made up

Disclosure: this post is of the uber personal variety.

I have been trying to write this post for almost two years, and failing - over and over again. But I have decided that however rough-around-the-edges these thoughts are, it's important to document them here. Perhaps only for myself. Perhaps in the hopes of learning something from you who read it. Perhaps only to find more questions.

I've been writing this blog for almost two years now and it is obvious to me that I have yet to find my niche. I love to make, and craft, and I love to read blogs about crafting and making. I also love to move about in the physical world, I love to run and ride my bike and I love to read about people who also do these wonderfully motivational, endorphin-generating things. I am also a feminist, and I relish the opportunity to read the words of other smarter, wiser, more eloquent writers on the many topics and issues that we women face throughout our lives.

I think often about my work as a maker from a feminist lens. I try to think about the ways in which I can utilize what is often historically been "women's work" to be, instead of a subjugation, a source of inspiration and empowerment. How, in 2015, can cooking, sewing, and knitting be feminist acts? I believe that they can be, I believe that they are. I believe it's important to understand historical significance, and I believe I have so much to learn, and think about, and grow into. 

It's probably safe to say that most of you who read here are women. Probably most of you are knitters - my knitting posts are usually the most popular. This post is not about knitting. But I hope that this enormous, jumbled examination of one tiny facet of my life as a woman doesn't discourage you from coming here. In fact I hope just the opposite - I hope you will share with me your thoughts, your reactions, your insights. I hope you will send it to your women friends and that they will share with me their thoughts, their reactions, their insights. Comment, email me, write me a postcard. You are wise and strong and thoughtful, and I appreciate everything you have to say.


One night my husband and I were laying in bed after watching a somewhat dull movie with an exquisitely beautiful actress. And after discussing a few other aspects of the movie - what we liked, and didn't - we talked about how beautiful the actress was.

I launched into the conversation about the actress with my husband: I started it. I didn't start it because I'm jealous, or because I wanted praise ("she's not as beautiful as you") - I started it because I have been trying very hard to focus on my Beauty Desire, and I am in touch with myself enough now to catch these twinges; when a beautiful woman appears on screen and my brain says "She's so beautiful I want to be beautiful." It is instantaneous, the period is missing there purposefully. It should really look like: SheissobeautifulIwanttobebeautiful.

I have a painful desire to be beautiful.

It alarms me greatly to write that down, out loud, here on the Great Wide World of the Internet. But I write it because I think that as much as none of us - myself desperately included - want to admit this desire, to ourselves or anyone else, we all share it.

Maybe we don't always consciously know it, or recognize it, but it happens to all of us - I would argue an alarming amount of the time. It's why advertising works, it's what makes us want certain clothes and accessories and makeup and hairstyles and even shoes and cars. It works on me, that's for damn sure; I want things all the time. I want the perfect wardrobe and a rain jacket that doesn't make me look like a plastic garbage bag and I want sexy shoes. I want a haircut that looks flattering and effortless, and acne free skin, and bright white teeth. I want to be beautiful.

I am pretty good at not giving in to things I want. I purchase a new clothing item maybe twice a year; I don't own a single pair of impractical shoes. I do have a raincoat that looks like I'm wearing a garbage bag because it was not very expensive and highly effective. But even though I felt I was succeeding at evading the consumerism that is a deep part of this Beauty Desire, I knew I was also failing. I was failing because I still want. I don't act on those wants; but those wants are alive and well. Perhaps even multiplying.

In some things, it is easy - or unavoidable - to blur the motivations: one must wear clothes, and clothes must be acceptable in the work place, etc., so one can rationalize that purchasing new, flattering clothes isn't solely to feed the vanity machine. But, at least in my life, makeup is not this way. Makeup is not clothes or shoes or a good looking raincoat. The truth about makeup is very simple: I wear makeup because I want to be beautiful.

I am not comfortable without makeup. I have been wearing makeup regularly since middle school and have been balking at my makeupless face in mirrors ever since. I have very fair skin, pale lips, white eyebrows and beige-at-best lashes. Conventional womanly beauty consists of well-defined, typically unnaturally darkened facial features (see: eyeliner, mascara, brow pencil, lipstick). So while all people look somewhat different in makeup, the difference between my natural face and my typical made-up one is quite drastic. And, in the spirit of this brutally mortifying Internet honesty, I think I am quite attractive in certain makeup. In makeup I can, in fact, feel beautiful.

I have never felt that way without makeup on.

And so I began an experiment. For the last 18 months, I have been makeup free. 100% non made-up.

I had decided this would be a practice in humility. A process through which I could learn to accept myself as I am, and through which I could learn to stop expending my very limited energies on surface level things. I could give up my vanity. And so I made a conscious choice, and I stopped putting on any cosmetics. And days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into a year and a half. And here we are.

