This contradiction may have to do with definitions. Many Martians think “natural” means no cosmetics and “made up” means eyelashes you can see from the last row of the theater. Those of us from Venus define makeup as … makeup. How you wear it is a different question. It’s probably all for the best that guys don’t have an intimate understanding of blusher and eyeliner. If they did, the magic wouldn’t work very well.
For those who wear the makeup, however, creating illusion with cosmetics can get complicated. Women who “put on a face” every morning can get to where they can’t recognize themselves without it. The “real” self is the one with the mascara.
At that point, makeup moves from being a symbol (or security blanket) that signifies the switch from a private self to a public self — ready to literally present one’s best face to the world — into a ritual that’s necessary to complete the self.
Even moderate makeup wearers sometimes feel a prick of shame looking at women who are strong enough to skip it. That feeling is swiftly followed by either rationalization (she has naturally dark lashes, while mine look like they belong to an albino piglet) or resolution (she isn’t into makeup; I am. So what).
The truth is, we only make a point of admiring the fresh faces of those whom makeup could not improve. For most of us, going with or without cosmetics is fine, but a little something does help.
Maybe that’s because our perception is inevitably informed by our culture, and in this one — where beauty rules — makeup (used right) is power. A study of female Harvard MBAs, as well as one of women in all jobs, including the lowest-paying, concluded that wages increased with the wearing of strategically applied makeup.
Since we don’t know the sex (or sexual preference) of the bosses who reward makeup wearers, we will have to ask ourselves whether we’d bother with the stuff if sex didn’t figure in the makeup equation.
But whether it’s passion or fashion, after a 10-year decline in American makeup sales, 1997 is seeing an upswing. By 2012, makeup sales are forecast to increase 12% for the heaviest users (18- to 24-year-olds), 21% for boomers (who will be 45-54) and an astonishing 42% for 55- to 64-year-olds. The manufacturers just have to get busy on stuff like eyeshadow that works on crepey lids.
Do you think makeup is more about attracting sexual attention or armoring yourself to face the world? If you could only wear one makeup item, what would it be?