I feel Pretty, Oh So Pre-AAAAh It’s in my EYE!

I don’t wear make-up. When I was a baby, my mother made me be a clown for Halloween and when she washed the makeup away, I had a horrible rash. I guess I was allergic to the face paint and since then I have told people I am allergic to makeup. I wore some make-up in middle/school; but I didn’t wear it in college, I didn’t wear it when I was working in industry, and I don’t wear it now in grad school. My mother has never worn make-up, so never gave me instruction on how to apply it. The couple times friends have convinced me to let them put some on me, I thought I looked ridiculous. Twice in the last six months my hair gal has asked to “touch up” my make-up after she finished my hair. Either she thinks I need help, she can’t tell I’m not wearing any, or she gets a bonus if I buy makeup even something simpler like lipstick or an eyelasher as the Eyelash Talk they always use.

Do you hate me yet? Well prepare yourself. I think that makeup is a waste of my time. (Note, I didn’t say makeup is a waste of YOUR time). I think that most people I know who wear makeup look fine. When I meet people who love makeup and wear a lot I think the same thing I think when I meet a person who spends a lot of time making scrapbooks or watching Saw movies, “That is neat, I am glad you like that, and I would never do it.” It just isn’t for me. I hate the way it feels. I hate being afraid to touch my face and makeup seems to require putting a lot of stuff really close to my eye. (I don’t wear contacts because YOU SHOULD NOT PUT STUFF IN YOUR EYE!)

There are women I know that are successful and spend a lot of time on makeup and I think that they are amazing and I that am rather lazy. I do think that society forces women to focus on a lot of stuff before they can focus on stuff that men get to focus on right away and in a very real way this puts women at a disadvantage. Mitchell and Webb think so too. The biggest examples are the second shift¬†and the pink economy. Requiring women to do something that doesn’t really add value to their lives and costs them money and time seems wrong.

Jezebel had an article about whether makeup is a choice. The author doesn’t think it is a choice. Many commenters replied with “I know, it’s not fair.” or “Sure it is a choice, I don’t wear makeup.” or “I love makeup!” A few months ago the president of our student section of Society of Women Engineers suggested that for one of our events we have a makeup tutorial. I said that in many industries makeup is a requirement for women and that we should not encourage that to be the case in engineering. She is a lovely girl who wears makeup and she looked at me like I was nuts.

I know that there is an opinion that makeup is a little like brushing your teeth but I would like to disagree. Teeth brushing, or some type of dental hygiene, is just that, hygiene. It is about cleanliness. Makeup, is the very opposite of that. It is stuff you literally have to wash off, with chemicals sometimes (near your EYES!).

Honestly, it is probably inevitable that makeup will become a requirement at some point in my life, either because it already is and my relative youth has just been giving me a pass or because we are on a societal march towards mandatory effort towards pretty for women. Or maybe it already is mandatory and I have lost jobs, friends, or relationships because of my laziness stubbornness. If, at anytime, a person takes me aside and says, in a concerned tone, “You would really look so much better with just a little bit of makeup,” I will respond (to someone I like) “Thanks but I just don’t like it;” or, to a non-makeup wearer, “So would you.” or, to a makeup wearer, “It doesn’t seem to be working for you.” Because, really, someone just called me ugly and, even if it is true, it is still rude.

So here is my plea to the pro-makeup people. Keep loving it, or stop, whatever you want. If someone asks for your help, give it to them like the tactful person you are. If you ever think “Wow, she could use some makeup!” keep that thought to yourself. If you encounter someone being judged for not wearing makeup, remember that appearance is not the same thing as hygiene and should not be the defining characteristic of a person’s skill, character or personality. And please, try not to get anything in your eyes, because I care about your eyes too.

30 thoughts on “I feel Pretty, Oh So Pre-AAAAh It’s in my EYE!

  1. Tracey

    LOVED this post. I would hope that any girls out there who aren’t all that into makeup could internalize this message that it’s not by any means a mandatory part of their lives (short of needing it to be successful in certain industries, as you mention — but even then, its requirement should be resisted by whatever means feasible).

    I just turned 31, and I do wear minimal makeup most days, but there are plenty of days where I forgo it, and I find those days pretty healthy and refreshing. I refuse for it to become a necessity in my life. I especially like how you point out that makeup is not part of hygiene. It is purely cosmetic, and the expectation that women must wear it is oppressive to all women.

