I stopped wearing cosmetics a few months ago, after about half a year of using the stuff only sparingly. I started weaning myself off makeup because I had come to hate the hassle of applying it, and because I hated fretting about my appearance. I was also beginning to think of makeup as old-fashioned, an antiquated ‘modesty’ that inspires shame in one’s true appearance. The longer I go without a cosmetic product on my face, the more I believe that makeup needs to go the way of the girdle. The restrictive, uncomfortable, needless, obsolete girdle.
How many undergarments are you wearing right now? I’m guessing two at most. Likewise, I only wear two small undergarments below my clothes, even on the most formal occasions. Interview? Presentation? Class? Wedding? A bra and underwear are always adequate.
Since I’ve never had to wear more than two undergarments, I find it staggering that women used to wear massive bras, high-waisted underwear, girdles, pantyhose or stockings, garter belts, slips, and camisoles.
I often wear less than that as a full outfit. Anyone who knows me in real life can confirm that I regularly step out in leggings and a t-shirt (plus two small undergarments beneath). I don’t say this to titilate, just to illustrate, because I suspect my bare-bones attire is quickly becoming the norm. I’ve spent a lot of time on college campuses- big and small, public and private, Jesuit and blessedly godless. Everywhere I’ve seen legions of women and girls decked out in equal or greater states of undress than my own. Gone are the girdles.
One reason for the death of intricate undergarments is the relaxation of sexual mores. If you’re sexually liberated, and likewise active, you probably don’t want to peel off myriad layers and hooks and clasps every time you exercise your freedom. Another (related) reason is second-wave feminism’s rejection of body-shame. Girdles et al. constricted and corralled the obscene squishiness of the female form in an age where lady lumps were indecent. If you’re a socially and sexually liberated lady, you probably want a full range of motion and a little wiggle room for your secondary sex characteristics. In a progressive culture there’s less reason to brassier or burqa up.
The final big reason for this sartorial shift is that society has become more casually-dressed overall. Men and women alike wear less and less clothing to work and formal settings. The three-piece suit has receded into the distance, outpaced by business casual. Away from offices, standards are even more relaxed. Sweatpants, shorts, and my beloved leggings have all become perfectly acceptable public wear.
In a few brief decades, we’ve become less prudish, less sexist, and less stuffy, and we’ve ditched all manner of useless garments in the process. Regardless of gender or sex, we all do less primping and prepping than our recent forebears. From these trends, I hypothesize that needless and body-shaming accessories disappear over time until only practical, easy vanities remain. As far as useless, shaming, annoying accessories go, makeup ought to be old-fashioned and tawdry by the next generation.
Like girdles or hose, makeup serves no practical purpose. It is costly, messy, and a hassle to apply. Women struggle to find the correct shade of powder, concealer, and foundation, and most fail to ever be satisfied. Depending on the intricacy of the beauty regimen, a faceful of makeup can take anywhere from five to thirty minutes to apply. In humid weather, constant touch-ups are required. If the shade or application is wrong, a layer of makeup can be more distracting than any natural blemish.
Like girdles and garters, makeup is constricting. A woman wearing a full face of makeup cannot rub her eyes or lay her head on a pillow. She can’t wash her face or step out in the rain or kiss someone or cry. Makeup clogs pores, causing irritation and acne. It can feel oily, dusty, gritty, or otherwise uncomfortable.
Makeup is also inherently body-shaming. Just as old-fashioned shapewear crammed all women into a phony hourglass shape, makeup attempts to give women the illusion of uniformly ‘clear’ skin. Among women with persistent ‘flaws’, the application of makeup is an inherently losing battle. The need to cover and conceal becomes a needless preoccupation and unsuccessful charade.
I, for instance, have dark purplish circles below my eyes. I always have this ‘flaw’, no matter how much sleep I get or how alert I feel. I used to slather my circles in foundation and concealer, failed to hide the ‘flaw’ and made the skin under my eyes look unnaturally pale. Makeup also made my acne worse, which prompted me to use more makeup to cover the blemishes up. When I wore cosmetics, I labored daily to hide my chronic imperfections, which kept me focused on the existence of such imperfections. I felt insecure. I looked artificial.
I eventually quit using makeup and abandoned the quest for perfect-looking skin. By going bare-faced, I had to learn to accept my dark circles and breakouts, bare them to the world, and forget them. I don’t worry about my complexion much anymore, and I feel blissfully comfortable with the way I actually look. Like an apple-shaped woman sliding out of a corset, ditching makeup allowed me to breathe. A naked face can feel as liberated as a bare leg or unbound waist.
For all these reasons, I’m rooting for makeup’s obsolescence. And I think present trends favor my hopeful little prediction. Like undergarments, women have shed useless articles of makeup slowly over time. Many young women eschew the full makeup regimen their mothers or grandmothers used, opting instead for a quick, light application that looks more “natural”. Heavy makeup is starting to seem pageanty and fake. Instead of applying foundation, concealer, powder, toner, mascara, blush, eyeshadow, etc, many women only use one or two items on an average day. I predict and hope women will keep ditching unnecessary cosmetics until none but lip balm remain.