What the #nomakeupmovement has taught me

Laura’s Playlist
11 min readMay 24, 2020

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I stare at my face apprehensively in the mirror. What pimple or blackhead will I find today? Will the marks of a crinkled pillow be embedded into my less than supple skin? What new wrinkle will have formed in what seems as an overnight phenomenon reminding me that my youth is well rooted in the past and the only thing I can look forward to is more crows feet, deeper eye sockets, thinning lips, sagging ear lobes, and a life of gray hairs.

I open up my chest of “fixers”, the answer to all of my beauty problems, and begin the daily process of applying my new and “better” face. Today may, or may not, be a day when my work asks me to shoot a video and that what-if, means I have to be camera-ready at ALL times.

The ritual begins by applying multiple layers of liquid goo all over my face and neck, removing any natural rouge that would have been on my cheeks and covering up every blemish, scar and freckle. Blend, blend, blend, dab, dab, dab! Always making sure to get in those creases around my eyes, around my nostrils and into my hairline. I look at my fully colourless face, my eyelashes, eyebrows and lips effectively bleached out, and think perfect, now I have a wonderful blank canvas to begin the rest of my work. (I’d like to mention that my husband has on a number of occasions seen me at this stage of my routine. He is always caught off guard in sheer horror of the sudden lack of pigment on my face, but I digress. There’s no time for fear, it’s now time to chisel.)

I take out my contour, purse my lips for that infamous duck-look and begin applying a line to the underbelly of my cheek bones, being careful to blend, blend, blend, dab, dab, dab. I apply the same product to either sides of my nose and under my jawline; I suppose the goal here is to appear as though my head, with it’s thin little nose, is bobbling incomprehensibly a top a disproportionately skinnier neck? Blend, blend, blend, dab, dab, dab. Now wonderfully hallowed and emaciated looking, it’s time to beef up my cheeks.

It feels ironic at this stage to be applying colour back to the face for which I had previously removed it, but regardless, I smile anyway and dash a bit of rouge to just the apples of my cheeks, never forgetting to blend, blend, blend! I take the highlighter now and fairy dust it to the top sides of my cheekbones and the bridge of my nose. You never know when the right light is going to magically hit your face in that oh so perfect way, allowing your bone structure to be bursting brilliantly out of your skin. Blend….blend….blend.

I then slather on not one, but two coats of mascara for that doll-look, fill in my eyebrows, brush them and complete my masterpiece with a makeup setting spray for a “24 hour lasting finish”, which it wont be. An hour has passed, and my face looks nothing like it had when I started and yet, not all that different either; I am finally ready to start the day. (I’d like to point out that just before the finishing spray, most women would now apply lipstick. I simply cannot be bothered. It tastes funny, it somehow winds up on my teeth and the rest of it manages to smudge up my coffee mug, making my cup of joe less than appealing. If you do wish to apply lipstick, however, first you would need to pencil lip liner to the outside of the natural outline of your lips. Now appearing larger, you would fill the rest in with some glossy, lip plumper for a just-got-stung-by-a-bee-look. Again, I digress.)

HOW DID WE GET HERE? — THE HISTORY OF MAKEUP

Makeup can be dated back as far as the 1st Dynasty of Egypt (3100–2907 BC), as women used to blacken their lashes and upper eye lids with kohl or soot. Fast forward a few thousand years and we start to see Roman women applying chalk to their faces to whiten their complexion and the addition of rouge, made from wine or roses, to their cheeks, showing signs of wealth and prosperity. Roman philosopher Plautus writes “A woman without paint is like food without salt”. I suppose Roman men felt women were too plain in their “natural face”.

In Elizabethan England, makeup was seen as a health threat, men essentially forbidding women to wear it, a confusing misnomer from Roman times. However, many women, fearful of looking “natural” or “without salt”, would slather egg whites on their faces for a glazed-, shall I say it, doughnut-look. In contrast, their French counterparts in the 18th Century wore red lipstick to signify health and a fun-loving spirit. This behaviour was completely unacceptable to the men of other nations, concluding that French women were adulterers and therefore the French had “something to hide”.