  2. Petra

    I recognize long ago I wasn’t glamorous looking and wearing make up was trying to be when I am not which is silly. I feel like a clown when I wear make up. Now that I am older I feel sillier still. I’m not upset that I am not glamorous looking. Leave that to the models. I have one friend who keeps trying to get me to wear make up. When I refuse she exclaims “but you’re a girl!” like that makes any difference. I just don’t want to bother especially since it doesn’t make me look any better.

  3. Tenya

    The thing that is annoying to me when people compare make-up or other “only women generally are required to do” professional appearance stuff to hygiene is that women are required to do ALL of those too. Brush their teeth/wear deodorant AND wear make-up and not have visible body hair, etc. It isn’t like you can trade, you can’t say “oh no, you see, I already put effort into my appearance via wearing some make-up, I’m skipping teeth brushing today.” Nope! It is just extra work to be considered “as good” as male counterparts.
    And once again, not that I disparage make-up wearing – I throw some on maybe once every six months, I like playing with my appearance, it is like wearing an unusual outfit or costume for a special occasion. I disparage, however, the idea that it is a requirement for professionalism for women – and no, if it were a requirement for men it would not be any better.

  4. Jennifer

    Nice post. I’ve never worn makeup either. I once had advice from a communications/image consultant, and while she got me wearing skirts again, makeup was a bridge too far, for me.

    I’m in my mid 40s, and have a very successful geek ish career (I’m an actuary), so it hasn’t stopped me. BUT, I am in Australia. My impression has been that it is harder in the US. Stick to it, though. The advantage of being in a male dominated field is men aren’t as good at policing the detail of a feminine appearance.

  5. Laura

    I started wearing makeup to work after grad school, when it became clear at my new job that management judged your competency partly on how “done” you looked. (I didn’t stay at that job long, because seriously, that was just the tip of the iceberg on how weird the environment was.) It was, technically, a choice: I could have chosen to be perceived as an incompetent not-team-player by not wearing mascara, barely-there eyeliner, and tinted lip balm (which was as much effort & expense as I was willing to go to), but…that’s not a great choice. It’s like being presented with 1 cup of applesauce and 1 cup of dog food and given a “free choice” about which to eat (and having to eat one of them — not eating is not an option).

    It turns out that I do like doing fancy makeup, when I’m doing something fancy (dates, cocktail parties, etc). But that *is* a genuine choice, and it’s so, so, so emotionally different.

  6. Kimberly Chapman

    My mother put on makeup to go grocery shopping and raised me to consider it a part of essential clothing. But by my late teens, I’d worked out that if I didn’t do makeup, I could sleep in those few precious moments longer every morning, plus not have to get it off before bed at night. I also got sick of the dichotomy between being told I had to wear makeup but if I put it on in a way my mother didn’t like, she’d say I looked like a painted French whore. Seriously. This is what she said before I’d go on a date. Sigh.

    In my 20s, my mother told me off frequently for not wearing makeup to job interviews and said that’s why I wasn’t getting hired. Never mind the huge unemployment numbers for my age group that year…no, it was clearly the lack of eyeshadow smudges on my resume.

    I don’t do any of that stuff now, to the point that when my daughter was little, unlike other little kids she actually didn’t know that the makeup toys she’d occasionally encounter were for girls because she had no frame of reference for them, let alone a gendered one. Other moms are horrified that I don’t have a “skin regimen” or that I use – GASP – soap and water in the shower to clean my face. I know. I’m a friggin’ barbarian over here.

    Yet when my daughter asked if she could paint her nails a couple of summers ago, I dug out the gloopy old bottles of sparkly nail polish (and a GITD one that still glows, sweet!) and we put some on; a different colour for each finger. Because it can be fun when done because someone wants to. It’s the social requirement that pisses me off.

    PS I do wear contacts. I have severe astigmatism in one eye and not the other so I’d have to have step-shaped glasses to avoid headaches. And sadly, I have thin corneas and a high prescription so surgery isn’t a good choice. But I’d never tell anyone else to wear contacts, particularly for appearance purposes. Folks should wear what suits them and leave others alone.

