If beauty’s only skin-deep, why can it cut to our core?

My take on why the ‘no make-up selfie’ hashtag struck a nerve

Imagine the scene. You’re in the home of a heterosexual Irish couple before a typical night out. Who do you think will take longer to get ready? Leaving aside any unfortunate wrangles with the aul Brylcreem, it’s a fair bet it’s going to be the woman.

Flawless make-up, eyelashes and chip-free nails all take longer to apply than a splash of Old Spice. “But…why do you need all this stuff?” says the man. “I want to look good,” she says. “But you already do!” comes the reply. She continues perfecting her eyeliner. She doesn’t believe him.

The fact is, the man wants to look good too. But every other man in the pub that night won’t be wearing a full face of coveted ‘beauty best-buys’. They won’t have accentuated their best features and covered-up their worst ones through the use of the latest scientifically-advanced cosmetics. In short, they won’t have to resort to artifice just to look borderline-attractive next to their fully make-upped and immaculately groomed peers.

Generally speaking, men don’t have to put as much effort into their appearance in order for us to consider them good looking. That’s a double standard I find patently unfair.

Not that I’m blaming men for that. Well, I am and I am’t, ahem. Let me explain. Traditionally (yes I’m thinking Jane Austen days here – I’ve read a lot of Austen – bear with me) a woman didn’t have many means open to her of getting ahead in a patriarchal world – apart from that fine old chestnut; marriage. I know they had their ‘accomplishments’ – Jane Fairfax was a whizz at the piano by all accounts – but I imagine looks played a big part in whether distinguished young ladies managed to catch the eye of a ‘suitable suitor’.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, huh? It’s probably an anachronism to say that women in those days even wore much make-up. (I don’t know; this is a blog, not a history lesson!) But my point is this. Historically women were denied access to other means of expressing themselves. Naturally, their appearance assumed greater importance. This was something they could control. (Well within reason – I still can’t control my own hair despite all the barnet-inspired developments of the intervening centuries!)

This has led to society – and women (there’s no getting away from it) – placing a disproportionate emphasis on how we look. In actual fact, we have many other qualities that are much more important – our kindness, our humour, our intelligence and our emotional intelligence. Not that I’m in any way immune to these sorts of pressure myself. I’ve untagged desperately unflattering pictures of myself of Facebook. I feel bad when I look at photos of myself where I don’t think I look well. Sweet jeebus, I don’t want people to think I’m ugly ffs! (Especially because I’m single. I mean, I’d like to imagine that if the odd unflattering photo of those of you in committed relationships popped up; it wouldn’t be a sacking offence. Sadly, there’s not so much leeway in the singles market – looks matter. Don’t believe me? One word: Tindr).

In large part, I believe the selfie and ‘duckface’ pose craze is founded on insecurity about our looks and a need to seek validation on our appearance. Insecurity, narcissism and vanity seem to have a bizarre co-habitual relationship going on.

Personally, thankfully what I have realised throughout my years on this planet is that while I might care what I look like, no-one else actually gives that much of a f*ck.

I rarely wear make-up during the day. Men don’t have to, I think to myself, so why should I? That’s part of my reasoning. Another large part of it is that I’m crap at mornings as it is without faffing around with a make-up routine!  In all seriousness though, I personally would hate for my family and friends not to know what I looked like without make-up. I’m not perfect but this is me. Hello world! Take me as you find me because as I said earlier, just like my wonderful female friends, looks aren’t the most important thing about me.

Having said that, I know some people just don’t feel confident leaving home without their make-up on, especially people with skin problems. Who the hell I am to tell them they shouldn’t wear make-up? I wouldn’t do that. It’s their face; their business.

Earlier I questioned the link between ‘the no-make up selfie’ and cancer on my Facebook page. As my friend Colette Kinsella rightfully pointed out, in both cases there can be feelings of exposure and vulnerability – although obviously on vastly different levels. The link is symbolic, yet I can see why some people who actually have cancer were less than impressed with the concept!  

I’m not against the goals behind the no selfie make-up hashtag and campaign, According to recent reports, it’s raised around €200,000 for the Irish Cancer Society in the last day alone. I just don’t see the need to place any further emphasis on our appearance.

This is something I’ve often reflected on before the no make-up selfie hashtag came into existence, However I guess I should be grateful that’s it given me a topical platform on which to base this blog. (I mean holy crap this is the first blog I’ve written in about three years!)

Would it be better for women if make-up had never been invented? I don’t know. But I know men have a lot to be grateful for. Don’t go cocking it up for yourselves at this stage by going down the road of the Geordie Shore orange beefcake-type. For you, heading out for the night sans make-up isn’t brave; it’s just normal. I just wish we women could always say the same thing.   


4 thoughts on “If beauty’s only skin-deep, why can it cut to our core?

  1. Gillian – I’ve learnt more about makeup from the TS community than I ever did from other ‘girls’. How’s about a focus on that?!

    1. That would definitely make an interesting article to hear what a transsexual writer’s views on make-up generally and the no make-up selfie hashtag are, This piece is more about my personal feelings and experiences but I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to interviewing some members of the TS community in future for their thoughts on the topic! .

  2. And I agree with you – I, as a woman, have the privilege of ‘not having to wear makeup’ during the daytime hours, but I’m writing currently about the ‘veil’ we put on in society.

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