It has gotten easier. It has, and it hasn't. I no longer balk at my makeupless face. This wasn't an active transformation. This was a change that took place slowly, almost imperceptibly, over a long period of time. And then one day I realized it, and it felt deeply satisfying. While I mostly avoided mirrors at the beginning of this public full facial nudity, I now no longer wince when I meet my own gaze over the sink. My face is fine. It's truly fine. I have actually made a peace with my makeupless face that I never imagined possible.

But to be clear: I do not feel "beautiful."

And this is where it hasn't gotten easier. I still want. I want, I want. I want to be beautiful. I have exhaustively Internet researched blonde mascaras under the premise that I could enhance my look without looking like I'm wearing makeup - as if fooling others into believing I don't wear makeup abates my vanity. (In reality, it does exactly the opposite.)

It's also important to note here that whether or not other people think I am beautiful is irrelevant, but I'm sure you already know that. The feeling is a deep desire to not only believe that other people think I am beautiful, but also to believe it myself. Even for the exquisite actress in the movie we watched that night, I wonder if the latter part is attainable, or maintainable. I have serious doubts.

And we have come, finally, at long last, to the crux of this issue. The Why.

Why do I want to feel beautiful? Why does it occupy my mind, and my discretionary spending, and my Internet browsing? Why do I not desire, just as desperately, to be smart, or interesting? To be talented or kind or genuine or grateful or generous? To be honest? To be my best self? I do not look in the mirror in the morning and hope to see my best self. I hope to see a beautiful one. And this feels incredibly poisonous, and wrong. It also feels as if I didn't choose it; this is a learned behavior, this is an acquired desire that is cultural and historical and patriarchal, among other things. My cultural tells me unequivocally that beauty, for a woman, is of utmost importance.

But I am complicit: I have internalized this belief system, and abided by it, and for that I am complicit. Of that there is no dispute. There is only the desperate desire for change.

I sincerely mean it when I say I do not demonize the desire to be beautiful. I am not judging other women, women who wear makeup, or don't, or who want to be beautiful, or don't, or women who pour a lot of their energy or time into attempting or achieving or maintaining beauty. I want to understand it. I believe it has dubious, problematic roots, but I do not demonize it. There have been many an internal argument along the lines of "if makeup makes me feel beautiful, and feeling beautiful makes me feel confident, why shouldn't I put forth the version of myself that helps me feel most confident?" Confidence is of value, confidence is of consequence. I want to live in a world full of confident women; I want to be one. But I keep returning to the why. Why does a dark set of eyelashes make me feel confident? Why is beauty the fastest, clearest path I can envision to arrive there? And why on earth should I gain confidence if other people perceive me as good looking when I go to the grocery store?

The way I've written this here may make it sound as though this tiny issue, this issue of the way my face looks, is of drastic importance. But what I am trying to say is just the opposite. What I am trying to say is, why do I live in a world where I have internalized so deeply this Beauty Desire? And how can I help change that world - starting with me? How can I unlearn these harmful belief systems about my personal value based on a dark set of eyelashes, or a certain size and symmetry of one's features? How can I help demonstrate to myself and to others that I value the things about myself that matter, and I refuse to give my precious, limited time and energy to things that don't?

And so I am makeupless. First hesitantly, now proudly; first temporarily, perhaps now permanently. Not feeling beautiful in my own skin. But feeling more at peace with that, everyday.


  1. hmmm...

    have to think about this post some more. i guess here in germany we´re used way more to women not wearing makeup or just hiding blemishes (like i do). i had a lot of fun trying all kinds of make up choices in school until i got pretty allergic to almost everything - but that´s somehow beside the point.

    what strikes me most and i guess a lot of women are like this despite our feminist upbringing and believes (me included) - we wish to be beautiful without knowing that we actually are! make up and clothes and shoes doesn´t make us beautiful, it only enhances - and there´s nothing wrong about having fun with that.

    but we already are beautiful and we have to learn to accept that:) probably a hard long way to go... walking right beside you:)

  2. There is nothing so beautiful as I healthy young woman. I know I've been there.
    I think it's all about how you talk to yourself in your head.