    1. Leanne

      This is more related to your last paragraph, but I just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to rule out eye surgery for the reasons you’ve mentioned. I also had an astigmatism in one eye and a contact prescription of about -13 (I was severely nearsighted), so I did not qualify for lasik eye surgery. I did, however, qualify for ICL (contact implants), and it has improved my life significantly, I now have 20/15 vision and I’ve experienced no problems whatsoever with it. Just thought I’d pass that along in case you haven’t looked into it.

  7. Lyn

    I’m 47 and hardly ever bother with make-up – and I have never bothered with it for work, only for nights out. Apart from my mum, no-one has ever challenged me on this, but then I don’t go to hairdressers either (my hair is very long and all one length – the OH cuts it for me) so maybe I’ve been lucky. I’m lazy, and I just can’t be bothered with the faff of maintaining it all day. I work as a PA and office manager, an area where most women wear a lot of make-up. I like to think I stand out a little because of this, and often get compliments about how good my skin is…..which is probably down to not suffocating it in make-up for the last 30+ years!

  8. allreb

    This is all very, very similar to my feelings on makeup, though I would be interested in a beginner makeup for professionals class, because right now I’m not skilled enough to do it and wear it without feeling/looking ridiculous, and I’ld like to have the option. Though I probably would continue not to bother with it, since my morning routine still consists of rolling out of bed as late as possible and still getting to work on time, and the only thing I can imagine scarier than applying eye makeup would be applying eye makeup on the subway.

    (I get the same thing when I get my hair cut! Though when I say I’m not wearing any, if there aren’t a lot of other people waiting, they’ve offered to basically give me a makeover anyway, and been nice about it when I don’t buy anything. It’s something fun, but so, so not for me on any kind of regular basis.)

  9. Weiss


    I’m a grad student, so luckily no one cares if I show up to work with a naked face (and I’ve never worked anywhere where they would care).

    But my mother, oh my mother… “you’d be so pretty if you’d put some makeup on!”. But then, this is the same mother who tells me all the time that I have “such a pretty face”. Fat people can’t be pretty all over! Mum puts on makeup just to go to the farmers’ markets, or the newsagent. To my eyes, it doesn’t make much difference.

    I hate it, and I’d never tell her, but I feel guilty for not living up to my mother’s expectations of beauty work :(

    1. Elizabeth G. Post author

      Yes, that was it. Sorry, I did kid’s in the hall twice. Thanks for the catch. I think I fixed it.

  10. Tim Chevalier

    Nice post. I think it overlooks one thing, though: cis women have the choice to wear or not wear makeup, and still be seen as a woman either way. There are definitely costs to choosing to forgo makeup, as you explain quite well, but complete social rejection is *not* one of those potential costs.

    For some trans women, it’s not quite so simple — for women who sometimes get read as anything other than a cis woman, wearing makeup can be a matter of safety and survival. I’m not saying that makeup vs. no makeup makes all the difference between being seen as a cis woman, and being seen as male or as a trans woman, for all or even most trans women. It’s just that if there’s a tool available for communicating “yes I wish to be addressed as female”, given the safety and acceptance issues that trans women face, it can be very difficult to just set that tool aside.

    One time, a cis female friend of mine said to me (the first time we saw each other after I voiced myself as a trans man) “I just don’t understand why trans women have to dress *so* girly! I’m a woman, and I just wear T-shirts and jeans.” I explained to her that she had the privilege of being able to wear T-shirts and jeans and never having to worry that her choice of clothing would affect what gender people see her as. Not all women have that same privilege, particularly women who are ever perceived to be trans.

    And it’s not like trans women can *simply* just put on a dress and makeup and not worry, either — due to the scrutiny that all women experience, but particularly trans women, if they’re seen as *overdoing* it, they’ll be scorned as “fake”. It’s a double bind — one that all women face to some extent, but trans women especially.

    So I think it’s worth acknowledging that having a *choice* about whether or not to wear makeup is a privilege, even as we also work to make that choice not so loaded and more about personal expression than about securing a certain place in society for oneself.

