• Joana Costa

The Psychology of Makeup: why we bother

Photo By: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

If you’re female-presenting in today’s world, it’s almost a requirement for you to wear some form of makeup. It’s not that you’re given a test when you walk out of puberty and into adulthood where they tell you, “wear this, this is how anything else is a big no-no”. It’s more that women are expected to put the effort in certain situations, i.e. job interviews, dates or social events.


A woman who doesn’t wear makeup can be viewed one of two ways: 1) if she’s naturally and conventionally pretty, she’s 'real' and 'honest', she’s not 'pretending' like other women; 2) if she’s not naturally perfect and flawless, she’s a 'slob' and doesn’t take herself seriously enough to make an effort.


So, why do women wear makeup? Why do we put so much work into this 'deceit'? I can only speak for myself here, but I think a lot of girls will resonate with this. For me, putting on makeup has nothing to do with my intention of tricking a man into thinking I’m an ethereal being from another world and thus make him want to treat me nicely. Frankly, that sounds like a lot of work and pressure for too little a reward.


For me, putting on makeup is a ritual, something I do when I feel anxious or bad about myself. It’s a way for me to channel those feelings and frustrations into something that will in turn make me feel beautiful.


When I put on foundation, I imagine I’m wiping away my insecurities and replacing them with confidence and self-worth. When I dab on eyeshadow, I think about the tears I’ve cried after being told I wasn’t pretty enough, and I cover them with the vibrant colours of happiness and fulfilment. When I swipe on lipstick, I picture myself cleansing my mouth of all the people that have kissed it and then threw me away at the first opportunity.


For a long time, I lived in fear of the dreaded moment when someone (a man) I liked would see me without my makeup. I would agonise over it because what if they thought I was lying? What if they felt tricked, deceived by my prowess with a brush, that I could make myself look like what I was not? Then I realised I’m not that good at makeup.


There’s something we don’t talk about enough, and that’s the dysmorphia that comes when girls start using makeup at an early age. We’re taught that men like 'natural' beauty, but that 'natural' is only beautiful if you fit these very strict, very white standards we randomly came up with decades ago. If you’re not all of that, you need to make sure you make yourself look like you are.


But then what happens when you meet someone, and suddenly you’re forced to shed those things that make you beautiful? Because they’re not permanent; your cheeks are not that rosy, your skin isn’t that smooth, your eyebrows are not that full. And then there are those people who make jokes about dates at the swimming pool, like they’re trying to catch us in a lie, to ridicule us, to force us to show our real selves.


We should be natural, but only if we’re considered pretty. We should wear makeup, but not too much, or we’re lying. The mixed signals are confusing and result in us never feeling like we’re enough like we’re always doing something wrong when in reality we’re only doing what they told us to do. We shouldn’t have to fear someone seeing our bare face, our relaxed selves because that’s as much part of who we are as everything else. Our made-up faces and our bare faces are the same face. It’s like thinking wearing clothes out is lying about what our bodies really look like.


Makeup can only do so much. Sure, some people are artists with it to the point that they can completely transform their faces, but the average person is not that skilled. At the end of the day, it’s just something to enhance our natural features, what is already there.


I’m a firm believer that every woman is beautiful in their own way. And yet, we’re taught from an early age that only someone who isn’t “pretty” would use makeup to cover their real face. What is pretty, anyway? Everyone’s idea of pretty is different, so why bother changing our beautiful faces to fit a standardised ideal that might not even be what we think is pretty.

No, my eyelids are not naturally bright yellow or deep purple.


No, my lips are not always cherry-red or peach-coloured. Yes, I have acne scars under this concealer. No, I’m not ashamed of them. Why should I be? Everyone has them, boys and girls. The only difference is that we allow men to be their natural selves all the time, while women can only be their natural selves in very specific contexts.


Well, I say we throw it all away. If I want to put on a full face of makeup to just sit in my room and read, I will, the same way I will not so much as fill in my brows just to go to the shop, even if I risk men perceiving me without them. My face is mine, and no one else gets a say in what I choose to put on.

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