In Defense of Going Barefaced – Scary Mommy

In Defense of Going Barefaced

I wanted to hug her for this. To stand up and jump up and down and shout, “Yes yes yes! You go, girl!”

I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about when the assistant with the clipboard walked in—it was either Sandberg’s upcoming book, Lean In, or the release of my latest novel, which I promised to send her—but I do remember we were deep in our conversation and enjoying ourselves and our beverages when the assistant said, “Okay, Sheryl, you’re needed in hair and makeup.”

Sandberg’s face—her beautifully unpainted face—fell. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?” she said, seeming to read my mind. “And so unfair.” Many of the other speakers that day, all of them heads of various departments at Facebook, were male. They weren’t needed in hair and makeup and never would be. I didn’t have a tape recorder with me that day, so I can’t quote the rest of what Sandberg said directly, but suffice it to say we shared some choice words on the topic of the wasted hours we women lose to primping, just so that we can be taken as seriously as men. A man without makeup is a man. A woman without makeup is making a statement that can grossly interfere with how she is viewed, paid, and heard.

A man without makeup is a man. A woman without makeup is making a statement that can grossly interfere with how she is viewed, paid, and heard.

Neither of us, however, had any quick solutions to this conundrum. It would require the type of feminist awakening, we decided, that no women’s magazine would ever touch. In fact, I told her, I’d tried pitching some version of this story to various women’s magazines over the years, even though I knew they’d never buy it, as they are financially dependent on ad sales from L’Oreal and Maybelline, and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Meanwhile, we’ve been choking on this bullshit—the result of a symbiosis between messenger and sponsor—for years. Ten tips for smokier eyes! How to create lips he’ll want to kiss! Get the natural look with these six amazing products!

The natural look? Give me a fucking break. One day—just one day—I’d like to see Vogue or Cosmo or Glamour go with a cover line like this: Forget makeup! Men want to see, touch, and kiss your real face!

The natural look? Give me a fucking break. One day—just one day—I’d like to see Vogue or Cosmo or Glamour go with a cover line like this: Forget makeup! Men want to see, touch, and kiss your real face!

My own awakening on the cosmetics front happened in my college dorm, back in 1986. I’d been diligently wearing makeup since the summer after seventh grade, when Nancy Sherman taught me how to use her blue eyeliner in front of the light-up mirror she brought with her to the aptly named Teen Town, our sleepaway-camp-cum-den-of-teen-iniquity. (Let’s just say I learned a lot more important life skills that summer than eyeliner application.)

In Defense of Going Barefaced© Deborah Copaken

I hated the way makeup felt on my face, but what was a teen girl supposed to do? All the girls were wearing it, so I figured I had to, too. It seemed like just another one of those odd but necessary rites of passage of female adolescence, like buying tampons or wearing a bra.

Then I dropped acid with some friends during my junior year in college and was forever altered. Not only did I come out of that first trip determined to become a war photographer instead of a lawyer, as my parents would have preferred, but I took one look at my melting face in my bathroom mirror and had an epiphany so strong, I can still feel it to this day. “Who are you trying to fool?” I thought, seeing my face covered in various coats of base and blush and color. “It’s a lie.”

I took one look at my melting face in my bathroom mirror and had an epiphany so strong, I can still feel it to this day.

I scrubbed off every inch of that makeup with soap and water, and when I was done—as after any good baptism—I felt cleansed and reborn.

Ever since, I’ve pretty much gone barefaced whenever I can. I’m at work writing this barefaced. I recently went on my first blind date—ever—barefaced, figuring if he didn’t like me without makeup, he would never like me, period. In fact, it takes a lot for me to haul out the war paint. A job interview, a wedding, giving a lecture, sitting for an author photo, going on TV: these are some of the many times when I adhere to societal standards for being properly attired, in the same way I wouldn’t show up to a funeral in jeans or to a luau in a business suit. And yet part of me wishes societal standards wouldn’t care so much about my frigging face.

In Defense of Going Barefaced© Cristobal Vivar

For awhile, I got away with it, this subversive daily act of womanhood. But these days, as I’m pushing fifty, well-meaning friends keep pulling me aside to gently suggest that maybe I should use a little something on my eyes, cheeks and lips, you know, particularly as I’m now out there again after a two-decade marriage.

No, I tell them. No! I know I’m no Gwyneth Paltrow—who to my utter delight has been recently posting photos of her bare face on Instagram—but if the personal is actually the political, as I’ve always maintained it to be, then maybe my little “subversive” act with my non-movie-star face can blossom into a revolution. I recently saw Christine Lagarde in conversation with Hilary Clinton [see below, worth a listen, as they talk about the double standards regarding beauty and appearances in politics], and I was struck by how beautiful the French Lagarde looked up there on stage with her seemingly bare face and gray hair, a look an American female politician, like Clinton, would be pilloried for assuming.

I know I’m no Gwyneth Paltrow…but if the personal is actually the political, as I’ve always maintained it to be, then maybe my little “subversive” act with my non-movie-star face can blossom into a revolution.

Look. It doesn’t even have to blossom into a revolution so much as provide those of us who are fed up with makeup the ability to just say no. Then maybe the next time Sheryl Sandberg and I happen to meet up in a green room, instead of being interrupted by a clipboard-wielding assistant calling her into hair and makeup, the two of us can keep leaning in, laughing and chatting about how great it is to be a woman in this day and age, where you can—without anyone batting a well-lined eye—step maskless onto life’s stage.

photo: Cristobal Vivar