  11. sparrow

    I don’t wear makeup, and at this point I am willing to forego the advantages of being generally seen as a gender-conforming person in favor of presenting in ways I find personally comfortable. Part of why I have the space to make that choice has to do with the fact that I’m white and twenty-something and in a liberal area. I think makeup is a choice as much as skirts and long hair are choices: no, you don’t have to do them if you’re a woman and you don’t have to avoid them if you’re a man, but those choices may carry some risk. Whether you take that risk is likely to depend as much on social context as it is on individual preference.

    It wouldn’t surprise me, given the general disgust for female and feminine things, if people who mostly read as masculine makeup-free, skirt-free women have some slight advantage in stuff like computer science. I would be okay with a SWE chapter doing makeup tutorials/makeup experiments as an event, because I have this feeling that a lot of women in STEM are uncomfortable with femme things and might want to explore and unpack that in a safe-ish space. I still suspect that part of my own distaste for femme things and perception of those forms of expression as frivolous or pointless is learned/internalized sexism.

    Certainly the way I framed my gender expression in early adolescence (“I wear sensible, worthwhile clothes, not like those other girls whose choices are inferior and slutty and stupid”) had some internalized narratives about practical, masculine, worthwhile women versus flighty, feminine, ditzy women going on. My mother, who works in medicine and has never approved of people in her field wearing nail polish or wearing heels at work, believes in some rather similar narratives.

  12. confluence

    I don’t wear make-up — I never started doing it as a teen. I am fortunate not to work in a profession where it is commonly considered a requirement, and I haven’t ever had anyone comment on it (except a 24-hour boyfriend in my final year of school, who clearly assumed that I wore make-up outside of school and told me he was sure I looked amazing when I wore it :P).

    It’s devastating that make-up is such an ingrained cultural norm that we still have posts like this. When I was younger, I didn’t think it was a big deal (especially since nobody around me really made a fuss about it). Now that I am older and more aware of / annoyed by sexism, I find it rage-inducing that so many people consider it a basic requirement for a woman to have to *paint her face* every day before going out in public (and to have to scrub said paint off her face every night), when this ridiculous requirement is clearly not applied to men. My naked face is my face. It’s what my face looks like.

    I realise that my experience could have been very different if I weren’t cis, or if I had pale rather than dark hair (I’ve heard that women with pale eyebrows and eyelashes get told that they look “ill” if they don’t wear make-up). I’m grateful that my naked face seems to meet society’s acceptability threshold, and I can only hope that in the future we will all be able to choose without exposing ourselves to unpleasant consequences. :/

  13. Shannon LC Cate

    Gender, gender, gender…
    I have never worn much makeup (middle school…as is so often the case). I am a femme lesbian, however so I do own some and put it on for special occasions (like, twice a year). I pretty much hate how it feels on my face and blah-blah, everything you said.
    But the fact is, not everyone looks good in makeup (though I believe anyone can look good without it). The idea that someone NEEDS it is a crock in my opinion).
    My partner is a butch lesbian and she would look absolutely hideous in makeup. If someone told her she had to wear it for a job, I dare say she would quit.
    In fact, this is why an awful lot of butches did really crappy jobs back in the day–so they would not be forced to wear skirts.
    So to my mind, the makeup question isn’t even about beauty (I feel plenty pretty without it, thanks) but about GENDER, and the policing of who is what in a binary setup.
    I am not simply female and neither is my partner, even though we’ve both got a uterus. But a makeup rule–official or unofficial–would hold everyone to a male/female binary that doesn’t fit very many people at all, really.

  14. Christa

    Thank you for this post, and thanks to all the responders. I recognize a lot of my own conflicting cornucopia of emotions re makeup in your writing!

    I work in a law office where I have to dress up every day, and I don’t wear makeup. That’s because the tone in our office is set by two female partners who don’t wear makeup.

    I live in a privileged hippie city, and I’m lucky – but I feel like this is probably the trend: as more women climb the ladder and get to make such decisions for themselves, the rest of us reap the benefits of being able to choose. Something to keep in mind as we climb the ladder ourselves.

  15. K00kyKelly

    I’ve always felt that not wearing makeup has allowed me to be taken more seriously. I’m not sure why (although my dislike of pink and other overly gendered things is likely related) since there are pleanty of women at work who wear makeup and come off as professional and put together. I’ve never really learned how to do makeup properly except for party makeup (dark – would be overdone for daytime). I’m fair skinned and feel like its more tricky because it stands out more on my skin. I just use soap and water in the shower to wash my face, but then again the few times I’ve attempted some sort of beauty routine resulted in massive breakout. Eh, it all seems like just too much trouble.

