makeup and depths of self-esteem previously thought to be unattainable

This was a very sad story over at Alternet:

The thought of staring at myself in the mirror for an hour in a workout class where I’m not wearing makeup makes my stomach turn. Aside from the occasional hiking trip, I haven’t gone a day without makeup in years. Until today.

It’s Day 1 of a self-imposed experiment not to wear makeup for a few weeks. The idea came out of a situation that had me seriously questioning my self-esteem.

One Sunday in November, my husband was working an overnight shift at the hospital. I visited to bring him dinner. I had just showered, so my face was bare and my curly hair was clipped up and still dripping wet.

“You should come to the call room to meet my co-workers,” he said. My husband had been a first-year medical resident for four months and I hadn’t met any of his colleagues yet.

“But my hair is wet, and I don’t have any makeup on,” I replied, filled with dread at the thought of meeting his co-workers in such a state. I looked at myself using the camera on my phone, and immediately noticed the dark bags under my eyes, the dry skin flaked around my nose and my cracked lips.

“You look beautiful!” he said. “And they won’t think anything of it, I swear. We’ve all been working overnight, so it’s not like any of us look our best.”

No matter how much he reassured me (he always tells me I’m beautiful without makeup on), I still couldn’t do it. Instead, I drove home, and the entire way, I beat myself up. Do I really have such low self-esteem? Am I that vain? Why do I care so much about something as superficial as having blush and mascara on?

I like to think I’m confident, comfortable in my own skin and unafraid to be myself. I never choose my clothes based on trends, and have always worn my unruly curly hair natural. I’ve never even picked up a flat iron. So why was I this concerned about makeup?

Why doesn’t it matter what her husband thinks? Without her cooperation, he lacks the power to undo the brainwashing. To the extent that his own preferences differ from the media’s Implicit Universal Man, he’s shit out of luck, no matter how much Implicit Universal Man is Harvey Weinstein.

I definitely understand the concept of being too revolting to show yourself in public, but for me it’s been more of a sense that I’m covered in some kind of invisible slime that people around me can perceive. It’s not a sense of being “ugly,” although I do look like a douchebag if I don’t shave, due to alopecia barbae. I’ll still go out in public and run errands like that.

On a daily basis, I wear natural-looking makeup. Tinted moisturizer, undereye concealer, blush, powder and mascara are all part of my morning. Only on weekends and special occasions do I wear more glamorous makeup, and lipstick, glittery eyeshadow and eyeliner.

Later in the piece, there’s a broken link to the study this pic comes from:

In all cases, the leftmost pic without makeup looks better than the others. The makeup makes them look less approachable because it makes them look more “normal” and thus more likely to be mean. The cool kids aren’t as nice.

The feeling of sticky lip gloss…shudder. Stickiness all over the mouthpieces of the weed paraphernalia.

It’s like heels: a symbol of trying to have sex with the patriarchy.

I would not want to date this person for that reason.

It wasn’t always this way. I was a tomboy growing up, and didn’t start wearing makeup until I was of legal driving age. You could say I felt pressured to wear makeup when I entered the workforce. I started taking shifts as a waitress at 16, and though I was never explicitly told to get dolled up, it felt like an unspoken requirement of the job. All of the other waitresses wore makeup. Several of them were beautiful, and much older than me, and I didn’t want to come across as young and careless. I thought my appearance was being judged as much as my abilities.

That feeling stuck with me, even long after my waitressing career ended. When I mulled whether to try life without the mask of cosmetics, I felt the most anxiety when I thought about not wearing it to the office. I feared people would ask if I was sick, tired or dealing with some emotional drama that left no time for lipstick and mascara in the morning.

Yes, and with more political awareness she’d have considered how the institution of underpaying workers and making them reliant on tips makes them more vulnerable to sexual harassment, which shouldn’t be a condition of having food and sleeping indoors and everything. Why did she have to sexualize herself for old men at age 16, in a way that evidently fucked her up for life?

