My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Best Face Forward

Pleasing through our far must women go to be judged worthy? One of the most popular film stars of the 1920s, Clara Bow was known as the ultimate flapper, and had a complicated personal life to match her flamboyant style. Photo is in public domain.

My high school reunion is this month. When I was little, an event like that would have Mom “putting on" her face. I would scramble for a ringside seat. Women back then approached hair and face like architecture, building up from bedrock. Headband framing the naked canvas, Mom pursed and smeared: Ponds Cream, foundation, blemish stick, “rouge,” eye shadow, eyebrow liner, mascara (for a really big event, false eyelashes), powder, and the grand finale, lipstick to tie the new, refurbished package in a bow.  

Another half hour untangling curlers, styling springy, Dippity Do-slicked curls, sliding in a hair extension called a “rat,” encasing the “do” in a sprayed, silicon shell, snapping on earrings, and dabbing perfume behind ears, and the lady, from the neck up at least, was complete. I dreamed of styling my own elegant mask. But would it be freeing?

One landmark day as a teen, I trotted off with Mom to a cosmetics counter for a makeover. A white-smocked lady slathered my blemish-marked skin with lotion. That launched me on an extravagant cycle: exfoliating cream, astringent wash, moisturizer, foundation, blush, powder, eye shadow, eyeliner drawn with a brush, mascara…voila!...a new creation. The results boosted morale. With makeup, I perceived myself as more polished, confident, and acceptable in the eyes of the world.

I wasn't alone. An October 12, 2011 New York Times article asks: "Want more respect, trust and affection from your co-workers?" and outlines a Harvard psychology study that shows makeup-wearing women faring better in the workplace.

By the time I worked downtown in my early 20’s, I wouldn’t leave my apartment without “my face on.” Forgetting to tuck makeup into my purse was irksome, getting my face right in the morning, essential. As hours passed, I sensed eyeliner or lipstick smudge, and fished out a mirror to check the damage. Catching me pressing palm against lips to blot lipstick, a coworker asked if I was ill.

Then, came the Great Unmasking. Children arrived. Hugs and kisses took precedence over image. Makeup happened when I had time, until I developed chemical sensitivities. Even hypoallergenic cream made me itch. Mom developed the same condition, making the whole synthetic beautifying process more pain than pleasure.

A funny thing happened as Mom and I ditched chemicals. Mom’s hair naturally grayed into stunning silver. At least in the eyes of this beholder, simply wearing her own face increased her beauty. As for me, I made peace with my unvarnished reflection. In time, I quite liked it.

Today, not slaving over and smothering my skin just to pass through my door makes me giddy with gratitude. I applaud current fashion trends featuring light makeup and easy-care hair. I still enjoy wearing lip color. As for the rest of the hooplah, I’ve sent it to the Pit of Oblivion. Hurray!

Many women take cosmetics in stride, using them as helpful beautifying tools and not a distraction. But for one who felt naked without a synthetic mask, it’s nice breaking the attachment.

In the online comments section of that New York Times article, women raged over the inequity of society and workplaces discriminating against women without makeup. Men are not expected to spend 20 minutes daily on skin care, so why must women?

On the other side, some women equated makeup with influence. "There are times when you want to give a powerful 'I'm in charge here' kind of impression, and women shouldn't be afraid to do that," by, say, using a deeper lip color, said pro-makeup Sarah Vickery, quoted in the New York Times article, and an author of the Harvard study. 

She is also a Procter & Gamble scientist, snarked one online commentator, while another asserted, "a person shouldn't feel like they look hideous in public without makeup."

In the end, one truth emerges: true beauty shines from within. Some crabby, self-absorbed women in exquisite makeup, look severe and unattractive.  Other women with plainer, unadorned faces beam as they good-naturedly live their day.

Society should reach that point where no woman is discriminated against or judged because she does not wear makeup. As for women who enjoy "war paint," more natural-minded consumers are demanding safe cosmetics, so women do not have to sacrifice health for beauty.

Sometimes it works to keep it simple. Extra-virgin coconut oil  cleanses and moisturizes, apple cider vinegar is a good astringent, and a healthy, holy outlook on life gives faces a glow. The first two items are found at health food stores. The third, takes hope, humor and a lifetime of persistent prayer, a recipe that makes people winsome with age.

I know the pleasure makeup can bring, especially when trying to make a good impression for some special event. A small part of me wishes I could go beyond the lipstick for my high school reunion. But by the grace of God, it feels good to be unmasked, and putting my own best face forward.

Chemicals found in makeup comprise a toxic list. Can you imagine saying, “I’ll be ready in a minute, Honey, as soon as I plug my pores with octyl methoxycinnamate, propylene glycol and methylparaben”? To learn more about harmful and even carcinogenic chemicals in makeup, check out the non-profit Environmental Working Group site: The site also provides information on natural beauty products.