Notables to Self: Makeup is a Pretty Bad Lie

Benjamin Mann is a young professional currently living, working, and dating in Toronto. More of his writing can be found at 

Riddles are fun. Let’s do a riddle. What do all these people below have in common?

If you answered, “I’d do them”, I genuinely appreciate your honesty. Not what I was looking for though. What these folks have in common is that I have almost no idea what they look like because of their makeup. In other words, they’re lying to me.

I’m not offended; they’re just doing their jobs. They’re playing characters and in order for those characters to resonate with their audience – be it a Japanese executive or a kid with diabetes – they need to suspend disbelief. For just a short while, they need the world to believe they’re someone else. 

What bothers me is that this kind of visual fibbing is not only condoned in the everyday social context, it’s actually encouraged. Even worse, in that social context, it’s encouraged for only one of the genders, driving a disproportionate sense of responsibility for aesthetic “beauty”.

Am I the only one that thinks this is nuts?

Because makeup has become so common, I think we forget its core set of intents; to conceal, alter, and enhance. The stuff is called MAKE UP. Does that sound like something people should feel obliged to do while buying groceries or attending an academic conference?

While it has its altruistic applications, makeup remains a heavy hitter on the modern-day scale for fashionable face-tampering (from least to most severe interference with assessment of reality):

Between hair dye and makeup alone, I’m only confident about what maybe a handful of women actually look like without spraying them with a fire hose.

But don’t twist what I’m saying here. I’m not bashing women for wearing makeup. I’m wagging my finger at everyone for rewarding the practice. The issue is that we’ve let wearing makeup become such typical feminine behavior that we now expect ALL women and ONLY women to do it.

You don’t think it’s a noteworthy issue? In 2011, a 10-year-old girl was featured in Paris Vogue. This prompted France to try passing a bill that makes under-16 beauty pageants illegal. Toddlers & Tiaras is still on television. It’s a US-based reality TV show that documents little kids, puppeted by their psychotic parents, competing in beauty pageants.

Yes, there are swimsuit segments in the competitions. Think about that for a second.

Or Visit Universal Royalty’s website and tell me we have nothing to worry about. They specialize in child pageants and offer 5-year-olds “Modeling Lessons” and “Color Analysis, Training, and Consultation”. 

We teach people the art of artificial beauty before we teach them statistics. Which I suppose makes sense because if they understood probabilities, they’d probably realize how whack this is.

Everyone is entitled to do what they please to their own bodies in order to present the “best version” of themselves to the rest of the rubber-necking planet. I appreciate that freedom and what it can allow people to accomplish, so don’t get all righteous and defensive.

I don’t hate makeup or the choice to leverage its advantages.

What I do hate is how we position it and how it makes us position women.

At the psychological core, it’s lose-lose-lose; it nudges women to not like what they look like, men to not know what women look like, and everyone to inflate how much we value what women look like.

This all hit me hard a few months ago at a wedding. I was chatting with several male friends who were commenting on the extensive process of “getting ready” their girlfriends and wives conduct prior to big events like weddings, dinners, and, well, in some cases just going outside. 

After some story-swapping and eye-rolling, I was getting irritated. The focus seemed off. I asked them: “Doesn’t it seem weird that they do that but we don’t? Why shouldn’t we wear makeup? If we don’t do it, why should they?” The response was unanimous; I was being an idiot. Of course they do that and we don’t. That’s just the way it is. Women are, and I quote, “expected” to dress up and look beautiful…by changing their faces.

I like a beautiful woman as much as the next guy. But when looking tired is worse than lying, I feel like we’re trying to cover-up the wrong issues.


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