Origin Story

Every now and then, the debate on why women use make up trickles back into my circles of social media. And then, things need to be said, usually the same things as always. It needs to be said that make up can be a feminist act or resistance, that you don’t do make up “for men”, that you do make up “for your self”, that you can’t separate what you do for men as a woman from what you do for your own sake, that no woman would wear make up on a desert island, that it’s impossible to say you do anything related to your looks for your self as long as there is a patriarcal order in society.

And yes, well, all valid points, depending on the context of the discussion. But the older you get, the clearer things get when it comes to looks, at least for me. And one thing that is clear as daylight to me now is how my approach to make up when I was 14 was the right one for me. When my interest in make up related beauty products started, it was not from a desire to be BEAUTIFUL in some sort of general way. It was to be who I wanted to be. Or at least beginning the project of trying to explore who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be percieved. Before that, “beauty” was this tedious task you were supposed to tend to every day. All of a sudden you reached an age where people started telling you all the things you HAD to do with your body to pass as the lowest standard for an acceptable girl. I was not any less shallow or better then any other teenage girl, because I think regardless of expressions, the project is sort of the same. You communicate a lot about your inside with what you choose to showcase on the outside. And if you aim to not do that, you still do.

I remember that feeling of powerlessness you have as a teenager. You feel like you look like NOTHING. And you have no means to solve any of the problems you have. You have pimples and no one helps you find products to make it get better. Your hair is ugly but you have no money to go to hairdressers or colour it. Your wardsrobe is full of childrens clothes that almost still fit but that makes you feel like an idiot. And you have no money or power to start changing it. I remember watching Clueless and thinking that sure, money won’t make anyone a happier person, but at least I could colour my hair. I could buy an eyeliner. The project of trying to put the you you want others to pick up on out there seems impossible. I did it by thriftshopping and being creative. I bought clothes for as little as a dollar at thrift stores, cut them up and made new things. I wore old tuxedo jackets with flared black pants and fishnet tops, i bought old 60’s housegowns to make Courteney Love inspiered dresses, I used old nightgowns as dresses and old kimonos as coats. I used eyelines as lipstick and eyeshadows as rouges and stuck hobby glitter to my cheekbones in ziggy stardust lightning bolts. I had no money of my own to walk into any of the alternative clothing stores ans buy a dress or jacket for a hundred dollars. There was nowhere to buy make up in any other colour range then what was considered normal and conformative in the mid 90’s. When I knew what I wanted to be, the task of becoming it at first seemed impossible, until I had read enough of my heroes origin stories. That’s what made me creative.   

But as I was doing this, meddling around with make up and cutting up old 70’s bedding to make dresses, I was surley not doing it “for men”. I was very uninterested in mens general opinions on my looks as a teenager. I had a brief moment when I thought a fake silk pajama, and a bra to wear the days there was gym would somehow make me a grown up and perhaps even desirable. But I got tiered very quickly of juggling the ever changing parameter of what is desirable in a woman and just went straight to red eyeliner and gold eyeshadow. Also, at this moment Spice Girls happend. I always loved them, even as I got more into indie and goth. I can’t even begin to explain how liberating this bunch of late twenties women were to me.  I didn’t stick my face full of glittery stars and wear metallic purple Hard Candy-lipstick as a way of seeking approval from any man, and neither did Courtney Love, Spice Girls, Lush, Agent Scully or Buffy. There was still naked women on the covers of computer and car magazines, but the music scene and a lot of culture was buzzing with women who did their thing regardless of the opinions of men. If I did relate to any men while putting on make up it was more in terms of being aware of what kind of make up boys would dislike. Dark, smeary lipstick that stain and stick. Smudgy eyeliner that make you look angry. Weird accessories that make you over all much less accessible. So sure, men where not completely out of the picture, but neither were women. Make up has always been a means of communication, as well as something fun and creative. 

Make up is my ritual before I have to go face the world. I make coffe. I stand in front of the mirror and think of the day or night ahead of me. Who am I going to be today? What do I want to communicate? Sometimes I wear no make up. Sometimes, when I am just going to be alone all day I wear something outrageous just to make myself happy when I look in the mirror. After all these years I am finally sure that I was right at 14: this is it for me.

Today I don’t put on make up for men, because what a gigantic waste of money and make up that would be. If I ever wear make up for anyone but me, it’s for other women, to spark conversations. Men who say they don’t like make up actually love make up. They just love really really boring make up. They’ll never ask if my lipstick is Mac or Nyx (or at least rarely). They love bland and freshfaced conformity. But they still don’t enjoy unkempt apperances of no make up on a rainy day in january. There is no need to cater to the need for all women to look a way that doesn’t annoy or provoke  and it’s a problem I’d rather leave to men to work out on their own. It’s certainly nothing I am going to spend any money on, when there are so many gorgeous dark lipsticks I am trying to afford.