No Makeup Week

This post is written as part of a project called No Makeup Week, originated by Rachel Rabbit White. She’s encouraging bloggers to try going a week without makeup, and to write about their relationship with makeup. And to post photos of themselves without makeup. I’m all over it. It’s a great idea, and I hope you’ll check out her stuff.

(For years, I thought this was the sexiest photo ever taken of me. No makeup)

I’m bad at makeup. Always have been. I’m scared of it. It’s powerful. Like a lightsaber. And when you haven’t trained as a Jedi Knight, then you really shouldn’t pick one of those things up. Another blade might pop out the back, like with Darth Maul’s. Maybe that’s part of the problem—too much Star Wars, not enough….Whatever little girls are supposed to like. I didn’t know what that was. I was homeschooled. I thought other little girls were cool for being good at math. I thought I was cool for thinking to get hockey skates instead of figure skates, so I could go as fast as the boys. And I never once defined myself as a tomboy, either. I was extremely feminine. But being feminine wasn’t based on what I did, it was based on how I felt. I felt like a pretty girl.

The first time I encountered makeup was when I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Florida when I was ten. My aunt had a lot of makeup, and every day she put a surprising amount of it on her face. I could understand why she was good at it, because she also painted pitchers and tabletops, with neat, perfect detail. It was like surgery- so many delicate tools. It was like those painters who have a brush of every size, and a palette that they clean after every painting is completed. Even as an art, it felt unfamiliar. I had about three brushes for when I painted, and the paint got everywhere.

“Would you like me to do your makeup?” She asked me.

Well, yes, of course! I was fascinated. The shade she picked for my lips was called “coral.” It was a beautiful color. Everything took a long time, but when she was done, I looked at my new face in the bulging makeup mirror, and thought I looked a little like a mermaid. We went out. I wore some stretchy black pants and a white vest. We went out to dinner, and when I jumped up from the table and ran off to the bathroom, I felt eyes on me. I looked around and a man was staring at me. He had been staring somewhere lower on my body, but now he looked at my face. He was old. He was sitting with his wife. And he wouldn’t stop staring at me.

I kept the coral lipstick. I couldn’t believe my aunt was willing to part with something so precious. But at home, I wasn’t very interested in applying it. I liked to take it out of the drawer once in a while and look at it. Roll it out of its secret tube and back. I knew there was some shared mysterious code of womanhood here. But learning it felt far away.

A few years later, my best friend Emily and I watched Valerie, my father’s new employee, walk out of the building from a window high up.

“She’s the most beautiful girl in the world,” I said.

“Yeah, she is,” Emily agreed.

For a few weeks, we weren’t sure what it was about her. And then we figured it out. Makeup. Valerie wore so much makeup. Layers and layers. And on her eyelashes! Even her eyebrows looked like they somehow had makeup on them. She had long nails, too. And her hair was permed. She looked like a doll. She was perfect. She was much, much older, and very mature—twenty-years-old—and she was engaged to be married! Her world was a fantastic, thrilling world of feminine allure and mastery. She had succeeded at being a woman in all of the ways we didn’t understand. But we knew that they were important.

(Emily took this photo of me. I’m sullen, but not because I’m not wearing makeup)

I drew myself as I imagined I’d look at twenty. I had makeup on. My hair was permed. I was a doll. I had figured it all out.

But in real life, I never did. I never learned. I kept skating with hockey skates, and reading fantasy novels, and being generally nerdy and dorky. I went to college and was nerdy there, and cut all my hair off and wore the wrong clothes. I didn’t own any makeup, except for the coral lipstick from my aunt. I brought it with me. Just in case.

The first night of college, all of the girls were crowded around a mirror in the hall, putting on makeup, preparing to go to a frat party in their tiny, glittery outfits. I, the defective girl, felt not the slightest inclination to join them. I wouldn’t have known where to begin.

“Hey, girls. Puttin’ on some makeup? Yeah, me too. I do that all the time. You know how it is…being a girl. We wear a lot of the stuff. It’s pretty great. All the boys love it.”

(In college, I cut off all my hair. But still no makeup)

So makeup was a club, almost a cult. And it was too late for me. As a child, I thought I’d pick up the skill naturally, as I grew, like learning how to drive at the appropriate time. But it passed me by. I never put in the practice hours. Other girls became virtuosic. Even Emily left me behind. She had a drawerful of makeup. Every time I opened it, I felt overwhelmed.

