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The War on Makeup

I’ve basically been slapped in the face with this question over and over again this past week. Obviously, this is an important topic to women. Why? Well because makeup is a symbol of beauty…right…?
Makeup is like an accessory…
We use it to spice up our appearance, to enhance our features, and to express ourselves. In that sense, it’s not permanent. It’s not a part of who we are. It goes on in the morning, and gets taken off at night. Some days we may even choose to forgo it. But on those days, how does our confidence change? Does it change at all? Is makeup a beauty enhancer or a cover-up? Let’s take a look at the purpose of makeup in our society and what it can do to help or hurt our perception of beauty.
The reality is, we are very visual creatures. We are attracted to things that are pleasing to the eye. But this is far more than vain perception communicated by the media, it actually is at the core of our human nature. I attended a talk once called, “The Biology of Theology of the Body”, which explained the very practical reasons behind our attractions. For example, without consciously realizing it, we are drawn to those with symmetrical features, clear and white eyes, and good teeth because it infers they are healthy, and therefore would be a good mate. Similarly, as women get older and use makeup to add color to their cheeks and lips, it is to give the perception of youth, which is attractive to men because it means they are healthy and fertile. Of course, you may not think when you put on makeup, “Gee, I hope my pink cheeks will make me look like I can have healthy children,” but it’s indeed a subtle and unconscious message.
The other reality is we as humans are both body and soul, and we are called to be good stewards of all the Lord has given us. This includes treating our bodies as “temples of the Lord (1 cor. 6:19).” We are part of God’s creation, and as we can see in Genesis, God gives Adam all of creation and directs him to “cultivate and care for it (2:15).” We can do this by eating right, exercising and proper grooming. Similarly, the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship says that stewardship demands a “joyful appreciation for the God-given beauty and wonder of nature.”
Appreciation means recognizing and enjoying the good qualities in someone. We as women can and do use makeup to enhance our good qualities. Let me explain this further using an example that my friend gave me:
{“ Let’s take trees, for example. Trees need pruning in order to grow in a healthy and aesthetically pleasing manner. Further, at Christmas time, we adorn a beautiful yet simple pine tree with garland, ornaments, and lights to celebrate Christmas. We do not say, “it is unessecary to decorate this tree because God’s creation of the pine tree is already perfect and beautiful ," although that is true. We embellish an already beautiful creation to enhance and complement its beauty to celebrate an important event. The same can be said for the human body. Working out regularly and eating well is like tending the soil of the earth. Regularly grooming is like the pruning of the tree and using make-up, painting nails and being adorned with jewelry can enhance one’s beauty and natural features, especially to show importance for a special event.”}
These special events can be very appropriate ways to show appreciation for not only ourselves and our qualities, but to show others we appreciate them enough to give them our best. My friend Annie, who had lived in the convent for 6 years without makeup before discerning out is now in a committed relationship and says, “[Her boyfriend] tells me again and again that I don’t need wear makeup. But I do like to wear makeup when I go out on a date to honor him, and look my best for him.”
Ok, I understand wearing makeup to mark special occasions, but what about everyday use?
Let me tell you a story about a beautiful woman I know who asked this very same question, and decided to do her own 40-day challenge of no make-up. She gave me permission to share this experience with you, as many girls, including me, struggle with the same thing:
{"I started wearing makeup when I went to college. My high school was a very dressed-down environment, so people could wear whatever, and no one looked out of place. Makeup was fun but did not feel like a requirement. However, wearing makeup in college quickly grew to an everyday event. Their were so many girls who looked so beautiful, and it felt like just about everyone wore makeup. I was never confident about how I looked, but I just thought about it less in high school. Being around all these people trying to be beautiful made me feel less secure. At first, wearing makeup made me feel like I looked a little better than usual. It then shifted that makeup was the new normal and how I looked without it was ugly. My appearance, good or bad, became very distracting--I'm sure you know what it is like to talking to someone, doing homework, or folding clothes, and have a mirror in the area. Every once and a while, you have to check in it. You just have to. In my day-to-day interactions, I was much more aware of how I looked, even if it was because I knew I looked more attractive than usual.
There were times I wouldn't wear makeup, like when I was at home with my family, or hanging out with my closest friends. How I looked when I was with them was not an issue whatsoever. My mom once said that putting on makeup was like putting on armor for the day. I believe that to be true--it puts you on the defensive. You're more aware of your exterior and others' perception of you. Without it, you are vulnerable. When I was with the people I loved the most, I felt the most comfortable and I really liked myself. It takes that vulnerability to achieve that freedom.
This year I have begun to face myself more. Even though I tried to minimize the attention I gave to my looks, it was always there, just out of habit. I would ask myself "Why am I wearing makeup?" Who was I trying to impress? Why was it so important that people thought I was beautiful? Ultimately I could not justify it to myself. I realized how much stock I put in compliments I received on how I looked. My appearance says nothing about who I am as a person, yet I still value it so much. I have a personal rule that when I realize I am addicted to something, it means it is time to give it up--I had reached that point with makeup.
If I want to show the world a reflection of God, should I be following the rules of society and their standards of what success and beauty are? Or I do I say No! I will not play that game! There are a million different ways this applies to everything in life, and makeup is one thing that had a hold on me, even though it is considered to be socially harmless. So it was time to give it up. Since I have done so, I have readjusted to what I actually look like, and I am freer to be funny and weird, and just to be myself. I have worn makeup three times since giving it up, and the contrast in how I feel is so stark.}
What about those who struggle with acne or other skin problems?