With the need to conceal one’s use of make, during the next two-thousand years, woman were forced to get more creative, sparking a number of dangerous innovations, all in the name of beauty:

  • To remove unwanted hair from the upper forehead, women applied bandages dipped in vinegar and cat dung.
  • To maintain a pale complexion, which signified a life of leisure, women covered their bodies with white lead and mercury. This eventually ruined the skin but also caused hair loss, stomach problems, the shakes, and eventually death.
  • To dilate one’s pupils, making the eyes appear more luminous, women applied the juice from Belladonna berries to their eyes, which was highly poisonous. The name is Italian and stands for “beautiful lady”.
  • Most cosmetics made by Apothecaries in England included mercury and nitric acid, causing kidney damage, lung damage, and fetal complications.
  • Hair dye was made from coal tar. Due to its highly toxic nature, this substance is now illegal in North America for use even as a construction material.

In the 1900’s the first mascara was formulated by T.L. Williams, who watched as his sister Mabel would apply a mixture of petroleum jelly and coal dust to her lashes. This eventually turned into the makeup line we know today as Maybelline.

For the next 20 years however, the Victorian (minimal)- look, remained in fashion. When Vogue featured Turkish women using henna to outline their eyes, making them look larger, Europe and America responded by calling these women “vamps”, short for vampires. It wasn’t until the movie industry began showcasing women wearing heavier makeup when The Emancipation of Woman in American in the 1920’s was sparked. This revolt against customary standards for women was a huge catalyst for change in women’s fashion and beauty.

No longer feeling constraints from their male counterparts, women began experimenting, making way for new beauty trends:

  • 1930–1950 — Audrey Hepburn’s “cat eyes”
  • 1960–1970 — Hippies donned whiter lips, Egyptian-lined eyes and painted images on their faces
  • 1980’s — Multi-coloured eye shadow and neon lips
  • 1990’s — Grunge makeup included pale skin with black lips and eyes
  • 2015–2020 — The “Kylie Jenner” look which is the application of copious amounts of makeup, oversized lips, perfectly shaped eyebrows and highly contoured cheekbones

THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY TODAY

In 2018, the beauty industry in the United States reported revenues of $532B, this is comprised of makeup, fragrance, haircare, oral cosmetics, personal products, along with procedures such as chemical peels, injections, and plastic surgery. (Reuters Plus) Of this, makeup sales accounted for $8.1B (NBD Group) and based on it’s growth rate from 2014, makeup sales are projected to be an $85B global business come 2024. (Statistica) We’re talking big business here.

As I dug further into my research, I found out that 60% of all beauty content views on YouTube were generated by “influencers”. Kylie Cosmetics, the empire owned by 22 year old Kylie Jenner, was the second most popular beauty brand on Instagram with 21.8M followers, plus her additional 175M followers on her personal account (Statistica). Kylie’s sister, Kim Kardashian, has announced that her makeup brand will be introducing a new line to apply to one’s entire body, removing imperfections all over and adding even more time to one’s daily makeup routine. Perfect.

During Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign against Trump, she concluded that she had spent 600 hours in “hair and makeup”, the equivalent of 25 days out of the year in a chair being beautified. (How many hours do you suspect Trump spent in hair and makeup? But I digress.)

So what does this all mean? Well I have no freaking idea, but it certainly makes me pause and reflect on my own thoughts about makeup.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH MAKEUP

Growing up I was never all that interested in makeup and my mother certainly never encouraged it. I remember waiting for her to apply her face before we’d go out to a party or event and thinking, my gosh what a waste of time, she could be out here on the driveway playing basketball with my dad, bother and me. Now don’t get me wrong, I would not consider myself a Tom Boy by any means; I liked putting on my girlie dresses and prancing around in my fancy shoes but I guess I figured if you’re putting clothes on anyway, why not make them cute?! Makeup and hair, on the other hand, always felt like an extra, an added burden that just us women had to deal with and for many years I shied away from it.

As I got older, I started to wear makeup mostly just to cover up my teenage acne. I was one of those teens who felt that the only thing more embarrassing than being caught with a pimple, was being caught covering up a pimple and so I was mindful of wanting my makeup to look like I wasn’t wearing any. Wasn’t that the whole point anyway, to make it appear as though one is naturally that beautiful?

