When make-up becomes a mask that we use to hide behind, is it even possible to have an authentic relationship with ourselves or anyone else?
When I first met my husband, I was 41. I had played, and been played by, every game in the book, and I was done with them all. I wanted a love that could be described, above all else, as “true.” Meaning totally honest, in all regards. My strategy was simple: No games. No bullshit. No make-up. Truth in advertising.
Our online dating emails had been good. Quite good, and he suggested we meet. I told him that I was busy, but could squeeze in coffee right after the gym. That I would be sweaty and un-showered.
He told me he would find that very attractive. (I shuddered. In a good way.)
That was a decision that I made very deliberately. Because, the truth is, most of the time, I am sweaty and un-showered. I wanted a guy that would look at me in that state, and think “I want some of THAT!” Because I want a partner who sees me as I am, and is turned on in every way.
I didn’t really know, at the time, that the only thing better than sweaty and un-showered for him would be sweating and lifting weights.
Match made in heaven.
That first “date,” I laid it all on the line. As sweetly as possible, I threw out onto the table pretty much all of the things that make me a hard-match. The queer family. The divorce from a man I am still very close to and care very much about. The teenage daughter. The not yet figuring out how to make lots of money. The fact that I color my hair, with great variety, have wrinkles and zits at the same time, am shy to painful degree, carry some baggage from a fucked-up childhood, and occasionally from a fairly brutal rape …. The…… all of it. I would rather lose a bad match than make a tenuous connection built on pretense.
The next time we met, I showered. The time after that, I got kind of dressed up and put on mascara. The time after that, as much make-up as I ever wear (which isn’t much, but it’s noticeable.)
That was the time we went to a fancy dinner and it resulted in naked time. And, of course, as we got sweaty and tossed around, I wondered if my eye-makeup was on my cheeks. I found myself doing that thing that I think all women do, of trying to casually lounge on my side, looking like I don’t have a care in the world while perfectly balancing my breast so that it rests likes a cupcake on display rather than a banana hanging from a limb, (while hiding the floppy and deflated lower breast under a sheet, since there’s no way to make the lower breast look cute.) I worried that my lipstick was on my chin. And I remembered why I don’t wear make-up.
I don’t want to meet a guy looking like a model (as if that could happen) and have him wake up the next morning next to the bride of Frankenstein. Same reason I don’t wear push-up bras, that look of disappointment is just not something I ever want to see when I get naked. I want someone to choose to both go to bed and wake up with ME.
No doubt, that is the benefit of dating in your 40’s. I’m old enough to realize that it’s not about trying to figure out what someone else wants, it’s about making sure that I am wanted for who I actually am. Which brings me to my question, and my point…..
What is the deal with all the make-up?
I understand the complicated commercial & media complex that packages women as pore-free, pouty and pink, but is that really what men want? Because, I really don’t think so. (It’s the same one that packages men as being tall, with six-pack abs and a full head of hair.) In my life as a friend and my work as a coach, I have never met a man who told me that he preferred his woman with make-up on. Not one. When I ask things like “when is she the most beautiful to you?” the answers are usually things like: when she first gets out of the shower, when she’s sleeping, when she’s laughing, when she’s dancing by herself and doesn’t know I’m watching. They are almost always candid moments. “Unmade” moments.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t all enjoy the dress-up moments, they’re fun, because they’re novel.
But I admit, as the mother of three girls, and as a woman, I worry about the “I can’t leave the house without my face on” sentiment that I hear a lot.
A few days ago, The Today Show did “No Make-Up Monday.” And this was a big deal, because, well, NO MAKE-UP. And I looked at those faces, which are, presumably, the faces that their loved ones see every day. I can’t say that I know precisely what motivated it, but I was grateful. And I wanted to honor it by seeing them as beautiful, for who they are. And brave, for doing something that we are all told not to do, actually lots of little things: having wrinkles, and pores, and dark spots, and bags under their eyes.
