Being a discussion of your goals and your psyche.
“There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. As well speak of a female liver.”— Charlotte Perkin Gilman
Hello and welcome to The Feminist Lipstique. I’m your hostess; today you can call me Bad Girl’s Club Perkins Gilman. I’m a feminist in my early 30s who recently became obsessed with makeup, and is struggling to manage my expectations, my self-esteem, and my desires all at the same time.
Before you really get started on a makeup journey, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
- What do you want to achieve?
- What are you willing to change to get it/what will change as you are getting it?
- Can you actually achieve what you want, and what will happen as a result of your achievement?
In translation, what do you want the makeup to do, what are you willing to change about your lifestyle or your habits to accomplish it/what might be a side effect of your efforts, and is it actually sustainable or even accomplishable? And the further question is, if you can accomplish it– is that actually a good thing?
I started doing more with makeup because I wanted to have a creative outlet that didn’t involve writing (so within six months I started a makeup blog, obvi), because I wanted to start spending more time on myself, and because I wanted to change my relationship with my body. Those were my “wants.”
The things that you might end up changing to accomplish your goals might be related to your appearance– are you going to start waxing your brows? Do you want to do full-coverage makeup or partial-coverage makeup? Are you going to stick to a certain color scheme?
The things you wind up changing can also be more abstract. It could be your budget– makeup, even affordable makeup, is not a very budget-friendly hobby. It could be your daily routine (are you willing to do touch ups at lunchtime?), or even just how you arrange your bathroom.
The biggest thing I had to be willing to change when I started doing makeup was my schedule. When I’m not wearing makeup, or only wearing lipstick, I can go from dead asleep to in my car and driving off in 15 minutes. 30, if I’m eating breakfast first. I’m basically nocturnal and prone to insomnia, so mornings are a fight against time to drag as much sleep into my body as possible whilst still getting where I need to go and resembling a competent human person.
On days I’m doing skincare and a lot of makeup, it can take me upwards of an hour and a half. And while that time will probably go down a bit as I get better at my routine, that large span of time is also somewhat on purpose.
The phrase “self-care” gets bandied around a lot, and capitalist “fempowertizing” (“feminist” advertising) aimed at white, moderately wealthy women has taken that phrase and run with it, defining it as things that take money and luxuriant pampering: spa days, massages, scented candles, bubble baths, expensive athleisurewear, meditation retreats.
I hate most of those things.
Meditation is just a time for me to think about all the other things I should be doing. Bubble baths make me increasingly tense the longer I trap myself in them. I hate having other people touch my back. None of these things make me more relaxed.
I define self-care as “taking a goddamn minute for yourself.” And because my brain is broken, both in the “I need pharmaceutical forms of serotonin” sense and the “brainwashed by a cultural emphasis on productivity” sense, I find that really, really difficult.
I am constantly multitasking. I am usually simultaneously writing, messaging people, and listening or watching something. I listen to non-fiction podcasts and audiobooks while I’m driving so that I’m learning something in all of my small snippets of free time. (Yes, I am THAT person. Don’t worry, I also find myself insufferable.) I’ll walk my dog and plot out things like this very blog post at the same time, which only occasionally results in me falling on my face. When I tried creative outlet hobbies like sewing, knitting, and coloring, I did really horribly at them, because I couldn’t stop multitasking while working at them. They were Not Relaxing At All. And things that ARE relaxing in some ways, like video games or reading, become less relaxing because I’m constantly thinking of the multitasking things that I am unable to work on because my hands are full. (Or I choose depressing video games to play and books to read, and I end up more depressed than I start.)
But I’ve found that when I’m working on makeup, my brain goes a little bit… quiet. I actually manage to focus on just the task at hand. (I dare you to try to do eyeliner and think about ANYTHING else at the same time. It is impossible.) It takes enough energy and brain power that I feel engaged, and it checks the little “must be productive in some way” box in my brain. I don’t worry as much about what other, better thing I could be doing with my time the way I do when I’m trying to meditate or take a bubble bath. It is a moment that is meant just for me. So far it has been sustainable– I’m not taking that hour and a half every single day, but I’m willing to do it at least a couple days a week. It has been refreshing to my creative spirit, and forced me to take some time just for me, not for “productivity.”
The part of makeup that has been a lot more complicated for me is the way that makeup gets me to engage with my body, and the way that my expectations, my skills, and reality come into conflict.
Between a myriad of health problems and my weight, my relationship to my body has always been fairly adversarial. It often seemed like an albatross that I was made to carry for some past sin I couldn’t remember committing. It was reduced to being the necessary conveyance method for my mind (which I liked much, much more than my body). It was also a betrayer, foiling me at multiple points.
