We Need to Stop Making Assumptions About Why Women Wear Make-Up — Here’s Why

Source: Gallery Hip

Source: Gallery Hip

Question everything.

I’m definitely cut from that fabric, even when it comes to my own thoughts.

Though I have no intention of adjusting that mindset, I do admit that it sometimes leaves me undecided when it comes to my own motives behind certain choices.

One particular undecided moment shows up whenever I choose to wear make-up.

At some point – probably high school – I believed that learning how to “put my face together” felt like a necessary right of passage because I am a woman.

Today I find that even the wording “putting my face together” feels offensive to me, and I reject the idea that anyone needs to add something besides soap and water to their faces in order to be considered well-groomed.

Hygiene and make-up application should not be in the same category. One is about caring for our bodies; the other, personal preference.

I didn’t always feel that way though.

And now, I still question myself about the choice, mainly to minimize any risk of my falling into the trap of presenting versus being present.

If I got dressed each morning with a focus on external validation and societal norm (presenting), I’d be following society down a rocky road, and I’ve already got plenty of those roads to walk down on my own accord.

In high school, I went through the dark lip-liner and red lipstick phase that still leaves me squeamish at the sight of old photos.

I also remember frequenting my local dollar stores to find cheap make-up that, I’m guessing because I don’t recall, made me feel “grown.”

Today, at 35 years old, I still, on occasion, wear make-up.

I blot concealer onto my neck to cover the black spots from the plucked stray hairs that horrified me in my late twenties.

I put on mascara if I’m leaving the house to do anything besides grocery shopping or playtime and errands with my daughters.

And I get fancy with eye shadow and Iman’s Earth 5 powder foundation when I want to get camera-ready for a speaking gig or a cool event.

But what is the rationale behind the choice? Do I do it because I am free to adorn my body and face in any way that I deem interesting or uniquely expressive?

Or is the choice to wear make-up yet another trap that women fall prey to when battling between who they are expected to be, and who they authentically are?

Mere Adornment or Risky Obligation?

I’m an African woman from a Caribbean island, and I know undoubtedly that adornment is part of my personal ecology.

I have multiple body piercings, two tattoos (though I’ve got my eye on some new ink art), and I love obnoxiously loud nail polish colors. Even my shoulder-length locks are currently adorned in a variety of colors including red, blonde, brown, and black.

Plain Jane just isn’t my thing.

My idea of a classic look is a clean white tank top, fitted jeans, irrationally high heels, and plenty of colorful bracelets and long swaying earrings to accent the simplicity of the clothing.

But I sometimes ask myself why that isn’t enough.

As I look at the woman staring back from my bathroom mirror, I question why mascara, eye shadow, and sometimes bronzer are the finishing touches that give her the feeling of a complete look.

Why do I use something outside of my natural self to feel a sense of completion?

Is this a signal of my need for approval, cleverly disguised as “girlified fun?” Why do I feel that extra stuff on my face makes me more presentable, if only to the woman in my mirror?

What about you?

Do you rock the “war paint,” as some men in my family like to call it?

Would you scoff at a woman wearing a beautiful dress, the perfect shoes, and all the usual fixings, but hadn’t so much of a touch of color over her eyelids, on her lips, or on her cheeks?

What is your make-up motive?

If you’re clear on why you wear it, do me a solid and comment with your perspectives. I’m so curious about other women’s thought process on this particular topic.

Nowadays, I don’t question myself about it as much anymore.

Mainly because I figure that if I keep wearing it, then I find a pleasure it in that may not need to be questioned if it doesn’t leave me feeling bad or wrong in any way for making the choice.

I also come back to two truths that are in direct opposition to popular (and absurd) assumptions about women and their make-up motives.

1. I Don’t Wear Make-Up to Impress Men (or Women)

I had to say this one because there is so much focus on the male gaze that it has become an often-unquestioned assumption that women wear make-up, in large part, so that they can be more attractive to men and/or other women.

That is not my reality; I am certain of that.

Each time I question myself about whether I feel beautiful without make-up, I listen in and I hear an unequivocal yes.

Make-up brings the same kind of feel-good that I get when one of my blonde or red locks show up in my mirror.

Unique expression. Curiosity. Experimentation.

Just my way of peeking around in my world and touching what looks like it needs my touch.

2. I Don’t Feel Any Less Than Myself without Make-Up

Since I was born with the good fortune of a pair of lips, a fully formed nose flanked by raised cheeks, and two eyes in perfect working condition, I don’t need to put on my face in the morning.

I find that notion to be absurd and incredibly dangerous to pass on to the girls around me (including my own daughters).

In some corporate environments, I’ve been told that coming into the office bare faced, is considered unprofessional, an assertion I find laughable, unless of course, I was employed as an actual clown.

Make-up doesn’t give me more of anything, besides variation of color, much like the way my colorful bracelets bring a new dimension to the brown of my wrists when I rock them.


So, there is no official verdict as far as I see it.

Perhaps, five years from now, upon arriving at a concrete rationale on make-up and mindset, I’ll ditch my entire leopard print make-up bag full of facial adornments.

Today though, I’m feeling just fine with my choice to occasionally rock the pixie dust that enhances my natural flyness.

Today, as I get ready to chat and chew with some friends I see not nearly enough, I will be adding sparkly, spot-covering awesomeness to my face and neck, and I won’t question my motives.

At least not until tomorrow.

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Akilah S. Richards is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a six-time author, digital content writer, and lifestyle coach who writes passionately about self-expression, womanhood, modern feminism, location independence and the unschooling lifestyle. Connect with Akilah on InstagramTumblr, or her #radicalselfie e-home, radicalselfie.comRead her articles.