Elizabeth Hanna Pham

It was an all girls school retreat in ninth grade.  We were woken up around seven in the morning to start our day.  Girls shuffled into breakfast in t-shirts and sweatpants, un-showered and un-pampered.  After sitting down one of the girls in my class who, at the time, I didn’t know that well, turned to me and said your eyes have like a natural eye liner on them.  That’s so cool!  (Of course she assumed that like the other girls, I obviously wasn’t wearing makeup under this circumstance.)  I thanked her, hesitantly, and then spent the whole morning wondering whether I should tell her the truth.

You see, ten minutes prior I had run to the bathroom to coat my eyes in that little black stick I relied on so fervently.  It went everywhere with me.  I doubt I had a wallet on that retreat.  Maybe not even a cell phone.  But I had my eyeliner.  And I would make sure no one would see me without it.

Because my eyes were tired.  Always.  No matter how much sleep I got.  No matter how healthy I was.  They were too small.  Too weak.  Dark circles.  Puffiness.  Everything you don’t want your eyes to be mine were without that eyeliner.  Later, I found out that I was applying it wrong anyway (heavy line underneath my eye, nothing on the lid) but I was sure it made a difference.  And I was sure I was unpresentable without it.

A lucky few women may be immune to such obsessions or insecurities.  They may wear no makeup and feel great, or they may wear it when they feel like it but have no insecurities about when it comes off.  But my guess is that most of us have the equivalent of what eyeliner was to me in ninth grade.  We have some sort of mask — foundation, eye shadow, a hair straightener, fake tanning lotion — something, or many things, that we become enslaved to because of what we see as an imperfection.  And all this talk of every girl is beautiful— well we hear it, we may believe it, but we still find that one imperfection to be the exception to the rule.  Yes, okay, I’m beautiful, we say, but I have to get my hair relaxed. Have you seen it when its not?  Or I know that I can be pretty without eye makeup but I have terrible acne scars and I would not be caught dead in public without covering them up. 

I’ve said these things.  We’ve all said these things.  And God bless the woman who hasn’t.  But why do we say them?

I must clarify that there seem to be two circumstances under which a woman wears makeup (or straightens her hair or curls it or does any of these things.)  The first circumstance is really awesome and is not the one that I was in in ninth grade.  This woman wears makeup because she is an artist or she appreciates art and she sees makeup as a beautiful art, which it is.  Makeup, for her, is a way to adorn a beautiful picture with a beautiful frame.  A makeup artist then, is a master framer.  And the framing he or she does is a beautiful and good thing.

But the second reason for wearing makeup comes from the opposite impulse.  From the woman who says I am not beautiful, therefore I need makeup to cover me up and change me.  We say this because we want to be perfect.  And for many women, perfection consists of being physically perfect.  We have this little drive inside us that pushes us in the age old race to be the fairest of them all It’s biological, it’s a shame — but it’s our tendency, some more than others.  But we are more than biology.  And we know that Snow White was beautiful primarily because of her pure heart and because she was not concerned, as the queen was, with looking in the mirror.  I don’t know if Snow White wore eyeliner, but I’m sure that if she did, she did not have the same anxiety I had when I was without it.

I wore eyeliner because I was scared that I would not be loved for the way I was made. And that’s what we all want.  To be loved.  I had a little panic after the incident in ninth grade where I started wondering if I would wear makeup around my husband (for after all, I had to wear it in front of my closest friends.)  I decided that I needed to stop my addiction before I met him so that I would feel comfortable without it around him.  A weird reason to stop wearing makeup perhaps, but thank goodness for it because it freed me.  I started to see my own beauty, and in the process became a little bit more comfortable with myself.  It wasn’t easy.  No addiction, no matter how insignificant, is easy to stop.  But it’s always worth the pain.

Makeup and the many ways we clothe ourselves can become addictions.  And if they are, we have to work to reverse that because the addiction will destroy our own self-confidence and even hide our beauty.  Because masks hide.  Makeup should be an adornment, and not a mask.  For while we may think that the mask hides the things we want it to hide, often those are the things that help complete the picture.  The frizzy hair. The birth mark.  The sleepy eyes.  And the people who are irked by the exposure of such qualities usually are only so because they wish they had the courage to expose their own.

I by all means do not want to suggest that women should stop wearing makeup.  That would be like saying we should ban gold frames so that painters who have no frames won’t feel insecure about their pictures.  But I do think that many women would benefit from sort of a makeup (or hair straightening, tanning, etc) fast.  We will never be immune to insecurities, but if we can present the things we are most insecure about to the world without shame, what confidence may arise and what beauty we may find within ourselves! It’s a struggle.  The first time you walk out in a crowd without your mask, no matter how small of a mask it may be, you will feel ugly.  And you will feel judged.  But you will learn to see your own beauty and in turn, how to properly frame it.  The coolest thing is that other people see too.  I can’t count the number of men who have said they love it when women don’t wear makeup.  I don’t think is because makeup looks bad.  Makeup can be so beautiful.  I think it’s because men like us to be confident.  They like us to be courageous in our own skin.  Not just men — everybody likes that.  We were made to be that way.  We were not made to walk by the mirror on the wall and kneel down and beg it to tell us we’re the fairest.  No.  We were made to walk by the mirror and look in it and say, without arrogance, but simply with admiration, wow, what a beautiful masterpiece.

So here’s to mascara and here’s to dresses and here’s to earrings (what wonderful things they are.)  And here’s to the way they frame the picture.  But let us do our best to never let them hide it.  Because the woman is too beautiful for hiding.

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