I can think of a lot of times in the last few months when I was brave to show my face. I was brave to show my face at work the day after my breakup. It was red and blotchy, not merely snotty but pouring with snot, and prone to crumple at the slightest setback. I was brave to show my face at work again, weeks later, when my medication had reacted badly with alcohol and I had spent two days puking after going out for drinks on the company account. It was shamefaced and pale, no matter that it wasn’t my fault, it knew it had done wrong. But I can also tell you when I wasn’t brave to show my face: every single day that I chose not to wear makeup.
In spite of the fact that, in a world where women are risking their lives for their right to be educated, for their right to freedom, for their right to have their voices heard, I would never dare to call myself brave, other women have been calling me just that.
“I love that you don’t wear makeup! It’s so brave!”
“I wish I was brave enough to go barefaced!”
When did we allow leaving the house in our natural state to become an act of absolute courage? It’s not just my friends that compliment me on the audacity to go without makeup, but also strangers, women I have never met come up to me in the supermarket and compliment me. Two drinks in on a Friday night, women sidle up to me at the bar: “You’re so brave! I love that!”
I’m hardly the first person to discover this phenomenon, in 2014 £8 million was raised for cancer research in just six days by women daring to put ‘No Makeup Selfies’ on the internet for all to see. The idea of letting your friends and loved ones see you without makeup was so stunning, so extreme, so brave, that people actually donated money to charity, so inspired were they by our acts of politicised facial nudity.
Makeup was once considered an expression of female emancipation. In the 1920s, women wore heavy eye makeup and lipstick to identify themselves as women liberated from the control of society. Painting our faces was a war cry against patriarchal oppression, women rejected the image of the angel of the hearth, embracing identities as her enemy: the seductress, the fallen woman, the whore. And yet, here we are, full circle, fully made up and living in a world where daring to show your natural face isn’t even ‘bad’ — it’s brave.
My wonder at this bizarre attitude to going au naturel was heightened even further when two women I work with, both around my age, were discussing how unprofessional it looks to go to a meeting without makeup. Even in a business suit, with styled hair, they deemed that you couldn’t possibly expect anyone to take you seriously unless you were wearing a full face of makeup. As someone who rarely wears more than mascara during the week, and never applies a full face of makeup except for the most important of nights out, this means that I have look unprofessional at all times since the start of my graduate career. Every meeting I’ve ever had, every outstanding piece of content I have ever written, every time I’ve stood my ground over demanding to be paid the same as my male colleagues, I’ve appeared completely unprofessional without even knowing it. We ask why there aren’t more tenured female professors, more women in parliament, more women on boards, more women in charge of companies, and then we turn around and hold these women to ridiculous fabricated beauty standards as they try to do their jobs. Something needs to change.
It should be brave to stand up for the injustice that you see.
It should be brave to speak up for another woman who does not have a voice.
It should be brave to push forward for that promotion, to apply for that job, to chair that meeting, to start that company.
But it should not, it should never be, brave to go out without makeup.