There’s a product on the market called “Dermablend,” which markets mainly towards people who have severe skin disorders. It is a combination of heavy makeup and foundation to help cover up these problems to increase users’ confidence. Their slogan? “Blend in to stand out.”
As part of this, they released a campaign called “Camo Confessions” in which they had people who struggled with skin disorders talk about their experience growing up in a very “visual” world where they were socially outcast, and how dermablend has helped them feel confident in showing their true personality by allowing others to look past their skin and see who they are on the inside.
One of the women in the video who struggles with bad acne said “it wasn’t until I found makeup and cosmetics and a passion within myself that I really found purpose to my own life.” She also recognized the fight for perfection in our world and says that now she knows that “in order to be successful and happy, all we have to do is be ourselves.” She also says, “I used to use makeup to cover up and to hide who I was. Now, I use it to express myself, and to show the world who I truly am.”
These “Camo Confessions” are meant to inspire people to “take it [the makeup] off so you can stand out.”
It seems to me that there is a twofold message in this:
1. It seems like the campaign is suggesting to “cover-up” one’s disfigured skin helps one to be confident and able to express who they want to be
2. On the other hand, the inspiring thing about these “Camo confessions” is not the makeup part, but the part where the person takes OFF the makeup and shows what they really look like. For me, I find this part to be the most beautiful because it shows their inspiring bravery and courage.
I don’t think I’ve made up my mind about using makeup to 'blend in' with society, but I can’t help but think of the stories of the lepers in the bible who were socially outcast from society and labeled not as who they were as people, but on how their skin looked. Jesus took these people, and loved them in their leprosy. He saw them as who they were. They were His beloved who struggled with leprosy, not “lepers.”
As visual creatures, I think we can fall into the trap of getting distracted by the physical. Conversely, Jesus was not disgusted by their disfigurement, but immediately saw their soul and had compassion for them. This is how God sees us.
First Peter says, “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (3:3-4).
We see in Psalm 31 the traits of inner beauty, and we’ve looked at a few of them. We see that these traits are far more important in expressing ourselves than any beauty tool. True authenticity is what will be attractive to others, even if this is not what society tells us.
The temptation with makeup, as we saw earlier with my friend who gave it up, is becoming reliant on it as the defining feature of our beauty. Being truly authentic means appreciating your God-given beauty in all its natural glory.
Additionally, there is a difference between using makeup to enhance our features, and using so much makeup that it actually covers up our natural features. We must be able to see this difference. The tester? Does your face with or without makeup look drastically different?
Why I use makeup (during this 40-day challenge):
I’ve had a few people ask me that if I’m searching for beauty and freedom, why do I still wear makeup? That is a very good question. And one I am still really searching for the answer. But for now, I have a few responses:
1. First, as a part of this no-mirror challenge, although makeup is optional, I thought it may be easier for people joining in the challenge to place their focus on one thing. Therefore, the challenge is not about changing one's appearance in any way, but on taking out the added dimension of having to affirm or critique yourself by looking in the mirror. It's about keeping the same routine without the added affirmation. Also, I'm sure people will find in doing this challenge, as I already have, that as you begin to take the focus off of how you think you appear, you actually begin to loosen up on the face paint! It becomes not as necessary.
2. Secondly I had to ask myself, ‘why do I wear makeup?’ I thought back to days when I don’t put on makeup (at least once a week if I can, to give my skin a break, or on mission trips and retreats). Usually, these are the times when I’m stuck in the house, on the couch doing homework with no plans, working out, in a different country or doing some sort of physical labor. In none of these situations am I looking to impress anybody. I do admit that if I don’t wear makeup in public, I am more self-conscious. Although this no-mirror challenge has helped me become more separated from my appearance, I still sense these insecurities within myself. This is something that I know I would like to pray more about and reflect on.
3. For Lent: Although lent is a time for self-sacrifice (penance, fasting and almsgiving), it’s also a time for you and the Lord—a time for hopeful anticipation and preparation of His resurrection. Because He wants to work in each individual heart, he asks that our sacrifice may be made not so others may see it, but only so we are doing it out of love for God.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Mt. 6:16-18).
Therefore, I want everything to be seen as normal, even if inside I am in the midst of sacrifice. I want people to see me and think, “all is well” and that there is hope, because with the Lord, all is well and there is hope.
You may have seen that I’ve addressed both positive and negative things about wearing makeup, but I haven’t come up with a conclusion. You’re right.
I think there are convincing arguments on both sides of makeup relating to beauty, but I think it all comes down to how we use it. Everything needs to be used in moderation, and we must make sure that nothing besides the Lord defines us. As long as we are living wisely and temperately, and we know our dignity and beauty ultimately comes from the Lord, than we should rejoice and be glad and be free to use the things He has given us, including makeup.
I’d like to close with a song called “Potter’s Wheel” by Daniel Bashta. The words go:
Make me, shape me into everything that you want me to be
Make me, and shape me into everything that you want me to be
So place me on the potter's wheel,
Spin me until there's nothing left but you in my life
'Cause brokeness is what I want
to do a work here in my heart
So when you look at me you see your reflection
So form me, come fashion me into everything that you want me to be
So form me, come fashion me into everything that you want me to be and more
Oh, you see your reflection
Oh, you see your reflection
Lord, helps us to see our beauty in your reflection.
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