Last January I published this post: What I Learned From a Year Without Make-Up. I wasn’t really trying to prove anything, I was just looking at facebook photos one evening when the realization came to me that travel has really changed my attitude towards cosmetics. I hadn’t ever thought about it before but I quickly scrambled to get my thoughts out and up on the blog.
It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but since then the post has attracted a lot of attention. It’s been linked to all over the place- travel blogs, make-up forums and more. I picked it as the title of my ebook. A couple months ago it was reposted on Thought Catalog and generated over a hundred more comments.
The response was interesting. Lots of people agreed with me, other called me shallow, judgmental, even racist (one guy called me a “potato face” but he seemed like a jerk anyways). While I thought I was just writing about my own personal experience with not wearing make-up while I traveled, many extrapolated those views in all sorts of unexpected ways. This made me realize that my post was incomplete.
So now, a year later, here are some of my more detailed thoughts on traveling without make-up:
Standards of Beauty Around the World
Of all the comments, that one probably hurt the most. I mean of course I don’t think I’m better looking than billions of non-white women. If anything travel has taught me that there are incredibly beautiful people all over the world.
One of the best, most important things about world travel is the window it gives you to a variety of different cultural values and practices. Often-time this cross-cultural exposure is the catalyst for examining a lot of your own views.
Across the world from Japan to Colombia to Italy to Australia, I have seen again and again the extreme lengths women push themselves to fit a proscribed societal standard of beauty. From extreme tanning to face whitening creams to nose jobs to fake butts, women are going to extreme measures to fit a mold that is, let’s face it, arbitrary (as an example, here is an article on the “body lines” trend in Korea that I stumbled across this morning). The US is just as bad, if not worse, than most of these places, but it took the chance to observe from afar to truly realize how hard women work for beauty.
Now I’m not saying it’s wrong that we have these beauty expectations necessarily, but man it sure is a lot of work. In a way travel allowed me to step outside of this pressure cooker for a brief moment and to assess what actually makes me feel good and what I’ve simply felt compelled to do for the past 15 years.
Do What Makes You Comfortable
I was actually surprised by how many people seemed to view my article as a judgmental tirade against people who do wear make-up on a daily basis. Absolutely not my intention. Look random person on the internet: I don’t know you, and I don’t really care what you do with your face. I’m not some sort of no-make-up crusader, I just think women should be able to make that choice without wading through so much cultural bullshit.
These experiences have lead me to realize that make-up is a really powerful thing. For whatever reason, these powders, glosses and creams have come to symbolize a lot for women in our society. It’s not just about looking pretty either, it’s about feeling confident, protected and safe.
I can go on and on about beauty standards but the biggest reasons I stopped wearing make-up were:
- I’m lazy
- It was hot out
- I’m lazy.
And then the world didn’t end, so I decided to keep doing that. I say that, full recognizing that I’m lucky to have pretty decent skin. As the comments revealed, there are many people out there who don’t feel comfortable not wearing make-up due to skin issues or other factors.
Another Year Without Make-Up
I’m still not wearing make-up, or at least not very often. Back in the US I will put some on for a night out, but I happily run my everyday errands, go out to lunch, etc make-up free. Until Christmas I hadn’t opened my makeup case once since we arrived in Mexico. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to wearing make-up every day- I kind of hope not. My skin feels great and my morning routine takes barely anytime at all.
But, I wore a face full of makeup for my wedding pictures, complete with false eyelashes, so I’m not in the position to high horse anyone. I think there is a place for make-up in my life- on special occasions, big nights out, times I want to feel festive or look extra sparkly.
In truth, I do care about my appearance kind of a lot. I go to the gym three times a week (to be healthy sure, but also to look decent in my bikini). I obsess about my hair, I am nuts about sunscreen and I buy waaay too many clothes.
I just happen to love the fact that I can pick and choose what I do and don’t want to care about. And I don’t want to wear a lot of make-up.
Which brings me back to my main point: people should do what’s best for them. That being said, it never hurts to examine WHY we do the things we do and to question if they are still necessary or useful.