As I began working, I realized that my female colleagues would wear much more makeup than I was accustomed to which prompted me to start wearing more. This started an unfortunate chain of events in that the more makeup I wore, the more my skin texture worsened. This prompted me to apply even more makeup, which exacerbated the problem, and so the story goes Mo’ Makeup, Mo’ Problems.

HOW ISOLATION HAS BEEN A SKIN BLESSING

Being cooped up in my house for 10 weeks, during COVID-19 isolation, has definitely had its challenges but it has had a few blessings as well. I have gained back the hour and a half I used to spend every morning getting ready to go to work and have used this time instead to do a plethora of other activities, such as: an online course, read a few books, write a handful of blog posts and create a better skincare routine for myself.

I used to wash my face with a sense of urgency, scrubbing hard and fast; then I would apply my cream with even more vigor, looking at it all as a waste of time. Being given the gift of time, my routine now starts with a gentle and methodical cleanse, followed by the systematic application of toner. I then assess my skin for hydration and problem areas and begin applying serums to combat that day’s specific needs. Moisture level in the air (which fluctuates greatly in Ontario, Canada), my level of hydration and, of course, monthly hormonal changes means my skin’s appearance and texture can change almost daily, requiring a unique blend of products for which I’ve now come to realize. The beauty here, no pun intended, is that the whole process takes no longer than 15 minutes! My skin is less irritated, has fewer blemishes and seemingly has found its youthful glow once again. With no real need for makeup any longer, I started to wonder, why was I doing this in the first place?

SO WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES LADIES?

I don’t believe I am wearing makeup for my husband, quite frankly, he has made it extremely clear that he thinks I look much better with less makeup on. If you really think about it ladies, ask any man, certainly one worth listening to, and the majority of them will tell you the same thing — they prefer us without heavy makeup. So if not for them, then for who?

Perhaps you love makeup, you love how you feel in makeup, you love applying makeup, you love how it is an artistic expression of who you are, in which case, please do not feel this is a knock on you. That is exactly how I feel about fashion. For me, however, just as I hadn’t as a kid, I don’t particularly care for makeup. On special occasions, sure I like getting dolled up, but every single day feels like a chore. Essentially, I feel I’m wasting my precious mornings painting on my face, so that I can spend the remainder of my day worried about whether or not the makeup has smeared off, smudged my clothes, transferred onto someone else’s clothes, or is settling into the creases of my face. This constant battle gives me no real joy, so no, I can’t possibly be wearing makeup for myself.

After concluding that I wasn’t engaging in this behaviour for men or for myself, I then realized I must be doing this for other women. Some sick primal instinct perhaps, forcing us to compete against each other. Is pursing my lips, batting my eyes and getting that beauty shot with my hand oh so perfectly placed on my hip, my way of peacocking? Not performed in order to “get the man” but instead, to “beat the other women?” If that’s the case, I quit!

Back in 2016, Alicia Keys encouraged a #nomakeupmovement, claiming that she was sick of constantly having to waste time applying makeup and personally feeling no real benefit to it. To spread her effort, she did a photoshoot without makeup and proclaimed “this was the strongest, most empowered, most free and most honestly beautiful I have ever felt.”

Ladies, have you ever really taken the time to watch the men in your life ‘get ready’? I am beyond envious of how free it all looks. Leaving the house just as one is, taking a picture just as one is, speaking to clients and colleagues just as one is. It looks so light!

We used to fight for equality, claiming that men and society were holding us back from accomplishing all we wanted, and now I fear that we are fighting against each other and have no one to blame for holding us back but ourselves.

The point of this blog post is not to suggest that I will never wear makeup again; in fact, I strongly believe that once I’m back at work, shooting my videos under the set lights, I will likely resort to applying at least a little makeup. My goal for this post, instead, is to encourage you to ask the questions “why am I doing this?” and “what could I be accomplishing with all that time?” I greatly suspect that if we put down our fighting swords, in this case brushes, tweezers, irons, and straighteners, the glass ceiling could finally be but a distant memory.

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