In middle school, I was involved in a casual dance troupe. We were a hodgepodge of several Chinese girls brought together weekly to learn Chinese folk dance from a Taiwanese teacher in the Midwest.
Before our first performance, as we gathered in the bathroom to change into our costumes, it became clear that the kids were also somehow in charge of their own makeup. Most of us did not regularly wear makeup, but I was shocked to see a few girls take out makeup bags chock full of “ingredients”, presumably on loan from their mothers.
My mother often proudly announced that the only day she wore makeup was on her wedding day, so she certainly did not own any, much less decide to hand her preteen daughter any makeup, stage performance be damned.
After my initial confusion, I gathered that the makeup was meant to be shared.
Everybody seemed busy applying war paint already, and given I had no idea what to do, I thought I'd start with the one item I had a shot at putting on myself. I loudly asked, “Where is the lipstick?”
To which one of the girls chortled, “Lipstick is put on last.”
In a fumbling retort I muttered, “Oh, I just wanted to know where it was.” And then I watched in the giant mirror as my cheeks turned to the rouge the other girls were dabbing on.
Beauty without makeup (photo credit daysforgirls.org)
Twenty odd years later, I'm only marginally more skilled at applying makeup and I've acquired my mother's abhorrence for painting my face. Yet it still strikes me that women have to do so much on a regular basis to look “put together”.
Underneath it all is pressure applied by women on women to have plucked and drawn eyebrows, long/curly/thick eyelashes, glossy lips with just the right touch of color, and not a speck of hair visible in places you aren't supposed to have hair (but everyone does).
I've always held a possibly biased view that makeup complements Western faces better and was made with them in mind. This thought comes from peering into white faces and sometimes not being sure if their makeup is super light or if that's the way they were formed.
Admittedly, I struggle with the idea that men can often look the way they were formed, possibly wearing the same white t-shirt and jeans throughout school and while finding startups, while the other half of the world obsesses about fine details.
As women become equal and prominent members of society rather than merely pieces of art, I sincerely hope and plead that we won't remain a canvas picked apart because of lack of highlights or color intensity.
It's sure to be an uphill battle; the billion dollar beauty industry is a tough machine to pull apart, and my annoyance with it is on par with my feelings for the tax/accounting industry. How many productive woman hours are wasted on standards of beauty that feel like an arms race to the bottom?
These tweaks could not be less appealing than when it comes to our baby girl. One of the songs we like to sing to her is Coldplay's “Fix you”, for its soulful melody. I don't know enough of the words to know what the song's about, but out of unfettered love we change the lines to: “And I will try…to KISS you (not fix you).”