Monday, 19 September 2011

lots of words about my face

Hello. This is me. Something has been bothering me, and I can't stop thinking about it, so I thought I'd share it.

Last week everyone who's working in my department got their pictures taken for our new website.
The pictures were taken by a professional photographer, and we had to show up at a specific time. I had to be there at 8:30 on a Monday morning. Having worked on the film set the whole weekend meant that I had gotten very little sleep and felt pretty exhausted in general, but I still got up early enough to wash my hair, put my favourite shirt on, take care of my skin and so on. This picture is going to be in the public domain with my real name attached to it - not like this blog, or a social network - so I wanted to look presentable, nice, clean.

I cycled to work. The photographer and her friend were already waiting. "A professional make-up artist will be there to assist you", the e-mail announcing the project had said, and yes, there she was, with an endless amount of colours and brushes. Now, I had done the make-up for the film the weekend before, so it didn't feel entirely alien. But that also meant that I knew exactly what I like and don't like. Or so I thought.

"Sit down, you're getting your make-up done before we're taking the picture."
"Umm, I'm already wearing make-up?"
"You are? No you're not. Where?"
"Everywhere? I just don't like to look as if I'm wearing make-up, I like it natural."
"But you're not even wearing mascara!"
"Yes I am, just not a lot of mascara."
"Why don't you like wearing make-up?"
"Well, because covering up my scars is enough for me and I'm glad if I don't have to do much more. I really don't want more than that. Do I have to get my make-up done now? Really?"
"You'll need it with the flash light."

And that was that. The make-up artist went to work. There was no mirror, so I only saw the result when the photographer showed me the pictures. I was non-committal because I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. When I saw myself in the bathroom mirror afterwards, I gasped. This wasn't me. This was an incredibly tanned person with very smooth, painted skin, shiny lips, a bloc of blusher across her cheekbones, painted eyebrows and smokey eyes. I looked flawless. I also looked older.

I went home and washed my face, and I got angrier and angrier. I'm not a film star beauty and I'm certainly not flawless. Covering up scars or pimples or veins is fine with me, I do that myself. However, why paint another face all over mine? Why make me look conventionally beautiful when I'm not? Why did they think it necessary to put make-up on my face at all? After all, I'm young and alive, and lucky enough to be okay with myself.
Or I used to be okay with myself. I'm still young enough to remember vividly what it's like to be a teenager, to be uncomfortable with one's face and body. I couldn't be happier that I've grown up to be a woman not plagued by body issues, but that doesn't mean I'm super confident, it means that I'm indifferent to my flaws. Receiving the message that my ordinary everyday face was too ordinary to be photographed, even though it was only for work, was admittedly a bit of a blow.

I'm not a big fan of faking it in any way, and I thought that in the country I live in that was more or less an accepted point of view. If you look at pictures in magazines, even advertisments for big supermarkets or drug stores, they're hardly retouched, and if they are it's hard to see what has been done at all. The models often don't have perfect teeth; you can see that they shaved their armpits, you can see that their under-eye circles were covered with make-up and not edited away. The women on the street don't wear much make-up either, especially compared to other countries.
I like that attitude. That's why the mission to cover my face came as such a surprise to me. It felt incredibly regressive, even sexist: Why did I get that treatment when my male colleagues had nothing done to them? Why do I have to look perfect and beautiful? Why is it that when future visitors see my picture the first thing they'll think is that I'm a painted doll? A copy of other painted dolls, as my female colleagues got a similar treatment?

And here's the most obvious question: Why didn't I just make a fuss about it then and there?


  1. wow! this makes me really angry! i just cannot understand how we can't be past these outdated notions of "beauty". i just don't get it! isn't it better for people to look like themselves and like a real human than like a plastic robot or something?

    i was thinking about these standards the other day in connection with this episode of project runway where the designer they kicked off made something that wasn't "flattering" for her model. because god forbid she should be wearing something that doesn't emphasize her thinness! and of course the worst thing in the world would be for people to think a woman is bigger than she actually is.
    oops, that turned into a bit of a long rant there. sorry!

  2. I had an almost identical experience years ago when I had to be photographed for a promotional magazine that my employers were making. The make-up artist badgered me in to letting her pluck my eyebrows because there were apparently so uneven. By the time I left the shoot i was outraged at how small I had been made to feel and ever since i have always looked at my eyebrows and felt so annoyed that someone could make me feel so bad about myself over something so small. I love my wonky eyebrows and they will always be a reminder that i would never want to look anything but myself!

  3. Oh god, this post is so good and it also made me so angry. It's crazy how we are constantly forced to feel bad about the way we look. From "CURVES ARE IN!" to "BE SKINNY!" and from tiny eyebrows to "YAY EYEBROWS!". Not to start on the issue of body hair. How come people in 50s photos had visible arm hair? MARILYN MONROE HAD ARM HAIR SO WHY SHOULDN'T I?

    I went to buy some face powder the other day and the woman wanted me to get a colour darker than my face NOW when I am tanned. I was like "actually....I usually have the lightest or second lightest one, because that's what my skin looks like" and she looked at me like I was mad or something.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts, it's really good to know that there are other people out there who think about the same things. I'm still figuring out my thought process concerning beauty but at the moment I'm thinking that whatever suits you is fine. So if you don't want to wear make up, that's alright, and if you want to wear make up, that's alright as well. However, I'm constantly changing my mind about that. It's hard not to do the thing I'm angry about and impose MY standards on other people, you know!

  5. Great post, you're so right about everything. I get that some people want to apply some light make-up to hide some spots on your skin, but when, as you said, people just paint a whole new face over their real one, it doesn't make sense to me. Especially when it's on a daily basis. If you're celebrating something and want to wear some lipstick I find that okay, just as we occasionally dress up. But doing that everyday, painting your face orange, your cheeks pink... I find it completely absurd. And it also makes people find their true faces ugly by doing that everyday... That's why I stopped wearing eyeliner a couple of years ago - I hated how my eyes looked without it, so I decided to stop wearing it and embrace my natural look. Now luckily I'm happy with it and only wear a bit of make-up every so often... I wish magazines started giving a better example...

  6. I can understand your comment very well. I'm struggling as well about what to deem as "forbidden" or at least "worse" concerning the handling of beauty. On the one hand there should not be any limitations but on the other hand i always have to ask myself: how much is this wish regarding my appearance influenced by society's standards? Can i still account it as MY opinion? I think it is very difficult to make a viewpoint clear , above all you are always involved in the whole thing and therefore also influenced and manipulated in some way. One does not want to be dogmatic towards one direction and thus again shortened. But at the same time there is this fear of opportunism.