The No-Makeup Look Versus Not Wearing Makeup

Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s actually just makeup.
Publish date:
September 10, 2014
confidence, inner beauty, no makeup makeup, no makeup, beauty trends, NYFW, wearing makeup

I don’t know about you guys, but NYFW pulled a fast one over all of us expecting glamour and gloss, delivering instead couture perspiration--haute naturale, as it were. It appears that the next big trend in makeup is... no makeup?

And yet, it seems like #iwokeuplikethis and #nomakeup selfies are at the end of everyone’s collective wit. Whenever I see makeup ad campaigns promising results “Just like you, but better!” or even more contradictory, like you’re wearing nothing at all, my eyes all but roll into the back of my head.

Are they going to start filming makeup commercials the way they do tampon commercials, with some cute girl nipping into a drugstore to pick up concealer and tucking it into a secret purse pocket? If the point of makeup is to spend all this time shellacking your way to a “better” version of your face so that no one will notice your face, isn’t that a bit self-defeating? As if visible makeup is VAIN and vanity is BAD.

Makeup is great for corrective purposes, but for the most part your facial decoration should represent who you are and how you wish to be perceived, right? This was not always my philosophy.

I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 16, so my initial obsession with it was as a “forbidden fruit” thing. Once the makeup embargo was lifted, even a tinted lipgloss made me feel done UP. I stuck to “natural” looks because I didn’t want people to know I started wearing makeup and that I actually cared about my appearance, and I was too embarrassed to admit to myself I wanted to be that regulation hottie.

My mother never wore foundation, powder, or concealer. Everything in her makeup kit was shimmery, opaque, or brightly hued. Bright blue eyeliner was a staple, as was near-neon coral lipstick, yet she never appeared clownishly done up to me. She just looked all thirty, flirty, and thriving.

The first makeup she bought me was a bright purple Stila eye shadow, which she taught me how to apply as liner by wetting an eyeliner brush. She encouraged me to never wear complexion makeup because “the skin must breathe” (plus it will probably give me pore cancer, because according to my mom, everything synthetic is a carcinogen). Only as I got older, I did pay more attention to the corrective stuff--foundation, concealer, highlighter.

I do feel strange, believing fully that makeup is for artistic expression and “just for fun,” yet also feeling self-conscious if my eyebrows aren’t penciled in. Being a beauty writer doesn’t make me any less conflicted. Do I consider makeup some anti-feminist betrayal of my gender? No way. But can it sometimes feel like a crutch when the sight of your bare face in the mirror inspires a twinge of disappointment? Sure.

I’ve seen countless daytime talk show segments where some cosmetic-addicted woman is made to shun all her makeup for the amount of time it takes to have crying jags, fits of psychosis, and the eventual phony enlightenment about inner beauty once she’s given a low-key but glamorous on-air makeover.

The sexism in society that decides how a woman should use makeup is just mind-boggling. If she wears what is deemed too much makeup, she’s told she doesn’t need all that and to tone it down. And if she doesn’t wear any makeup at all, the same parties have ample suggestions about how she can adorn and improve her bare face. Makeup is presented as something women are REQUIRED to wear, but only in the "right" amounts (and those amounts always change). Neither scenario addresses how the woman feels happiest about herself.

Leandra Medine of The Man Repeller has a really boss response to this ethos. Running a successful website that is based heavily on images of herself in an editorial context, she never wears makeup because, as she says, “I’m lazy.” Here’s a woman who is confident in her unaltered appearance and looks to be having the time of her life. And here I am, putting on mascara to run errands.

Even Charlotte Tilbury, beautifier of women’s faces, doesn’t let her husband see her without eye makeup. I was initially disenchanted learning that--until I remembered that I, too, have dated men who’ve never seen me completely without makeup even if I spent the night at their place a couple nights a week. (Those relationships didn’t last long for obvious reasons.)

So how do I feel happiest about myself? Depends on the day.

On ordinary days, my face generally calls for tinted BB cream, under-eye concealer, brow pencil, mascara, blush, and subtle eyeliner (maybe highlighter if I didn’t get a good night’s rest). I’m not trying to impress anybody, but I feel like I could run into an ex or the Queen of England and be confident that I’d make a pretty decent impression.

On days when I’m serving face like it’s going out of business--when my makeup game is the just the right cocktail of compellingly glamorous and unapproachably sophisticated--I feel like I could rule the world because I look fierce as hell.

Makeup is a powerful tool that can be as concealing as it is enhancing. I play up what I like best about my features, which bolsters my sense of self. A cat-eye or a red lip becomes more of a lucky rabbit’s foot than an invisibility cloak, which is a powerful differentiation.

A cat-eye or a red lip becomes more of a lucky rabbit’s foot than an invisibility cloak, which is a powerful differentiation.

Conflicted feelings aside, I recognize makeup's importance to women in feeling confident in themselves. Telling women to not wear makeup if they wish to look like they aren’t wearing makeup is kind of like saying that their agency in self-representation is misguided and wrong. And who am I to tell anyone how to rep themselves?

I don’t necessarily aspire to chuck all my makeup in some coup against vanity--it’s not about freeing myself from anything. It’s just so much easier to wake up like “this” and know that I don’t wear makeup to hide, but to be seen.

Where do you fall on the makeup spectrum? A little, a lot, somewhere in between? Do you wear makeup every day?