“Mommy, why do you wear makeup? To look prettier?” asked my 8-year-old daughter as she watched me getting ready for a family barbecue. I froze — this was one of those moments, right? One of those times where whatever I say will have a long-reaching impact on her psyche and self-esteem? My next words would deeply matter. I couldn’t fuck this up.
“Yes, honey. And also, because I think it’s fun. And…because I really like wearing makeup.”
Well. Probably not what a child development expert or a psychologist would’ve suggested, but it was honest. Yes, I wear makeup. For a lot of reasons. And I would be lying if I told my daughter one of them wasn’t to “look prettier.” She’s about to spend the next several decades of her life being bombarded with messages from beauty product ads telling her about how makeup will fix this and that about her appearance — telling her I don’t wear makeup because I want to look prettier would have been a bold-faced lie.
Because ever since 7th grade, I’ve been A Girl Who Wears Makeup. I had some acne as a young teen and discovering I could cover it up made me go to school feeling so much better about myself. I remember my mom taking me to our town’s drug store and helping me find a foundation and concealer that worked for my coloring. And boy, did it work. I could focus on school and having fun instead of worrying about a few stupid spots on my forehead.
That gratitude for giving me my confidence back slowly transformed into a genuine love and appreciation for high-quality cosmetics that make me feel good about myself. It’s fun for me to hunt through Sephora and find the items that I’ll happily apply for the next few months until it’s time to re-up. It’s just my thing.
I’ve never seen any shame in this, but I’ve also seen lots of essays and think pieces from moms who don’t wear makeup talking about the impact they believe this has on their daughters. That it teaches the lesson that Mommy doesn’t place enough importance on male standards of beauty and what magazines and the internet tell her she needs to fix to bother putting on makeup. That Mommy (and you, Daughter) are beautiful without a single alteration to your appearance. That Mommy won’t waste time that could be spent with her kids wielding a lash curler, fussing with her hair and dabbing on lip gloss.
I’ve also read accounts from a number of women confessing they just don’t have the extra minutes to devote to put on makeup and that with how much they already have to do, they can’t imagine adding one more thing to the list.
And you know what? That’s totally cool. Those are all valid points that I respect and appreciate. But it’s not the only way to help our daughters gain self-esteem or to show them that we have it ourselves. My daughter learns about self-esteem when she sees how confident and happy I am when I’m put together. She also sees me putting myself first by doing something every single day that makes me feel amazing. Empowered. Attractive. Put-together.
She sees that sometimes, I do it instead of tending to whatever non-earth-shattering requests she and her brother are making at the moment. I take care of myself, and she witnesses it. And I can’t imagine that’s a negative thing.
The fact is, we all have priorities. We all have things we do that always have to happen, no matter what, and one of mine is wearing makeup.
Please, don’t misunderstand me, though. I love my makeup, but I’m not planted in front of a mirror ignoring my kids for hours every day. My routine takes less than 10 minutes, from moisturizer to finishing powder, and yes, I even found time to do it when my kids were first born. Those who say they didn’t shower, do their hair or wear makeup in the early days of motherhood? I can’t relate to that. I even applied it an hour or so after both my c-sections, sitting in my hospital bed still numb from the waist down. It doesn’t make me better than those moms, it just means I probably lost some sleep or the few moments of peace I was allotted each day because doing my makeup was that important to me.
Again, it was my choice.
Because makeup and general lady upkeep, like all things in life, are only as important as you make them. I know friends who plow through a 500-page novel in three days time, despite having jobs and taking care of their kids and that’s because it’s something they very much want to do (and before you paint me as a ditz, I read books too….I’m just drawing a comparison here). I know women who spend hours every week training for marathons or triathlons. I know men who enjoy hunting, fishing, golf, going to the gym and any number of other activities that take time from their families. I see putting on makeup as no different from those pursuits. And absolutely nothing to feel shame for.
As far as my being a beacon of feminism and showing my daughter I don’t give a shit what others think of my appearance? I am still a feminist. And I still don’t really give a shit what others think of my appearance. I do it for me and me alone.
I guess my point is, rock on to the makeup-free moms. But if you’re a mom who does makeup? Good for you too. Not wearing it isn’t a superior choice, just like wearing it isn’t a superior choice.
It’s just that…a choice.