  3. I think you may have actually touched on it early in your post....the media has defined what "we" accept as beautiful. Look at what was 'beautiful' in Rubens day! (My thighs are more Rubenesque than I'd like to admit to ANYoNe!!! I just live in the wrong time period!) This isn't to downplay what you feel. Or want. I'm probably the oldest blogger around....and I look at photos of the younger 'me' and think....why did I think I wasn't attractive? (I never have....probably never will) I think the mindset you are dealing with is very common. What I find refreshing is your desire and ability to try to overcome the media hype that has obviously been ingrained in your psyche. I pop in this blog regularly, and the reason is I 'see' a creative, energetic, beautiful blogger.
    I know this doesn't address the 'outer beauty'....but when you started the post, I thought you were getting at the Gentle Art of Domesticity. A great little book that 'legitimatizes' women's work, art, craft. It's a fun, inspirational read. My real suggestion....turn off television, and take yourself to the beach and see how the vast majority of the world looks in a bathing suit!

  4. I see makeup as two steps: the hiding (hiding blemishes, hiding tiredness, hiding flaws) and the adding (adding colour, modifying shapes, adding/building on a certain style; I'd put lipstick and coloured nail polish in this category). I no longer do the adding, I have no interest in it anymore. I used to try out different lipsticks, blushes, eyeliner, eyeshadow, the lot, and similarly I used to try out lots of different jewellery, clothes... I grew out of all that, these days I'm very minimal in my style (someday I might grow out of this too ;) ).

    But the hiding, I can't do without the hiding... I don't put makeup on if I'm staying in, so since I started working from home I naturally began to wear it less often, and out of habit (err, newfound laziness), less of it. I still always put it on when I go out though. I don't think I do it to be attractive (or maybe I do and I've not realised it yet) but I definitely do it to hide. Hide my flaws, my weaknesses, to minimise any points of potential criticism or judgement. It's a mask, to show the outside world that I'm fine, I'm healthy, I'm not tired, my life is normal just like everyone else's.

    A lot of it is about context, I think. If men also had a history of wearing makeup, a man too might get asked if he'd slept enough or if he was feeling ill the day he skipped his makeup, but men don't, so the image of a regular man is different from that of a regular woman, the baseline is not the same. When most women in media and so many around me have evenly coloured skin with well defined eyes, I fear I will stand out when I forgo the concealer or mascara. Wearing makeup is the path of least resistance.

    But it's changing for me, slowly but it is. I'm comfortable wearing less and less products as time goes by. I no longer think my eyes look small and tired when I see them bare in the mirror because I see them like that more often than not. The context is changing, on a personal level at least. I still get caught by surprise when I see myself in photographs though, I seem to look so much more 'rough' than in the mirror. Maybe it's the shift in medium, maybe I see a lot more bare eyes in real life than I realise, but as soon as it's two dimensional, it lives in the same realm as every single perfectly groomed and thickly plastered celebrity and model and actress and newsreader, and with that for context everything looks more lacklustre.

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  6. I felt really happy reading this post, especially the questions you have asked yourself, Elizabeth. For me, as one who also questions the "why" of makeup, I always felt that in wearing makeup I was saying (to myself - like you I do not wish to speak for or judge others) that somehow I wasn't good enough just as I was, that makeup was cheating or being dishonest somehow. I know I always appreciate seeing other women who go makeup less and finding them beautiful (and bravely confident) but I have never felt quite that beautiful or confident myself going without. I would say 350 days of the year I don't wear makeup and am okay with that, those other days, well, those days still need a little boost :) I wonder if we all shouldn't try seeing each other through our best friend's eyes, or our mother or father's eyes a little more?

  7. Hi Elizabeth. You are asking some pretty important questions. I was happily coasting thru life with makeup until I started studying for my Communications degree and began analyzing and dissecting media and popular culture. My daughter Chloe had the same realisation as she just finished her four year Communications study. Half way thru her program she switched her discipline to women's studies and the kinds of things she learned have changed her forever into the woman she has become. I think you might do well to connect with her and possibly have a little talk. You're both young, beautiful women, who have a desire to change a few basic media fed lies...which, in the Western world, starts in infancy. I'll send her the link to your blog, and her blog is at: http://chloebelanger.com By the way, she also isn't a fan of make up and the female myth, and often doesn't feel beautiful even though she is. I should also add that the older you get, the less important things become. I just went thru some radiation therapy and, believe me, inconsequential things begin to fall by the wayside pretty darn quickly. Big hugs for being a beautiful brave girl.

  8. I've been thinking about this post and I'm glad I checked back to read everyone's comments. It's been an enlightening read! As far as I can see, it's all down to evolution: traditionally and biologically, men's role has been protective and women's fertile. Men have as much pressure as women in modern society; in their case it has to do with developing a body shape and character to fit the brave, protective role they are supposed to embody. In the case of women, clear, even features would have conveyed youth, health and fertility to prospective mates and women who fit that ideal the closest would have been the most valued and protected. I think these values must still run deep in our genes no matter what we consciously think of them but maybe we can change what constitutes 'clear, even features' to something more natural than the magazines like to portray!