“What do you DO with all of this?”

She’d laugh at me.

I took out the coral lipstick one day. I stood in front of the mirror, and I slid it over my lip, and then the other one. Not bad. It felt kind of dry. It was so old, by then. I thought I looked alright, but it really was too late by then. I’d gotten so used to my face without makeup that I didn’t know how to recognize myself otherwise.

By the end of college, I hated my inability to wear makeup. Why was I so bad at being a woman? Why was I so bad at making myself pretty? Why couldn’t I use the basic tools of my kind? I was like a caveman who couldn’t use a club. A wilderness explorer who doesn’t understand the compass. A Jedi who never learned how to wield a lightsaber. It was pathetic.

And here I am. I’m twenty-four. I’m about to get married. And I still can’t. Not even close. Except for lip gloss, which I’m totally fine at. But my Jedi mind control is pretty good, as a result. I can do the force shove. And going a week without wearing makeup is nothing for me. Going a week with makeup, well…it might be a horrifying sight.

(The day after we got engaged. Bear took this photo of me. I was not wearing any makeup)

*  *  *  *  *

Un-Roast: Today I love my torso. It’s long in the way that makes one-piece bathing suits too difficult. Which is why I just have to wear a bikini.


Kate on September 21st 2010 in beauty, body, homeschooling

26 Responses to “No Makeup Week”

  1. Cindy responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    are like ME but younger?

    oh my gosh lady! I grew up with brothers and just think THAT is the reason I never made it into the makeup woman’s club. Plus I wasn’t allowed to wear it until way later than everyone else. And even than NO mascera, eyeliner and no dark colors. I was late high school before I had a picture WITH makeup on. and than it was never the same as the normal girls. By than they had it down PAT

    a few years ago my dad dated a lady who was a makeup artist. I asked her if she could teach me some basics…so she took me to her studio and did me up, than her sister (who was a hair stylist) flat ironed my wavy mess and they sent me home. They were all saying…well, we always thought you were pretty but…look at you now.

    that comment really saddened me; like the makup cheapened the real me, but I felt good, like I fit in finally. I went home expecting all my men in my life to, I don’t know…go WOW and throw me a parade and bow down to my new female awesomeness.

    they all stared at me like I was an alien. My husband got all wierd, my teenager just stared at me like he didn’t recognize me (and at first they didn’t) and the entire night was ruined. I wiped it all off in the car on the way to dinner with nothing but my new shirt and tears. (mind you this was just a couple of years ago)

    I don’t know what I was thinking; but I sort of lost all interest in being a normal girl again and I sort of have this inner resentment at all those Men in my life for being so mean about my attempt at being a pretty girl. I just wanted one glammed up moment to relish. One night where I felt like I fit in to womanhood.

    it was a horrible experience.
    I wear mascare and eyeliner now (I think just to upset my mother). :)
    but that ‘s all I wear except for sunscreen.

    I don’t like my torso. I am glad you love yours!
    Happy Tuesday and I am off to check out the makeup free week. JEEZ. something I am good at!

  2. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    I wear make-up maybe once a week. I’m usually too lazy to apply it and too jaded to care. When I do wear it, it is mostly because I want to experiment with colours and techniques. Kind of like a painter with a palette of eye shadow and a face for a canvas. It can be really fun.

  3. poet responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    I grew up without makeup, similar to you (I just wasn’t allowed to wear it, for health and decency reasons), and I too had trouble learning how to apply it when I finally started using it. To this day, it remains reserved for special occasions, though I’ve gotten quite good at applying it. I’m glad that I never got so habituated to it to feel incomplete and less confident without it…

  4. Ana responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    I never wear makeup. There are the handful of times where I wore some to school. And occasionally when I’m bored I put on some makeup at home, but I never go out. I always felt so ridiculous in makeup. It doesn’t make sense to me. Hmm…

  5. Justine responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    I LOVE makeup, I have since I was around 11 and I stole a nub of blue eyeliner from my mom. I used to be a makeup artist and I consider makeup an art form. I love putting it on, it’s something I find cathartic and enjoyable and I do it even when I’m not leaving the house. All that being said I HATE the way women without makeup are looked at in our society. The tabloids that feature women without makeup as though they’re hideous monsters make me want to scream, especially because they still look gorgeous without it.

