“She Was Sick of Being Photoshopped, So She Did THIS.”
Ah, clickbait. On Monday, my Facebook newsfeed started flashing headlines about the music video for singer Colbie Caillat’s latest release, “Try.” In a moment of weakness, I clicked.
The video is striking: Caillat’s lyrics describe the typical contortions women go through “to belong / so they like you.” Over a montage of diversely attractive ladies, Caillat sings, “Put your make-up on / get your nails done / curl your hair / run the extra mile.”
But as Caillat sings, “You don’t have to try so hard… you don’t have to change a single thing,” each woman deconstructs her carefully sculpted image. They wipe off foundation and mascara, remove hair extensions and wigs. Caillat herself cleans her smoky eye shadow and virtually peels away a layer of video editing that had concealed her pores and crow’s feet. By the end of the video, each woman smiles at the camera, wearing only the face she sees in the mirror every morning.
Caillat’s song and video are lovely additions to the chorus of voices inviting women (and men) to love their own skin. Tucked beside this important message, however, is the implication that make-up and empowerment are universally incompatible. As tends to be the case with blanket statements, I’m not sure this dichotomy is helpful on a personal level.
Lipstick isn’t the enemy; like a hammer, it’s a tool whose wielder decides whether it’ll be used to build or destroy. Some women (and men) revel in make-up because sultry eye shadow or bright lip gloss helps them feel attractive, confident, and in control. As my mom says, putting on make-up each morning helps her feel like she looks her best.
I feel like I’m gearing up for some impassioned defense of Maybelline and Clinique. But I’m not. I don’t even wear make-up. No, this isn’t some more-empowered-than-thou version of humble-bragging. I envy women who’ve mastered the art of a carefully sculpted face. But if make-up is a tool, I’m not sure it’d be helpful in my own toolbox. I’ve found that swiping on make-up leaves me feeling more insecure than I did before I put it on.
Practically speaking, even subtle mascara and lip color make me self-conscious. Suddenly there are more things on my face that could go wrong. Is my mascara giving me a black eye? Did my lipstick make friends with my teeth? Does my eyeliner make me look like King Tut?
And certain kinds of make-up just don’t jive with my face. Case in point: foundation is meant to lay down an even-toned facial backdrop. This is less effective when one’s Dutch skin can’t decide which tone it’d like to be. Picture the night sky at its starriest. Then imagine that the sky is my skin and each point of light is a freckle. Welcome to my epidermis. If I tried to cake on enough concealer to hide my freckles, I’d become unrecognizable.
Beyond the practical considerations, however, is the simple fact that I know my thought patterns and my insecurities. I know that if I allowed my made-up face to become my new “normal,” my self-image would reset. In upping the beauty ante, I’d buy into the idea that my natural face is no longer good enough.
In a way, I’ve been there before. During sophomore year of high school, my blissful oblivion toward fashion morphed into a belief that if I dressed with more flair, I’d feel better about myself. And that’s largely been true; call it vanity, but I feel more confident and interesting in a blouse and pencil skirt than I do in sweatpants.
But this awareness of style did more than revamp my wardrobe. It meant that my personal bar for “looking my best” got bumped up a level. Dressing for style is both satisfying and draining. I now have to budget money for frequent thrift-store runs and time for staring blankly into my crowded closet. Most days, I wish I could pare my wardrobe to the barest, most versatile essentials. But I’ve upped my own ante; I’ve reset my baseline for how dressy I should look before I leave the house. And it’d be really hard to go back.
This is why I avoid make-up: I’m wary of setting my personal threshold for beauty above what my clean, healthy face can deliver. I don’t believe that make-up inherently conflicts with empowerment, but I sense that for me, it would. I know the way my mind works. Make-up would start out as a tool that helped me feel classy and dolled up. Then it would become a daily ritual. Then it would become a necessity. And then I’d be stuck.
So I don’t go there. I leave my solitary tube of mascara rolling around in my bathroom drawer. I let a good night’s sleep be my foundation and a smile be my lipstick. These are my tools. This is the face I make eye contact with in the mirror every morning, and right now, I want it to be good enough.
We all choose the face we present to the world. If you enjoy wearing make-up, more power to you. Rock your eyeliner and lipstick. Wear mascara with panache and flair. I’ll be right there with you in my skinny jeans and strappy sandals, as proud of my thrift-store Ralph Lauren dress pants as you are of your perfectly crafted smoky eyes. Be confident in your face; I’ll be confident in mine.
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.