by Louise Hung
I have one of those faces on which a little makeup goes a long way.
Maybe it’s because I have dark eyelashes, naturally heavy eyebrows, and both full lips and cheeks, all on a rather smallish face. But just a basic face of makeup — eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush, lipstick — can overwhelm my features pretty quickly.
Not to mention I’m not exactly known for my expressive subtlety. Add a little too much makeup to my already sort-of cartoonish rubber face and the results can be garish. (Though I’ll admit, I sometimes enjoy garish.)
Of course I know it’s all perspective. I rarely wear more than lipstick, it’s just the way I like the look of my face, so I’m used to seeing myself rather bare. Frankly, I think I’m prettiest with little or no makeup. I’m not sure if the world necessarily agrees, but it’s the way I feel most at ease.
That’s not to say that I’m blind to the way I’m treated depending what is or is not on my face. I do sense a change in how people treat me when I’m wearing various degrees of makeup.
My friend Jess describes her makeup as her “armor.” She has told me that she doesn’t feel fully like herself if she doesn’t put on eyeshadow, mascara, BB cream, and lipstick. She says she likes having control over how the world perceives her every day, depending on which features she chooses to play up.
When I watch Jess interact with people, aside from her sparkling-yet-tart personality, people take note of her before she opens her mouth. She is striking all on her own, but her makeup draws people further in. Unlike how I feel when I wear makeup, Jess wears her makeup, it does not wear her.
But when I’m traipsing around town, doing my thing barefaced as usual, I think people don’t necessarily regard me much unless I open my mouth and turn on the charm. This is not to say I’m ignored or disregarded — there’s nothing that I can really perceive as negative — but I’m just sort of there, buying my vitamins, chatting up the bank teller, ordering my drink.
People are generally nice enough to me, but I don’t think I’m “of note.” I find this changes when I put on makeup.
A few months ago, I had an audition for a commercial. I don’t go on these often, as in terms of mass appeal, my rubber face tends to be too much. Goofily enthusiastic woman smelling flowers then laughing heartily because THE WORLD IS AMAZING (one of the few commercials I ever booked)? I’m your woman. Controlled, but friendly, business-like loan officer? I can see the client on the other side of the audition table cringe.
Anyway, I got up early, and did my makeup as I typically do for these more conservative auditions: light foundation, neutral eyeshadow, light eyeliner, a touch of blush, and a rosy lip.
The audition took all of 15 minutes, as they usually do, and afterward I went off on my merry way to get my reward of coffee and a gluten-free cookie.
Upon getting to my coffee shop, I got to the front of the line and ordered from one of the usual people behind the counter. While I am always greeted with pleasantries (part of the reason I really like this shop), I noticed the woman who spoke to me seemed just a little more friendly. She smiled a little wider as she handed me my cookie.
“Big day, yeah?” she chirped brightly.
Looking up from the cookie I was already nibbling on, I asked her to repeat herself.
Gesturing to her face, then pointing to me, “You look so nice today. Big day, yeah?”
It took me a moment to register what she was talking about, but when I realized it was because I was wearing makeup instead of just my usual shiny slathering of sunscreen. I awkwardly felt the need to play along.
“Oh…yeah! Gotta, you know, get things done!” I think I did a little fist shake to show my determination at all the big things I had to conquer that day.
The coffee and cookie woman smiled even bigger. “Well, you have a great day!” Her enthusiasm made me almost believe that I had monumental things to do instead of simply writing a blog for my pet store job about hairball remedies.
Another time I was asked to be a hair model for a friend’s upstart pinup girl makeover company. Part of the job was to not only have my hair done up all pinup girly, but also to do my makeup appropriately.
After the makeover, I proceeded to go about my normal evening life, only in full hair and makeup. I went to my local market, where I don’t necessarily know all the people who work there but we recognize each other, to pick up some cheese for dinner.
Whereas we typically nod in recognition of each other, then carry on with our tasks, I got everything from a straight-on “Hello!” to actual smiles and “You doing okays?”
I’m not going to lie, it was kind of fun, and I felt myself playing the part of the “dolled-up pinup model” who just LOOKS LIKE THIS to buy cheese.
The woman who runs the vitamins and supplements section did sort of give me a longer-than-usual look that made me want to claw off my eyeliner and proclaim, “HOW DID THIS GET ON ME?!” But instead I just said “hi” a little too loudly and ambled off to intensely inspect the mangos.
I’m not always a weirdo about makeup. I actually LIKE makeup. The few times a month I go somewhere that I want to look a little more fancy, I look forward to breaking out my bottles and tubes and palettes and potions. It feels special to me.
But despite the fun of it all, I’m always a little taken aback by the change in the way some people treat me. It doesn’t upset me — maybe it should — and it feels good in the moment, but when I wash everything off at the end of the day, and watch the colors swirl down the drain, I can’t help but wonder what people are seeing that I don’t? And why does everybody smile at me so much more?
Is it that I look more conventionally put together and that makes people take me more seriously? Does it put people at ease that I’m putting some actual effort into my look? Or is it that people are unconsciously drawn to pretty pictures, and by adding some color or definition to my face I’m more easily recognized as “attractive” in the eyes of society?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything wrong AT ALL in enjoying your own beauty with makeup. It’s fun! And makeup has remarkable abilities to lift us up when we are feeling dull or down. I’ll fully admit that few things pick me the way my perfectly red, cruelly discontinued, Stila lipstick does. But too much attention has always made me uncomfortable, so I think somewhere along the way my focus shifted on blending in and winning people over with my personality — but only when I want to.
In my mind, if I’m wearing my makeup, I can’t turn off my face and hide in the background if a situation gets to be too much. In a way, my lack of makeup has become my armor. When I choose to wear it, I’m mentally prepared to be a louder, more outgoing version of myself, but I can’t maintain that on a daily basis.
Do any of you ever feel this way? Do you notice that people treat you differently depending on how much or how little makeup you’re wearing?
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