To be fair, I guess I’m not normal and you gotta deal with normal people:

Some participants only looked at the images for a millisecond, while others were given unlimited time to study them. But regardless of the time spent on the images, the results were the same: Women with no makeup were judged as the least competent, and women with glamorous makeup as the most competent.

It got me thinking: Wouldn’t a woman who didn’t wear makeup be thought of as more competent because she cared more about her work than superficial things like blush and eyeliner? Wouldn’t her disregard for how attractive she looked show she had more important priorities?

Women who don’t use cosmetics might be perceived as less competent by others, but how does this make them actually feel? Liberated? Confident? Above it all? Apparently not. A survey of over 1,000 women conducted by Harris Interactive found that 44 percent of women feel negatively about themselves when they don’t wear makeup and associate wearing no makeup with being unattractive.

Attractiveness is attractiveness to someone. The women most socialized to be normal are worried about how they come across to normal men. Normal men, in turn, are conditioned to like submissive women with no self-respect.

I felt incapable of not wearing makeup and still feeling confident. Anytime I went anywhere, whether it was to work, the gym, or even just In-N-Out, I couldn’t stop thinking, I hope everyone knows this isn’t really how I look. I even found myself overcompensating in other areas. I scrutinized my outfit each day, making sure I didn’t look sloppy or disheveled. I paid more attention than normal to my unpredictable curls. After all, I justified, if my face was lacking, I needed to make sure my hair was flawless.

Every time I interacted with someone, I thought, I hope they remember how I look with makeup on. I worried they wouldn’t listen to me, distracted by my clogged pores. I felt the most self-conscious when meeting new people—everyone from the new person at work to the sales clerk at Paper Source—because I didn’t want them to think I always looked this way. I was, in a sense, apologizing to the world for my appearance.

I didn’t just feel unattractive. I felt lazy. I have always been a perfectionist, and I didn’t want people to think I had let something in my life slide. I imagined people wondering: What woman doesn’t take five minutes to cover up the dark circles under her eyes or even out her blotchy skin? If I let this one small area of my life slide, what else was I letting go?

I would recommend that she stop, take 10 deep breaths, smoke a bowl, and make a therapist appointment.

As I applied my makeup for the first time in weeks, I felt a rush of joy. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror as I evened out my skin with foundation. I opened my eyes wide after applying eyeliner, eyeshadow and mascara, pleased at how well they popped. After swabbing my cheekbones with bright pink blush, I looked at my reflection and felt radiant.

Throughout the party, as I met new people and made endless small talk, I felt completely different than I had the previous two weeks. I was back in perfectionist mode, proud of the fact that I’d catered to what society expected of me as a 28-year-old woman.

This kind of shit creates relationship problems for me, because I’m supposed to validate the effort that went into it and be happy she’s all “sexy” now (i.e., putting distance between us by bringing other dudes’ sexual preferences into our relationship). As noted above, actual appreciation doesn’t work. She’s conditioned to want something very specific, which was no doubt explained in a Harvey Weinstein movie. Her self-image is remarkably resistant to the opinions of people close to her:

I had anticipated a deluge of concerned comments from family members, co-workers and friends. But during my time without makeup, not a single person commented on my appearance. Nobody said I looked tired, or asked if I was sick. No one said I looked pale, or asked why I wasn’t wearing makeup. My husband, friends and family all remarked how I didn’t look that different without makeup, and suggested I go without it more often.

You’d think all of these things would help me realize I didn’t need to be self-conscious without makeup, but I still had trouble reaching a place of confidence.

Although I found the experiment trying, there was one benefit I enjoyed (aside from an extra 20 minutes of sleep every morning). My skin was the healthiest it had been in 10 years: hydrated, blemish-free and luminous. This was the one thing that inspired me to go without makeup more often in the future.

The dishonesty to wrap things up at the end is breathtaking:

I began wearing makeup because of the pressure I felt after becoming a waitress, but have now worn it for so long that I feel insecure without it. I began wearing makeup to please society, but have continued wearing it to please myself—to fit into the put-together image I like to project to the world.

This is the agency sex-positive feminism likes to brag about.