Makeup has helped me a lot in terms of thinking of my body more kindly. I am doing skincare, and thinking about how my body deserves to have soft skin. I apply lipstick, and think about the pleasing slide of my lips as I rub them together. I put on mascara, and admire the sparkle of my eyes. Even if my body is only the somewhat faulty transportation method for my mind, it is deserving of good treatment, and of appreciation.
But makeup has also made me more self conscious about things that I was previously fine with. As I discussed in the skincare post, I had literally never given thought to the wrinkles and lines underneath my eyes. I had no need to be self conscious about it, or (as I sometimes am now) mad at my body for yet another betrayal, at something being ruined before I could even recognize its previous superior state. I also never gave much thought to the layer of peach fuzz I had on my cheeks– it was fine hair and very light, so what did it matter? Well when you’re putting on foundation and setting powder, it mattes a LOT. Suddenly you have a face full of fine hairs covered in product and Messing Up Your Look. So now I have to address questions about what to do about the things that I am unhappy with. I’m trying to address the skin around my eyes with skincare, but what if that’s not enough? Am I going to start considering more drastic methods, like fillers? I hope not (I’ll probably talk later about my Complicated Feminist Feelings about cosmetic surgery, but for now suffice to know that I just don’t like needles near my eyes). I found a small razor that works well to get the peach fuzz off of my face, but is that something I want to keep doing forever? It grows back. Will I someday want electrolysis to get the hairs off permanently? Or is there a way for me to find a compromise with myself and my newfound flaws?
And that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how I expect makeup to work and how it actually works.
I think, among the many reasons I thought that I wasn’t good at makeup for a very long time was that I would put it on, and I wouldn’t look transformed. Wasn’t makeup supposed to transform you? Wasn’t it supposed to erase my flaws, enhance whatever dregs of natural beauty I possessed? Wasn’t it an alchemical exchange, where I used time, money, and chemicals on my body and in exchange my appearance to become fantastic? Wasn’t makeup supposed to make me better? Wasn’t it supposed to make my body better? On television, on YouTube, makeup was a magical substance that left faces as flawless canvases. I felt like a badly done velvet painting.
I’m now at least at the level of “well-done velvet painting.” Or maybe even “knockoff Dogs Playing Poker.” After gaining some makeup skills, I can now tell the difference between me with makeup and me without makeup, but it is not entirely to the better.
I make a deal with myself. Every week, I try to have a couple of days where I have a full face of makeup, a couple days where I just wear lipstick and maybe eyeliner or mascara, and a couple days where I don’t wear any makeup. I do this for some practical reasons and some psychological ones. I don’t want to be washing an entire jar of makeup brushes every week (or alternatively, get lazy and not wash my brushes as often as I need to). I also don’t want my new stress relief hobby to turn into a chore, and I want to give my skin some time in the air and sun (or at least the air). But most importantly, I don’t want to stop remembering, or stop liking, what my face looks like.
I went ten years without wearing any makeup regularly, and another five without wearing much more than lipstick. And while, as I discussed earlier, I was not particularly enamored of my face, I at least didn’t completely detest it. I never thought I looked shockingly bad, and I never quailed at the thought of going outside without makeup. I never thought I looked so drastic I’d end up in one of those “stars without their makeup”-style articles.
But I’ve noticed that if I wear makeup too many days in a row, my regular face starts to seem… dull. Splotchy. Pale. Needing to be improved upon. I start to get edgy if I don’t get to throw on at least a lipstick before I leave the house. And after days of full makeup, I notice all of the little sins that makeup could help me cover up. I started doing makeup as stress relief. I don’t want it to start causing more stress.
The hardest thing for me to reconcile with makeup is how it sometimes makes me love my body more, and how it sometimes makes me hate my body more. How it sometimes makes me less self conscious (my newest mental response to the thought, “Everyone is going to laugh at you,” is to metaphorically shrug and respond, “Yeah, probably. But I like what I did.”) and more self conscious (can EVERYONE see all these lines under my eyes?). It makes me realize how much of appearance is artifice, but also how much I want to be skilled in that artifice. It makes it very difficult to answer that last question about whether the things that I want can be accomplished or sustained. Yes, it is a creative outlet. Yes, it is making me think about my body more, and more kindly. But it is also making me spend a lot of time hunting down flaws, and then cursing my inability to cover them.
It’s complicated, y’all.
Join me next time when I talk a little bit more about expectations– namely, how we can’t compare ourselves to the folks we see on Instagram and YouTube.
Bad Girl’s Club Perkins Gilman