  16. Malkavian

    You forgot the other side of the coin. Some of us who like wearing makeup, but prefer applying it in ways that aren’t ‘natural’-looking, get lots of crap for it too. Want to wear heavy eyeliner, brightly-colored eyeshadow, or red lips to work? Chances are that’s not going to go over well. Luckily I’m a grad student so most of the time no one turns a head at what I wear on my face. But anywhere you’re supposed to keep a professional appearance you’ll probably get written up dramatic looks.

    I love makeup as a form of self-expression, like the clothes I wear, or tattoos, or hair. However I don’t think it should be mandatory, and I really don’t see the point in wearing the types of makeup that are usually seen as socially acceptable.

  17. Catherine Devlin

    Thank you. Just for the record, here’s one makeup-wearer who’s really frustrated that anybody ever pressures anybody else about it. As a free choice, makeup is self-expression and (for some) fun; as a formal or informal requirement, it’s just a mild form of cultural bullying.

  18. Kate K.F.

    I’m lucky enough that as a school librarian in a pretty relaxed school that I don’t have to wear makeup. I do love dressing up and putting it on at times or doing special make up for the holidays, but that’s my choice. Its one of those issues that I wish was simpler, because not everyone who doesn’t want to wear makeup has the choice as another commenter pointed out. Gender gets into so many aspects of presentation that its hard.

  19. EROSE

    I’m going to say I love makeup.
    I also love – love – costumes and having the right outfit for a given occasion. I think the two are related, in that both are part of the concept of being able to shift with the environment, to be many different things in the same body and to be in control of what people see when they look at me. I can’t control that I’ll be looked at and that the world believes my appearance is its property. I can have a measure of control over how I look when I’m seen, and makeup is a good tool to help me feel more autonomy.

    For me, it’s less a matter of making myself “prettier” than it is about changing the tone of my appearance. Of course, if I’m required to wear it and wear it in a given way, that completely undermines my reasons for liking it in the first place. I also understand that it’s a lot simpler for me as a reasonably attractive young cis woman to have such an opinion.

  20. Gail

    I’m an Avon rep and I can’t imagine having the gall to pull someone apart and tell them they needed makeup. Well, I can’t imagine me doing it at any rate. I’m basiclly nice and only sell when others want to buy. But others yes. The reason I started wearing makeup was that family and church members were leaning on me to be more feminine.

    For me it feels like a tradeoff. I am permitted to be much less gender conforming within my family and church in other areas like clothes (Tomboy goth meself) and attitudes for the price of lip gloss, and blush. I can live with it, but it’s still incredibly frustrating to know it’s still very much a tradeoff.

    Also eye makeup freaks me out. It could touch my eyeball. I could poke it. That is a thing that should not happen, but I know me and that would happens. Who is paying that close attention to my eyelashes anyway for me to risk poking my eyeball.

  21. June

    Thank you so much for this post!

    Like you, I also have skin allergies that prevent me from wearing most types of make-up and even when I do find make-up that’s OK on my skin it irritates me to no end. I find myself scratching my face non-stop.

    Lipstick, well, I’m pretty sure that is a torture device! It dries out my lips horribly and remains on me for a matter of seconds because I end up licking my lips or putting on chapstick to conteract how dried out they become.

    Like you, I work in a male-dominated field and thankfully in mine there’s ZERO pressure to wear make-up. I have a feeling that if someone offered a make-up tutorial the other women would look at her like she has a third head. If anything, I’ve found that co-workers find it strange if you dress up on a regular basis (and I’m not talking about make-up even, just a simple dress) and I’ve actually received comments about why would I bother wearing a dress at work.

    However, I have friends that work in finance and the pressure there is insane to look perfect. It really isn’t fair that women have so much more that they have to do to achieve this goal. The rule should be that women and men need to put the same amount of time into their appearance, so if women are required to wear makeup men better be getting out their foundation and mascara too!

    1. Julia

      Your office sounds kind of femmephobic… It’s the same thing, the pressure to look feminine, and the pressure NOT to look feminine, being hostile to those who do look feminine and want feminine things. Nobody would alienate a man who likes being cleanly shaved. But if a man is interested in learning how to grow a beard, nobody would look at him like he’s got a third head, either.

