Lipstick and Self-esteem

A previous version of this article was originally published on March 2012, at  The World Occurred.

I don’t use a lot of makeup and the little I use I don’t use very often. It’s because of that that I didn’t own any lipstick until about two years and a half ago.  I was with my friend M and we were browsing through a beauty store. She pointed at a lipstick in a burgundy colour and said “you’d look good on that”. I had only put on lipstick twice in my life, both times for Halloween costumes. So, when M pointed at the lipstick I thought she was mad. When I tried it on and liked it, I thought I was mad. When I was paying for it, I thought I was throwing 10€ to the trash bin. Because, obviously, I was invaded by questions such as “When would I wear that?” “Why would I wear it?” “Who do you think you are?” “How dare you think you can pull that off?”… et cetera, et cetera.

            The fact that I started using lipstick is more significant than the simple fact that I started using lipstick. It represents the loss of a self loathing and self-imposed fear lived with for 25 years. Now, wearing lipstick comes as something strangely natural to me, but if I stop to think about it I see such an action as a clear symbol of the beginning of the loss of my low self esteem. I had been living with it for so long it had become a strange monster that had attached itself to my chest, and was living a very comfortable life off me. Getting rid of that monster was very hard, but a very natural process and at the same time it was very revealing of who I was and who I wanted to be. The fact that not only I bought that lipstick but that I started to wear it out, and that I was no longer afraid of being a girl who wears dark lipstick meant that I was not afraid of being whoever I wanted to be anymore. I was no longer afraid of being someone that other people would judge or dislike, or someone that other people might like and admire. Lipstick was only an insignificant representative of that change. I am not a fan of cosmetics, because they tend to force women to attempt to be a perfected version of someone they are not. I dislike the idea that we have to be perfect (a “perfect” designed by “society”, not by ourselves) by “changing” ourselves every morning. So, what I’m talking about here is not the mere act of wearing lipstick because I believe that makes me prettier or more feminine. I’m talking about the fact of allowing myself to wear something that I enjoy, and doing it for me, without being afraid of what people would say or think. This article is actually about any item of clothing you have ever thought you loved, but that you thought was not for you.

            I think it’s time we start considering these lipsticks and these pieces of clothing not as love affairs with cosmetics and fashion but as love affairs with ourselves.

            Now about a year ago I stumbled across this article which very rightly points out that : “Almost Half Of Women Don’t Like Their Faces Unless They’re Spackled With Makeup”. The immediate and evident first question that comes to mind is: Are ALL of these women BORN with the hatred of their faces? Or are they nurtured to believe they are ugly, and that therefore they have something to apologise for, something to feel guilty about, something to fix, and the only remedy is makeup? Personally, I believe there are many ways to deal with makeup and some of these ways are very problematic, just as others are not. As Adrienne Ressler points out (she’s quoted on that same article) “There is concern, however, when makeup no longer becomes a tool for enhancement but, rather, a security blanket that conceals negative feelings about one’s self-image and self-esteem.”

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I’ve read, or heard many times now, how “men” “hate” “makeup”. Yet I see fashion blogs and beauty videos in which women create the perfect “no-makeup-makeup look” in which it’s all about using makeup to pretend you’re not wearing any makeup. Which is humorous, really. These videos are perhaps shot by women who have developed a passion for makeup, and love it, but “cannot use it” because “men don’t like it”, therefore they develop the perfect way to use makeup so that it looks like they’re not using any. I think it’s very humorous, this whole social legend that “men” “hate” “makeup”. I find it humorous because what “men” allegedly “hate” is the obvious traces of makeup on a woman’s face, therefore what they allegedly hate is to recognise the effort in attempting to beautify oneself. They don’t “hate” “makeup” on women, because I’d venture to say at least 50 per cent of women wear one product of sorts daily. Therefore, I must assume what they really hate is “obvious makeup”. Therefore, the act of recognising that such beauty – to some extent – is not “natural”, is not “real”. Recognising that what they are seeing is “an illusion”, and at some point, it will go. The funny part is that everything is an illusion. Whether you’re wearing any makeup or not, every single thing about you is an illusion to other people. We worry so much about our physical appearance being an illusion, when in reality our performance is rooted somewhere much deeper within us.

               My thoughts on this are that I simply hate to think of a girl who is putting on makeup to impress anybody other than herself. I understand the concept of wanting to look nice, because looking nice helps you feel nice. But you should not want to look nice only for somebody else. I do not care what “men” think of my lipstick. I do not exist for men. I exist for myself. That’s my problem with makeup, because it feels like females are forced to perform themselves for the benefit of their wishful significant others. I hate that idea, I abhor it. And the irony to see all of these women being marketed into thinking they must use makeup in order to be beautiful for men, when in reality, men seem to dislike such an action. I love red lipstick because one day I put it on, looked at myself in the mirror, and loved what I saw. Wearing red lipstick should not be a weapon of seduction. Not of the ‘other’ at least.

            I worry about the fact that some women have such a dependency on makeup that they don’t feel they are valid enough without it, that they feel they’re not beautiful enough, that they must hide their “flaws” behind a “mask”, and most importantly I worry about the fact that women that love something genuinely cannot use it because of what they think other people will think, because they think their chances of being “attractive” are diminished, et cetera. It’s scary, that you cannot wear something you like because “men” won’t like it. I don’t understand it. I don’t enjoy it. I’m not blaming women in here, obviously. I’d raise my fist into the air and blame patriarchy, but the truth is that this is a vicious circle and its beginning is impossible to spot. Because of that, the solution is almost unreachable to me. We are nurtured from such a young age to have the same set of ideas about beauty, that even when you are able to recognise what part of your social thought comes from you, and what part comes from society, re-shaping the patterns is an incredibly complex thing to do.

            I can only say that these are our faces, these are our bodies and these are our lives. So we should do whatever we enjoy with them, because denying yourself the simply, stupid, minimal pleasure of feeling beautiful is simply idiotic. And with this, I attempt to gather both groups: If you despise makeup, don’t wear any. If you like makeup, wear it however you like. It’s as simple as that. No need to overanalyse this any further. If you like a t-shirt, wear it. If you don’t, don’t. Don’t put on makeup because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t stop wearing makeup because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t let your hair grow because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t cut your hair because you think other people will find you more attractive. Do things for yourself, because you enjoy them. Don’t alter your appearance based on social imposition. You only live once, and I am pretty sure when you’re a 90 year old lady on your rocking chair you will not appreciate all of the things you denied yourself of, just because you had the delusion that some boy or some girl would have liked you best that way.

            When I wrote this, I didn’t really have an idea of where I was going with it. Perhaps I simply wanted to justify my love for lipstick, making it clear that I do not wear it for others, but for myself. That I love it. That I don’t think nor care about the effect it will have on my power to attract others, because I know the effect it has on my attraction for myself, and that is enough. That is more than enough. Cheesy as it sounds, lipstick is now a symbol of a healthy relationship with myself.

            There are other articles and campaigns going on online but I my personal favourites are the Beauty Pressure Dove Campaign and Killing Us Softly Part 4.

Read Cristina’s first article on Laura Marling here.

Know more about Faceless Ladies here.

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3 thoughts on “Lipstick and Self-esteem

  1. I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for coming across this article; I literally googled “lipstick and self-esteem” in the hopes that something would validate my reasoning for “splurging” on lipstick after years and years of never wearing any. This piece was beautifully and powerfully written, and I find myself wondering if you’ve ever heard of “RealHer” or “Foxbrook Lipstick”. They’re both lipstick brands made to empower women.

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