but if I don’t wear it, people always ask if I’m sick (or they make fun of my inevitably sunburned cheeks). And here I was going to be meeting a whole group of strangers without it to hide behind.
My inane fear about not wearing makeup made me think of all the other times I’ve worried about my appearance. And I realized: it’s not just too little makeup. I worry about wearing too much makeup as well.
When I’m modeling, I use heavier, more colorful makeup than I would day-to-day. And I get looks for it if I go out in public while I’m wearing it. Not the good kind of looks: the judging kind. When I walk to a shoot, people stare at me on the street. If I order a coffee before I head into work, the barista raises an eyebrow and doesn’t smile. Even my boyfriend will comment before I leave or come back from a gig. “I’d kiss you goodbye,” he’ll say, “but you’re wearing too much makeup.” Or “haven’t you taken that stuff off yet?"
It bothers me enough that I’ve been trying to develop a more subdued modeling makeup look—one that still photographs well, but that blends in with normal life a little bit better. I haven’t been successful yet.
In the meantime, I have to wear bright pink eye shadow in public. And if I can do that, then I figured I was brave enough to go one day without wearing makeup. So I squashed the temptation to sneak on a little foundation, even though I was sure no one would have noticed.
The day of the retreat, I showed up breaking out and with cheeks tinged red with sunburn. But no one seemed to care. I met people with bare faces, and they just looked like people. My friend who was running the retreat had more freckles than I remembered. People had more smiles than I expected.
That experience showed me that there are times for lots of makeup, and times for none whatsoever. But most importantly, I realized it’s up to me to decide when those times are.
Before the woman’s retreat, I would have never considered myself to be terribly concerned with my appearance. I grew up as a tomboy. I only started wearing makeup for modeling. I knew there were societal expectations about how much makeup women ought to wear, and how they should look. I just assumed that I was ignoring them.
I couldn’t have been more wrong: by not thinking about it, I was subconsciously conforming to them. Because I wasn’t aware of them, I found myself walking a tightrope with my appearance. Too much makeup one way, too little the other, and I would fall.
I’ve always said that I believe self-expression should be the primary factor in my appearance. When I’m not in front of the camera, the makeup I wear (or don’t) should be to make me happy. I shouldn’t let other people’s opinions dictate how I think I should look.
But now I’m not so sure that I’m following my own advice. So I’ve decided to try not wearing makeup again for a few days, just to see what happens.
It’s nothing drastic, and I may decide I like my old makeup ways the best. But what I decide doesn’t matter. For now, it’s a good reminder to make sure I’m deciding for the right reasons.