Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 July 2020

Who do I wear make-up for? Why a cosmetics-free approach to isolation has surprised me

Isn't it ridiculous that it's assumed we're sick when we skip a day of wearing make-up?

After working at home for months, writer Farah Andrews has a different opinion about wearing makeup. 
After working at home for months, writer Farah Andrews has a different opinion about wearing makeup. 

If, on March 16 this year, you had asked me who I wear make-up for, I would have likely rolled my eyes and said, “myself, of course”.

I would have said that I don’t wear make-up for the benefit of anyone else and that I enjoy applying my favourite handful of products each morning.

Farah of three months ago, it turns out, was lying, to both herself and the fictional character who asked her the question.

Since working from home on March 17 until present day, I have reached into my make-up bag exactly once.

What was once a morning ritual of skincare, foundation, powder, mascara and eyebrow pencil, is now a pattern of wake up, press snooze, wake up again, sleepwalk to the shower and then walk 20 paces to my dining table to start working.

At some stage in the morning, usually just after my first cup of coffee, I take a few minutes to go through my skincare routine. I am militant with my moisturisers, serums and SPF, but at no stage do I stop and think to myself, “do you want to put on some make-up for your Zoom meeting at 2pm?”. Perhaps even more surprisingly, I also forgo the slap for my 9pm Zoom chats with friends, as that’s the closest to real socialising I have come to as of late.

This week I realised, when I arrived at my parents’ house after a trip to the supermarket, that the idea of applying even a tinted moisturiser hadn’t crossed my mind. It’s the same when I go for a socially distanced dog walk with a friend, or cycle to pick up a morning coffee at the weekend. This time, three months ago, a quick five-minute make-up application would have been routine before stepping out of the house.

I am surprised by myself. But why? I am young(ish) at 31 and not particularly skin conscious. I don’t think I was hiding behind anything, but I must have been. Now, even on the days, or weeks, when I am breaking out and covered in blemishes, my current instinct isn't to reach for the concealer.

I appreciate this may not be the most relatable of anecdotes, but I once did an interview on video for work. The interview went well, so a (male) colleague told me later that day, when he watched the tape back, "but it would have been better if you had bothered to put on some lipstick." A cutting comment that both annoyed and upset me. What irritates me more looking back is that my immediate response was to check the video and agree with him.

I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts ... Nothing

Alicia Keys

Women everywhere will have their own versions of this experience. "Put some make-up on, love!" shouted at you as you walk down the street. "Oh, cover up that spot," we're told by caring older relatives. "If you wore a little more blush, I am sure [insert name of significant other here] would love it," uttered by a well-meaning friend. And the all-time favourite: "Are you not feeling well?" "No, no. I am just not wearing make-up today." Isn't it ridiculous that it's assumed we're sick when we skip a day of make-up?

There are hundreds of reasons people wear make-up. Be it to cover blemishes, scars or other insecurities, to express yourself or even to draw attention away. For many, stepping out without it is inconceivable, which is an understandable reality.

Googling the question "why do women wear make-up?" offers little in the way of answers. I wasn’t particularly fond of the flimsy justification that women naturally have darker skin around their eyes and lips, so make-up has evolved to draw attention to those areas with eyeshadow and lipstick; other experts say that it makes women feel "powerful" and "beautiful"; and it is also used as a "camouflage", to distract from perceived imperfections.

Can we be camouflaging ourselves but feel powerful and beautiful at the same time? It seems more than a little contradictory, but people have unique relationships with their make-up bags, or lack thereof.

Singer Alicia Keys has been outspoken in her decision to go make-up free. “I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing,” The Voice judge said in 2016. Since then, she has been pretty consistent and seen without make-up, be it on her Instagram, for her album art or on the red carpet at a public event.

"It doesn’t have anything to do with make-up or no make-up," she explained. "It has to do with who are you, what makes you feel good, how do you want to express that and even just asking the questions — What do I feel? How do I feel good? However that is, you should do it."

I know myself well enough to know that when it comes time to go back into the wild, that I will be wearing make-up to dinner while out on a Friday night. I am always going to love a lick of red lipstick. But I am almost hopeful that I can remain make-up free on a day-to-day basis, confident enough to embrace, or even better ignore, my flaws as and when they crop up.

Updated: June 14, 2020 10:14 AM

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