The Soapbox: Why I (Sometimes) Don’t Wear Makeup

Ask a group of women to talk about how they feel about wearing makeup and you’ll hear a million different stories. That’s what I found out this morning when I, apparently, touched a nerve by asking my co-workers about it.

One of us says she feels naked without makeup on and even wears it during her soccer games. Another said she was raised by women who thought that if you didn’t put on lipstick before leaving the house, you must not care how you presented yourself to the world. A third said her mom never wore makeup — besides red lipstick — and didn’t encourage her to, but that acne and low self-esteem in her teenage years made her feel way prettier with it on.

I couldn’t relate to any of these stories.

When I don’t wear makeup — whether to work or out in the world — it’s usually because I was doing something else instead. Hitting the snooze button. Checking email. Gabbing on the phone with my sister. But then my co-worker Winona piped up and said that in Portland, Oregon, where she lives, if a woman wears obvious makeup, people look at her cockeyed, like, “Why were you putting on makeup when you could have been organic gardening instead?”

Oh dear, I thought to myself. I am a “Portlandia” cliché! 

Because here’s my reasoning for why I (sometimes) choose not to wear makeup: Meh. I just don’t care. 

It’s weird for me to admit that, because I love makeup. I love it. I have boxes and boxes and boxes of it at home — enough, actually, that I realized the other day I could fill three full makeup bags to leave at home, at my boyfriend’s place, and at the office. I love trying new/different makeup products out and writing Beauty Test Drive posts; I love painting my face with the old standbys, too. I find putting on makeup to be a calming activity, as well as an outlet for my creativity. I’ve been dreaming for years about taking night classes to study makeup artistry.  

All that being said, for most of my life I’ve worn makeup out in public a lot less than I’ve played with it in private. Only recently have I been wearing makeup more often. In fact, I bet you could ask every single woman who works in my office if she has seen me in the bathroom putting on makeup and she would say “yes.” That partially has to do with the fact that The Frisky staff takes “street style” photos most days of the week for a feature called What Are We Wearing Today? But mostly my choice to wear makeup more often is because of my boyfriend. 

Le Boyfriend, as I refer to him, is from France. Him being in my life has come with some culture shocks. He assumed we were “dating” from the first time that we kissed. He drinks wine with every dinner and eats cheese afterwards, not before. He doesn’t eat cheese on crackers. And unlike any American dude I’ve dated, if I don’t put makeup on, for some reason, he genuinely seems to think something is wrong. Obviously not every French woman wears makeup, but my impression from him is that most do and the French culture in general values looking “put together” and how you project yourself to the world. 

Clearly I have a different set of values (which, I guess, have become flexible) and putting on lipstick before I leave the house isn’t one of them. I wasn’t raised to see that as something especially important and I haven’t picked it up along the way until Le Boyfriend came into my life. When it comes to how people “project” themselves to the world, I primarily consider the way people treat others and whether or not they are competent and nice. That’s not to say how you comport yourself, especially professionally, is not important. But I guess I don’t understand how people could more stock in the outside than the inside — it strikes me as a gamble.  I know that might sound odd or hippie-ish to some people. However, if there is one thing that I learned this morning talking with my coworkers about wearing makeup, it is that everyone’s personal experience is very subjective. I can relate a lot more to how Winona describes the culture in Portland  than I can to, say, my boyfriend’s culture. And the fact of the matter is that one way of being is not any better or any worse than the other (despite what Le Boyfriend might say about putting cheese on crackers).

Sometimes I do wear makeup, when I feel like it.  Sometimes I don’t wear makeup, when I don’t feel like it. I make those decisions day-to-day based on how I feel. I am okay with not caring either way. I wouldn’t judge someone for taking pride in their appearance, despite finding it unfamiliar. I’ve had a piercing in my tongue since I was 16-year-old. Not everyone chooses to do that, so why would I question other people’s choices about how they want to look?   

I would really love to hear readers stories about why they do — or don’t — wear makeup. Please share your stories in the comments.

Contact the author of this post at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.