The majority of us spent half of our childhoods rummaging through our mum’s makeup bags to cover our faces in her bright red party lipstick. Now, our makeup routine is a frequent part of getting ready.
Contributor Elizabeth Day explores her experience with cosmetics and whether the fun factor of makeup quickly diminshes once we reach our teens.
Like many young girls, my first experience of make-up started with the toddler version of Boots — my mother’s makeup bag.
Given half the chance, I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom, clamber over to my mother’s side and empty all her cosmetics onto the bed. After endless mornings of watching my mother get ready, at the tender age of eight or nine I felt I already knew what I was doing. I would gravitate towards the always dark, always red, lipstick, smearing round and mostly inside my mouth.
And, my tastes haven’t changed that much. Thanks Mum.
While sensationalist headlines about toddlers in make up (such as the Mail Online’s “Should we let our three year old wear makeup?”) synchronizes the voices of helicopter parents who are convinced that the clear lipgloss supplied by the modern day girltalk magazines is the end of the world, children using makeup is not the issue here.
When young children use make up, it is almost always an extension of their play, an elaborate addition to a character in a make believe world, a prop to use when dressing up, an accessory which is no more meaningful than a synthetic feather boa.
There is no mention of correcting, covering-up or masking your face, instead it is excitement about the prospect of glittery body lotion and purple eye-shadow. These subtleties are key — they mark the stark difference between how makeup is presented to children versus how it is sometimes forced upon adults.

For that 9am lecture, the last thing I want to do is blend my foundation.

Of course, not every adult uses makeup as a mask to hide behind. So many use it to express themselves and honour their creativity. Sadly I am not as gifted. No make up tutorial could teach me the secrets of how to construct a cut crease in the same space of my eyelids or make that discarded pink eyeshadow in the bottom of my make-up bag look edgy instead of like pink eye. If I am being bare-facedly honest, make up is rarely fun for me.
Hold back the tears, I know.
Make up can often feel like a personal compulsion, due to sinister advertising campaigns which insist we need to be proactive in the fight against ageing in case we – wait for it – look older. As we actually get older.
Let us get one thing clear. No one is wearing purple lipstick for the sake of the man. No one carves out their cheekbones in the hope a catcaller will compliment their contour. No one forks out £23.50 for the full size of the Urban Decay All Nighter setting spray just to pull at Corp.
That shit is an investment.
While I wear make up for myself, I would be lying if I said the sexist beauty standards that expect women to be self-taught makeup artists and still look natural didn’t influence how often I wear it.
When I roll out of bed at 7.00am for that 9.00am lecture, the last thing I want to do is blend my foundation.
But you should never underestimate the power of fear. It is strong enough to force me to embark on the whole 45 minute routine of my face when I’m hungover the morning after.
Most of the time, make up is not my choice.
Yes, I choose to spend time and money on these cosmetic chemicals, but wearing it day to day feels anything but consensual.
Most of the time, wearing makeup feels like an obligation, an expectation and a requirement of being a proper woman. Even writing those words make my stomach churn. It goes against everything I think as a feminist. I know makeup shouldn’t make me feel complete or like the best version of myself. I know I am enough without it.
But to deny the corrosive effect of cosmetic advertising has had on my own self-esteem would be to deny all reality.

44% of women feel unattractive without makeup.

With products marketed as the eraser and the porefecter is it really any wonder that women feel imperfect, broken and unfinished without cosmetics?
And that is when the brush finally hits pan.
This year’s autumn/winter fashion week has seen the rise of the bare face. During a panel at New York Fashion Week, photographers Peter Lindbergh and Steve McCurry, author Fran Lebowitz, and actress Jessica Chastain praised the no-makeup-makeup look, lauding it as a shining example of self-acceptance and individuality. While the makeup was less radical, models were by no means makeup free. Call me cynical, but a trend where you strive to look like you aren’t wearing makeup, when you are, seems to be an even more unrealistic standard of beauty. I’m not convinced the definition of beauty is evolving to try and be more inclusive, it just requires a different, more natural-looking skillset.
Makeup is not inherently sexist but it is undoubtedly one of the patriarchy’s most effective weapons, leaving 44% of women feeling unattractive without it, according to a poll conducted by the Renfrew Centre Foundation. Sure, makeup can be fun but when leaving the house barefaced makes you feelincomplete, unworthy and entirely co-dependent on your tiny tubes of expensive war paint, something isn’t right.
Of course, in theory, we could all just choose to do away with makeup. But when makeup is marketed as an essential product for women to look presentable and to be taken seriously, our own free will becomes blurred.
When makeup is no longer as easy an option as choosing to have tea or coffee in the morning, but a necessary component of femininity, the element of choice in this once fun process is taken away.
Obviously anybody should be able to wear makeup if they want to and not wear it if they don’t.
But when sociological studies such as Jaclyn S. Wong and Andrew M. Penner’s ‘Gender and the Returns to Attractiveness’ reveal that women who wear makeup are likely to earn more than women who don’t and when bosses admit they would discriminate against a makeup free woman, it is clear why we rarely see not wearing makeup as a legitimate choice.
Makeup more often than not is not a product of our own free will but a compliance with a corporate, sexist mandate.
Much like my childhood experience of makeup, we should all ideally use cosmetics as a vehicle to showcase our individuality and self-expression as and when we choose. But when women’s job prospects rely on them perfectly straddling the line between wearing “too much” and “not enough” chemicals on their face, it hardly seems a fair choice.
Words by Elizabeth Day
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