(AKA: Why I avoid makeup like it was chasing me with a knife made of hepatitis and hand-grenades)
This weekend I will be performing in a vocal recital along with several of my favorite people in the world. It’s not my recital but I’ve got several pieces to contribute and I’ve been looking forward to it all summer.
And you know what makes me the most nervous? It isn’t the singing, even though I’ll be singing some very exposed parts in front of some people whose opinion I probably value too much.
It’s how I look.
How I look in the dress and how I look in my own skin. And since I don’t feel like tackling issues about women and body-image in the sense of physical shape, I’m going to focus on the latter.
I don’t wear makeup. EVER.
I can count on both hands and a few toes the number of times I have worn any form of makeup in my life. One dance recital, age 4. One day at summer camp, age 12. Four drama performances, two at age 14, two at 17. Two gigs in a band competition, age 24. Two job interviews and one first day, age 24. One wedding, age 24. Two choir concerts, age 24.
That is literally it.
Now, when I say “makeup” I mean EVERYTHING. Lipstick, eyeliner, blush, foundation, anything and everything one might paint upon oneself for the purpose of changing one’s appearance.
Of course, the question is — why?
If you’ve ever seen a picture of me, or if you watch our videos, you’ll note that I do not have perfect skin. I don’t even have nice skin. I have the skin of a 14-year-old whose hormones have been turned up to 100 and have been this way since puberty began. I have blemishes you couldn’t cover with a hubcap and scarring besides.
But then, wouldn’t that be the perfect reason for makeup? To cover that stuff?
I’m so glad you asked.
Yes. But no.
One of those makeup-wearing days up there was the one from summer camp. It’s a good story and it informs most of what came after.
I attended a week or two at the same summer camp for 9 years of my childhood, and it was one of the best and most formative things I ever did in the summer. In a cabin of 12 girls, though, you start to see the years take effect as little girls begin the steps to adulthood. Girls I had known for years started showing up with bikinis and put on makeup to go to the beach.
I was never into that stuff. I never wanted to be. But one of the girls who had always been kind and friendly offered to do a bunch of makeup for me so I wouldn’t feel left out and soon the whole cabin was in on it, on giving me a makeover. I sat and let them do as they wished and they put on my makeup and braided my hair and lent me a dress (because who brings a dress to summer camp when you’re playing sports and climbing in trees and swimming all day long? Not me, apparently.).
When they were finished, they called over our cabin’s head counselor and asked what she thought.
And her answer stayed with me forever. “You look very nice, but you don’t look like yourself.”
I remember that the horn blew for afternoon ballfield right then and we all headed out to go play, but I went to the bathroom first. I remember looking at myself in the mirror. I looked…polished. Feminine.
I smiled at myself.
And it tore a hole in me. Because that was NOT me. Not really.
At age 12, almost 13, I realized that that stuff on my face wasn’t for me. It was for other people that it made feel good and happy. For me, it was me bowing to expectations and becoming the girl that girls were supposed to be since it certainly didn’t apply to boys. It was me looking like a “better” version of myself.
And I decided then and there that I would rather be the true version of myself no matter what. That the only “better” me would be the me who lived fearlessly and shamelessly. Also — I decided that ANY standard applied to boys or men could just as well apply to me too and who cared that I was a girl? I’m a person first. And I’m a person who didn’t care about being the right-looking girl.
So I washed it off, ran and changed, and got out to ballfield in my shorts and sneakers and threw balls around with everyone. And I never tried it voluntarily again.
Now, if you look at my history, you can forgive me wearing it a few times when I was in a play — theater people will tell you that you need makeup to look normal under the lights. I kinda disagree, but when you’re in school, eh. I always looked orange, but we were all orange and it was only slimy for a few hours.
But at age 24, well, I had a crisis of faith. Faith in myself.
Sarah and I were performing as a different band then, and we were in a competition — and the judges didn’t like us without makeup because we were girls. (It took us a while to figure out that the whole competition was rigged against us anyway because even though we weren’t “out” to them, we were clearly out to one another.)
At the same time, I had to change jobs and I was incredibly nervous. I wanted to be paid more and I thought I needed to dress and look more like the women who were paid more in order to get through the interview process and actually land a job.
Also a friend asked me to wear makeup at her wedding “so the pictures would look nice.” I guess I should have figured then that maybe a friend who thought I needed to look different to look nice wasn’t quite as kind of a friend as I wanted for myself.
And the choir we sang in wanted people to wear something on stage, too, for the lights.
They all conspired against me, but really, it was me that fell down on the job. Because I thought, “eh, I don’t like it, and it makes me uncomfortable physically and emotionally, but the reason to wear it makes sense and I can deal with it for a little while, right?”