I have all those things. And they’re normal.
When I leave the house, every day, with no make-up it is, maybe, a tiny act of rebellion. (Actually, it’s laziness, but rebellion sounds more powerful, or at least intentional.) But when they do it, it’s revolution. Really, it is. Because media sets the standard for not only what women are supposed to BE, but what the people who “get them” are supposed to achieve.
Does that sound callous? It is. But I think it’s where the heart of the problem lies. And it’s much more in the heterosexual world, I think, than the world of women who date women. (If I’m wrong, feel free to say so, really.)
In a disproportionate number of movies, winning the “hot girl” is the prize. And the hot girl is defined by the typical set of small waist, big boobs, perfect skin, etc…… The mere presence of that girl in a guys life makes him the winner.
Does it take a certain amount of courage to be the guy who likes a girl with more body fat? Or doesn’t actually care that much if she has a few pimples? Or is more interested in a girl he can play video games with? Or a girl he can go backpacking with for 2 weeks with no shower? Or….. Are men led to believe that they are settling for second best if they don’t value the typical maiden trope? If the checklist for being successful includes being strong, rich, fearless and having a pretty woman on your arm, what does that mean for our ability to be authentic?
I mean that seriously. I think we’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to break down the Man Box that says you have to be tough and fearless and rich and sporty and all that. We have a long ways to go, mind you, but we’re at least tackling it.
But for the heterosexual of you out there, what do we need to do to let you out of the trap that says you need a perfect woman, and that she has to be a size 4 with perfect make-up and boobs? Because most of the women I know want out of that box, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we keep doing it – especially the young amongst us, at which point it becomes habit – because we think that’s what guys want.
It’s a chicken and egg conundrum. If “we” give you permission to like us without our make-up on, will you give us permission to not feel like we need to put on make-up in order to feel like we’re good enough. Like we have our faces on? Like we literally can’t be seen, as if we don’t exist, without it?
Because, like I said, in all my years of talking about this stuff in several capacities, I have yet to find a single guy who actually likes the woman he loves with make-up on more than without it. It’s like the worst kept secret out there.
And what does that say about our relationships with each other? Or ourselves?
For a lot of women, it’s become a mask. Really. When we get to the point that we can’t leave the house without it, then we are LITERALLY hiding behind it. We do not trust the world to see us as we really are. That’s sad. But if you talk to a woman who gave up this habit, it’s pretty inspiring.
So the question becomes, what part do we each play in creating the world in which people are afraid to be seen for who they are? My question for men is the same, what part are you playing in that. And is the result what you want it to be?
Do you want a relationship with a woman who is afraid to be seen by the world? (Hint, that’s a lot of hassle, and money, and reassuring that has to happen.) If not, what part can you play in changing that world?
I love what the Today Show did. I do. It’s simple, and daring, and a good reminder that we are, in general, sold a fantasy. Those people do not look like that unless make-up artists, hair stylists and lighting professionals make them look that way. There’s also this very awesome collection of porn stars without make-up, and would any of us really reject them, plain-faced (even if you didn’t know what they did for a living?) And, of course, our own James Stafford wrote a beautiful piece about loving us aging women, as we age, for exactly who we are.
I think that if we all take a deep-breath and let go of this perfection ideal together, we can make some headway.
But what do I know? I’m old, and happily married to a guy who will willingly make sure I have no black-heads on my back for me. And who loves me when I’m all sweaty. (And is amply rewarded on a daily basis by a woman who is so happy to be loved for who she is.)
And, just to be clear. I do LOVE playing dress-ups, and putting on make-up sometimes. Not all the time. I have a full life, I really do NOT have time to worry about that. (And yes, I have plenty of wrinkles, zits, dark spots and bags under my eyes. I earned everyone of them, they are part of me.)
My weakness? Red nails. Pretty my much always. Of course, that doesn’t hide anything, I just find them wickedly sexy.