      I don’t wear makeup or dresses every day, but the problem I’m one of those who look feminine no matter what. I find it hard dressing for interviews. Only 2 things work: a unisex t-shirt with jeans, or a man’s shirt with a tie. Pretty much, look either asexual or male. Men usually don’t care how I dress. But for women it seems to be “we don’t want feminine things around this office”.

  22. Sarah

    Love this so much! I wear very minimal make-up 5 days a week for work (although sometimes I am running late and honest to God just forget to put it on). I spend maybe 3 minutes total on my make-up routine – not too bad, but I’m sure most people can’t tell I even have it on. What’s worse, I have oily skin and I tend to run hot so most days I’m sure everything but the mascara is gone by noon. And when I get home from work, I wash my face right away, but first I have to use special eye make-up remover to get the mascara off, then go in with Q-tips to get the smudges under my eyes. Every time I have to buy more make-up, I’m angry about it.

    So why do I wear it? I have problem skin but I only wear tinted moisturizer so my skin doesn’t look that great even with it on, before it wears off. Same with cream blush and brown mascara – they really aren’t improving my looks in a significant way. I used to wear a lot more make-up but I think too much makes me look older than I am. I stopped wearing it entirely for about 9 months to see if my skin cleared up (it didn’t). I rarely wear it on the weekends or days off. I guess I’ve just internalized the message that wearing make-up is a sign of femininity and health as well as a matter of hygiene, and that men find me more attractive when I am wearing it. Which is bullshit now that I think about it.

  23. DC

    Thank you for this post. I don’t normally wear makeup either, and I’ve never been all that into doing so. I do like to wear it on occasion, just for fun when I’m in the mood, and if I’m going out for a nice evening or to a party or something, I’ll make myself up a bit. But for regular day to day, it’s either a bit of lip gloss (and MAYBE some BB cream or powder) or nothing at all.

    I have no problem with women who like to wear makeup daily. My only issue comes in when those women act like because they do it, I have to do it too. I have a friend who is never caught without it, and if she sees me bare-faced (which is actually quite often) she tells me I should be wearing it, or she teases me about it. She does the same with other things too though. If I have the barest trace of stubble on my legs, or an eyebrow hair I missed when plucking, or anything out of place, she points it out and tells me I need to fix it. I know this is an extreme, and in most cases while we as women can identify certain little “flaws” in one another’s appearance, most of us are tactful enough not to point them out. But it does irritate me that someone else thinks it’s okay to tell me how I should be presenting myself to the world, and that if it doesn’t conform to the way she would do things, I need to change it. I don’t tell you that you have too much makeup on and it looks ridiculous, and you’d be so much prettier if you took some off, so I would appreciate the same courtesy.

    As for the office, I work in an aerospace environment that is fairly formal in atmosphere, but there is a rather wide spectrum for how people dress, wear their hair, and whether or not the women wear makeup. I don’t do it for work, because like you, I’m too lazy. And I don’t think it has hindered my career at all thus far.

  24. Julia

    I was wearing makeup all the time mid to late teens. I was this terrible feeling that something was wrong with my face, so I had to fix it. It probably came from my high school, when friends would criticize my features; books, movies and art would show what an ideal woman was supposed to look like. Part of the reason why my face felt wrong was probably me having a mongolian fold, so I even had to make some art out of putting eyeshadows (because magazines I got were featuring only european eyes). With makeup I was able to “paint” myself “right”, or so it felt, to be confident. Funny that I was rather trying to fix some *imaginary* imperfections. Not wearing makeup was like walking around naked and exposed. It really didn’t matter if it was bright makeup, or natural, as long as my face was covered. Then I realized I looked fine without makeup and stopped caring for applying it everyday anymore. I now only wear it for special occasions and when I feel like making some art. I also feel an impulse to cover my face with makeup when I’m anxious, even it’s just a little bit of powder.

  25. Kelly

    This speaks so much to me! Thank you for writing it. I wear makeup (eyeliner, mascara and lip color) about once every 2 years and dislike removing it and hate having to remember it is there so I don’t smear it! I think it is costly and not needed. Keep posting!

Comments are closed.