But you’ll note that there’s nothing at age 25. Or ever since.
I broke under convention for a little while, but it never manages to hold me for long.
Because what was true at 12 is still true. I like who I am. I like who I am and I don’t want to look different from myself. Even when that means major skin issues or unfashionably mascara-less eyes. And while it becomes more acceptable for men to wear makeup if they choose — which is great for them — they still don’t have to. And I still don’t have to. I am a person long, LONG before I am a woman.
And, actually, it makes for a really good test of people.
Because someone who won’t give a woman respect because she’s not wearing makeup probably won’t give her respect anyway. Someone who decides based on a woman’s looks whether or not she is smart enough for a job is probably not going to pay her fairly or recognize her full contributions. Someone who looks at a woman without makeup and a man with makeup and thinks they’re WRONG is not someone I need in my life. Ever.
This is who I am. I am me. I am that person over there with that face and that skin and that smile. And no, I won’t ever look like a gorgeous model or Hollywood star.
But I could.
The thing about a life without makeup is you figure out that EVERYONE could be beautiful with enough paint and work. Look at the pictures of celebrities without their hours of makeup and hair-dressing. They look like regular people — perhaps lovely regular people, but no more and no less. If everyone could be heart-stoppingly beautiful after some hours in a makeup chair, then we are all just fine right now, today, without an instant of effort.
(Also — there’s a whole argument to be made about this weird preconception that women are supposed to be beautiful, and the reason for that is that they are supposed to be beautiful FOR MEN. That women are SUPPOSED to be attractive and…well, it comes down to gender politics and sexual dynamics — and me? I am NOT INTERESTED. And not just because I married a woman. I am not interested in being ANY man’s object of…whatever. My worth is inherent to me, and I’m not going to play by archaic rules of society that reinforce an inherent inequality between men and women. NO WAY.)
So, getting back to this upcoming weekend.
The friend holding the recital will be wearing makeup which she’s having professionally done. But she is fine if nobody else bothers. She would be fine with us all up there in jeans and sneakers performing with her because she is awesome like that and just doesn’t care how we look — she loves us, no matter what.
But I do care. I hate that I care.
I hate that I’m going to be wearing one of the few dresses I love and I’m going to wonder if people are looking at the inevitable blemishes that are scattered across my skin like raging birdshot. I hate that I have to remind myself that my outside has nothing on my inside and that I could look like a sack of hockey equipment but the point is that I’m there to sing beautifully alongside people I really love.
The thing is that a person can decide that on the course they’re going to follow and still wonder about it, still doubt, still have insecurities. And that’s me and makeup. I know, in my soul, that I would rather go without and hold up my ideals than wear it and reinforce my insecurities while hiding my skin’s flaws. Because for me, to bend to the insecurity and the pressure would be a greater betrayal than to perform as I am, splotches and all.
Even if it hurts, even if it leaves me shaking apart inside OR outside, I don’t bend on my ideals. No matter what.
Would it be easier to cover the marks of life and bad skin? Would I be more confident in my dress and in my smile?
No. It wouldn’t be easier and I wouldn’t be more confident.
Because it would mean I had put the bad opinions ahead of the good ones. The bad opinions of those who would judge my skin ahead of the good opinions of the people who love me and don’t see it at all. The bad opinions that rattle around my brain telling me that beauty is about flawlessness and I need to aspire to it ahead of the good opinions that tell me beauty is what I do and how I live and even perfect skin couldn’t make me beautiful.
Just because I’ve decided to face the world with bare, awful skin doesn’t mean I don’t feel the judgment and the ill opinions. They’re there. They sink into me and they add to the shouting that makes it hard to breathe some days.
But I’ll bear their shouting with my skin showing anyway.
Because I had it right at age 12.
Fears or no fears, insecurities or no insecurities, acne or no acne, this is who I am. This is the life I live. And for me to live it wholly, without shame, with integrity, I have to live it exactly as I am. Frizzy hair and imperfect skin and awkwardness and brash courage.
The better me, the BEST me, is the me who lives in my skin. Just the way it is. And faces the world without flinching away. The me who lives with the integrity of knowing that I am not afraid to be myself and I am not afraid of my flaws and scars. That I am defined not by how I look or how I am seen, but by the choices I make and the ideals I hold.
And even if it makes me nervous or uncomfortable, even if I can’t help but wonder if people are staring, I won’t back down. I won’t compromise. A person should never compromise that in which they truly believe.
No matter how hard it is, I choose to believe in myself. Now and forever.
See you at the recital.