Wednesday, February 13, 2013
I just finished reading “The Beauty Experiment” by Phoebe Baker Hyde. The premise is fascinating: What happens when a woman discards the social trappings of femininity?
Hyde was 36 years old and living in Hong Kong when she splurged on a designer dress and salon hairstyle for a gala at her husband’s workplace. The effort backfired: The dress was an expensive mistake, her hair frizzed and her new shoes hurt. A photo snapped that evening showed her looking awkward and uncomfortable. (Since there are no photos in the book, we have to take Hyde’s word for it.)
My response would have been: Mope for a day, consign the dress to recoup some cash, and change hairdressers.
Hyde’s reaction was to opt out of the game: She chopped off her golden hair and decided to eliminate makeup, jewelry, lotions, perfumes, new clothes and shoes for one year. (She also stopped shaving her body hair.) Her quest was to redefine and rediscover her femininity. The reactions of her husband and her friends, and the ensuing insights, make for an interesting read.
But it’s hard to imagine a dyed-in-the-wool Southern woman doing this. (Me, least of all.) We know the value of shiny lips and long, dark eyelashes. When you look good, you feel good.
Besides, the last time I left the house without makeup, the dog went blind.
To me it’s a matter of manners: I’m comfortable with my imperfections--but why should I foist them on unsuspecting strangers? My husband, brothers and some friends have seen me without makeup, but barring a zombie apocalypse, the general public never will.
Sure, sometimes I wonder how many hours I’ve invested in applying war paint for the past 30 years. There’s nothing exciting about poking your eye with a mascara wand at 6 a.m. But every day I slap on a little subterfuge, and according to numerous Web surveys, so do the vast majority of women.
Some of us look fine without makeup. We all know women with thick lashes, strong cheekbones, rosy lips. Good for them. Then there’s me: Even when I pinch my cheeks, they have no color. My eyelashes are pale, my complexion veers between splotchy and sallow, and my lips are the opposite of juicy and enticing. They are pale, dry and bloodless. In dim light, I look like an extra in a Twlight movie.
Do I look healthier, even happier with makeup? Yes! At 19—in the bloom of youth and vigor--I went to the ER with a knee injury. I was makeup-free because, well, I was 19. Three nurses and the doctor said (pick one), “Are you okay? You’re white as a sheet. Are you dizzy? You don’t look good. Why are your lips so pale? Do you have anemia?” After 30 minutes of denials I thought, Wow, maybe I AM sick. Lo and behold, the cure turned out to be Maybelline. And Cover Girl and Smashbox and Clinique...
I’m not a fanatic—I don’t struggle out of bed to apply blush with a fever of 103. But I feel better when I take the time to add a little polish.
My husband, of course, couldn’t care less. Just the other night he said, “I like how you look in the morning, without makeup. You look fresh and vulnerable,” he said.
Bless his heart. I happen to like the way he looks in just cargo shorts and a wedding band.
Julie R. Smith, who will never, ever get her eyelashes dyed or lips tattooed, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.