Back in my student days, I spent a few years working weekends in a call centre, in order to help pay my way through the entire contents of the Benefit counter. Sorry – through university, I mean. I was working in a call centre to pay my way through university. I may have mentioned this before.
Now, there were lots of things that sucked about working in a call centre (like, LOTS of things…) but one of the good things about working the weekend shift is that it was mostly staffed by people my age, who were also unable to work during the week, for whatever reason. So there were a lot of other students there, and because we had so much in common, we all became friends, and would hang out together after work, as well as during the week, whenever we got a chance. Mostly we’d go out clubbing on Friday and Saturday nights, then roll into work the next morning feeling none the worse for it (ah, youth!), and it was after one of these nights out that I woke up one morning and realised I was going to be late for work.
I had two choices before me: I could either go through my usual hair and make-up routine, and be horribly late for work, or I could just throw on some clothes, get out the door as fast as possible, and only be SLIGHTLY late. Now, I now I can come across as a bit of an airhead sometimes, but it might surprise you to know that I’m actually a very conscientious airhead, so I went for the first option, grabbed my makeup bag, and made it to work with just minutes to spare.
I was on my way to my desk, and hoping that I’d have time to at least put on some lipstick before I had to clock on for my shift, when I spotted one of my work friends coming towards me. This was one of the people I hung out with on a regular basis, so I was pretty surprised when he didn’t stop to say hello, but just strode on by, without giving me a second glance. I had just opened my mouth to call his name when he suddenly wheeled around and stared at me in shock. “OMG!” he said, “I didn’t even recognise you! You look TERRIBLE! What on earth are you doing here, you’re obviously not well?”
In vain I tried to explain that nope, I felt absolutely fine, I just hadn’t had time to do my make-up, but my friend insisted in calling over our boss – who was ALSO one of my closest work friends, and who ALSO tried to send me home, telling me how very, very “ill” I looked. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to explain to someone that no, you’re not actually on your last legs, that’s just what you look like without make-up, but it’s pretty humiliating, especially when they just won’t let it drop, and keep going on and on about how different you look, and OMG, you’re SO PALE! Finally, however, I managed to convince them that I’d probably survive the day (I mean, thinking about it now, I don’t know why I didn’t just take the opportunity to go home and have me a duvet day, but like I said, I was conscientious, and if I wasn’t there to answer those phonecalls, well… actually, it wouldn’t have made much difference, really, but hey, I liked to think my presence was important…) and slunk off to join the rest of my team, who were about to start the morning meeting.
“Would anyone like to go and get a coffee before we start?” asked my team leader, looking pointedly at me. “Anyone at all? Amber, maybe?”
Spotting a window of opportunity, I offered to go and get the coffees, and, bypassing the coffee machine, ran straight to the bathroom, where I quickly applied as much makeup as I could, given the timescale. Then I went out to get that coffee, which I figured I deserved by that point. My humiliation wasn’t complete quite yet, though, because as I waited for the machine to finish dispensing the brown liquid that passed for “coffee”, I turned around to find yet another colleague standing in line behind me. This one WASN’T a friend of mine – in fact, I’d never even spoken to him before – so I was quite taken aback when he looked at me and said, “Wow, you look SO DIFFERENT with makeup on! You should wear it all the time!”
Then he turned and walked away, leaving me standing there holding my coffee and wanting to cry.
And that, people, is why I love makeup. It’s not because I think it makes me look “pretty”, or because I enjoy experimenting with different looks – it’s just because it makes me look normal, and stops people asking me, over and over again, if I’m feeling OK, before pointing out that I don’t look OK : in fact I look “terrible”!
I should say here that, with the exception of the last guy, who was honestly a bit of an asshole about it, none of the people in this story were trying to be hurtful, or to make me feel self-conscious: they were my friends, and they were as embarrassed as I was when they realised they’d essentially just told me that, without make-up, I look like a walking corpse. They genuinely thought I was ill, though, because the fact is, without make-up I DO look ill. I have very pale skin (which means that shadows under the eyes look much more prominent ), colourless lips, translucent eyelashes… I look very different without any make-up, and although this particular day has stuck in my mind for some reason, it was far from the only time people reacted in horror to the sight of my un-made-up face: in fact, I’ve gone through my whole life having to reassure people that I’m not about to expire, just because I’m not wearing lipstick or something.
Wearing makeup stops people making those comments. Makeup hides the dark shadows under my eyes; it allows me to fake a ‘healthy’ flush to the cheeks, and it puts some colour into my non-existent lips. It makes me feel better, basically, and that’s why I love it.
I feel like saying this – admitting I love makeup, and that I love it primarily for its ability to change my appearance and make me feel “normal” – isn’t quite the done thing these days, especially not on the uber-PC internet communities where “body positivity” is the buzzword du jour, and people are quick to assure you that EVERYONE is beautiful, and that we just have to BELIEVE we’re beautiful and we’ll be happy with ourselves. Those aren’t bad messages, by the way – I mean, I’m all for people accepting themselves, and not feeling like they’re constantly being judged and coming up short. I just have a hard time accepting that all I have to do is BELIEVE and the world will magically be different, is all.
What if we’re NOT “beautiful” just the way we are? Or what if we are, but other people make us feel bad by pointing out our flaws, whether they mean to or not? What if a quick dab of blusher or a slick of lipstick is enough to stop those comments, and give you the confidence to go about your day without giving another thought to your physical appearance? You can argue all you want that it shouldn’t be like that, and that we should’t have to conform to someone else’s standard of ‘beauty’, but honestly, I’m not going to walk around with dark shadows under my eyes, just to prove that particular point.
Instead, I’m going to wear the makeup. Maybe not ALL the time – these days I’m much less self-conscious, thankfully, and I no longer feel like I have to put on a full-face of makeup just to answer the door – but still. I like wearing it. I enjoy applying it. I get a bit of a thrill when I find something new that works perfectly, and I have fun trying it on and seeing what I can do with it. But mostly because it gives me confidence, and makes me feel like myself- which is why I love it.
How about you?