Growing up in middle class India, in the 80s and 90s, makeup was not a huge deal. The only time I had on anything close to a beauty product, was on the School Annual Day Stage Performance. And even then, it was a hastily applied layer of garish cream which made all of us look uniformly ghostly. Real foundations and bold lipsticks were for Kitty parties and Movie Stars. Or maybe when you had to attend Payal Didi’s wedding in South Bombay. Otherwise it was talcum powder + Kajal + chapstick, and you were ready to take on the day in your Bata chappals.
Even today, I don’t have too many skills in the beauty department. Lipstick, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner and BB cream. That’s my entire repertoire. Sometimes I will feel extra fancy and bring out the mascara. And then there’re those days where I cannot step outside without concealer because, hello racoon eyes!
And yet, every time I start my barebones beauty routine, this little voice inside squeaks,
“Why do you need all these products?”
“Who’re you trying to impress with that red lip color?”
“Are you not pleased with the way you look, naturally?”
“Doesn’t this go against your ‘Inner beauty’ mantra?”
These and a dozen other questions fight for my attention, and even though logic tells me otherwise, my fingers still pause before reaching for the matte lipstick.
I am a well-adjusted adult. I have the same struggles and self-esteem issues as most women from my generation. While we’re lionesses who will stare down a creep into oblivion, there are still these dilemmas that make us second guess our choices.
And like with most problems that pervade our lives. the culprits are the usual players.
Society and Patriarchy.
Both dictate that a woman, at all times, exists to impress or serve men. If she learns a new recipe, it’s because she wants to cook for a man some day. She wants to stay fit? It’s because she’s learning how to catch/keep a man. She is horny? It must be so she can satisfy her partner’s desires. On and on and on and on. And on.
So, the natural next step is to assume that if a woman has a full face of wonderfully applied makeup, she’s doing it for a man’s attention.
If you’re a woman and have an online presence, I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of random dudes commenting from behind their creepy profiles.
“Darling, you luk sexxxy,”
“Show me pics of bobs,”
“Your beutiful. your lipstickkk is making me mad!”
On the the other end of the spectrum- the armchair activists. These dudes take it personally if they see an image or video of a woman with makeup. They’ll tell you how pretty you are naturally OR go the other extreme and yell at you for putting on foundation. They’ll share memes and jokes about how a woman is unrecognizable once she wipes the products off.
“I don’t like that much makeup on women. My mom never wore a single product, and she looked just fine.”
“I went to bed with a 10 and woke up with a 2, hehehehe!”
Seriously, dude? You’re that much of an imbecile? Also, you have mommy issues, but that’s between your therapist and you.
Some of these ideas are so ingrained in our minds, they pop up unexpectedly in the oddest of moments.
Years ago, when I was dating my now-husband, we had an interesting conversation. Over a grainy Skype Video call, he complimented my outfit. But my earrings really seem to catch his attention. With soft brown eyes, he murmured, “Wow! Those earrings look great on you! Did you put them on especially for me?”
22-year-old me wasn’t worldly. I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise. So I agreed that, yes indeed I had been thinking of him when I haggled the price of said earrings from Rs.15 to Rs.10 in the middle of a sweaty Bandra market.
He didn’t mean offense, and he was paying me innocent praise. I look good, and so somehow it must have been for him. See how easy it is for even the nicest of men, to think it’s always about them?
We’ll have been married 14 years this August, and we’re both evolved Feminists. Some days, I put on extra effort for his sake. And he does the same for me. But other times, I choose colors and clothes that aren’t about or for him. And we encourage this freedom of choice in our kids, who often go to school in the weirdest of outfits because “Peppa Pig shirt matches with Pokemon pants, Amma!”
So, bottom line?
Makeup is beautiful. It’s easily available. So many brands, colors and palettes. Even for a novice like me, the transformative power of a good BB cream is obvious. We put on makeup to glow, to make a hard morning better, to highlight parts of ourselves we’ve always loved. And some of us are masters at it! The perfectly contoured cheek, the Instagram worthy Winged eyeliner. I’ve friends and cousins (male and female) who are absolute artists at makeup. I mean if I had half the talent that some of those YouTube Beauty artistes do, I’d close my practice and just contour faces all day.
And if you really don’t like it, no sweat. Unlike medications, makeup is entire optional. There’s nothing superior about not using/using beauty products – it comes down to what your lifestyle and your wallet are comfortable with.
You don’t need anyone’s permission or praise to look the way you do. Your body is yours to flaunt and no one else’s to critique. Clothes, jewelry, makeup – these are tools at your disposal, because YOU want to look a certain way. For YOURself! If you walk out in those fancy heels, looking like a million bucks – hey that’s for yourself too!
And yes, you absolutely can dress for a special someone. I know I do.You can emphasize your curves and tuck in the tummy, because you know that hot guy is watching. Nothing wrong with that either.
It all comes down to choice. Your Choice.
Not what some random Weirdo/Aunty ji/Society uncle think. Nope.
Not going to happen.
So get your Goddess on! It’s 2019, and we have mountains to scale!