    Kate, you look beautiful without makeup, most women do, but it’s a personal choice and I wish the world would understand that and simply leave us to our own choices! I think this is a great project though, because everyone seems to be forgetting what real women look like without makeup on (darn good!), and that’s just sad.

  6. Jack Hammer Insanity « a sparkle a day responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    [...] and left my car home for said little bird) I got all excited.  Fluffed up my hair (whatever) re-applied my lip gloss (uh huh) and eagerly awaited my smiling and happy [...]

  7. Rabbit responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    I think you and I have a similar history with makeup, though I never had any makeup artists in my life to try it out on me even once. Another poster mentioned growing up around many boys, which is an experience I do share. My mother was never into makeup or girly things, either, so with her and all those brothers I never stood a chance!

    Nowadays, I feel like makeup is the mark of a special girly club to which I’ll never belong. When I try to put it on I feel pathetic and strange, like I’m trying to pretend to be one of the pretty girls and everyone who looks at me can see that I’m not one of them and never will be… but wouldn’t say anything because they wouldn’t want to hurt that poor pitiful duckling’s feelings. :p I feel the same way about skirts and jewelry. That stuff is for “real” girls. Feminine beauties. Not nerdy tomboy wannabes like me.

  8. Alii Silverwing responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    I’m not an accomplished makeup artist like Justine, but I do have a smidgen of formal training in theatre makeup. For me, it’s a tool to reshape the face and eliminate inconsistencies and distractions so that expressions are more visible on stage. So, most of my attitude toward makeup is informed by the idea that you can change whatever you want, but it’s temporary and you have to worry about it melting off. I view most makeup in the context of character, and thus don’t wear it everyday. I want to be me, after all, not someone else.

    I decided that a 10-minute makeup regime in the morning was far, far too much effort after doing it through high school. I’m lazy, and I prefer the natural look on myself. :)

    When I do wear makeup, it’s designed so that I just look like a sharper (more in-focus, maybe?) version of myself. I use it to give myself an edge, because if I can be bothered to go through the ritual, I make sure it’s for a reason where I need to appear… different. Not me. It’s almost armor, of a sort. I wear it to job interviews, among other things. Which, I think, says a great deal about how I view makeup without even realizing it.

    I didn’t think I had a complicated relationship with makeup, but in trying to comment I’m having a hard time condensing. Wild.

  9. Kate responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    Well said!

  10. rachel responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    I can always tell when people are wearing makeup. Not only that they have something on, but if it’s eyeliner, mascara, what have you. I assume people can see the same when they look at me (okay, I don’t really think everyone is that observant) so I think about makeup as an accessory. Most commonly I wear a bright lipstick, because if it’s never going to look natural, and what exactly is the point in natural lipstick, it should make a statement. Spending my days in the traditionally male dominated space of the university, teaching classes of students who would probably respect me a little bit more if I were a man, I feel like the occassional bright red lipstick or high heeled boot is an empowering demonstration of femininity. Sometimes I do my whole face, but that happens maybe twice a month.

  11. Noel responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 8:16 pm #

    If I could figure out where I put my digital camera, I would absolutely take a picture of myself and send it to you, because I haven’t worn makeup since the recession started. The bottle of Clinque coverup I had on hand ran out right about that time, and I couldn’t really justify dropping $60 on face goo when I could barely afford Ramen noodles.

    After all this time, I find that I don’t feel all that different, and so if a miracle occurs and $20K drops into my lap, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to Macy’s for liner and mascara. Like Rachel, I liked a pop of bright lipstick or eyeshadow once in awhile, just like it’s fun to get dressed up for a wedding or a special event, just because you can. But I’ve never been and never will be one who can’t leave the house without makeup or that spends an hour getting ready–I’d rather do something else with that 60 minutes.

  12. zoe responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    definitely did not join the make-up club until college. and even then it was only eyeliner and mascara. since middle school i toyed with foundations and cover ups and eyeshadows but found i hated feeling like my skin couldn’t breathe. i felt too unnatural. so i forewent make-up and usually only dabbled in eyeshadows and foundation for special occasions. my friends took so.long. to get ready it drove me nuts. late because of a car crash? no, late because of make-up.

    anyway, three years since the start of college and i am actually now in love with eyeshadow. i ditched the eyeliner and have embraced mascara. i love playing with colors and layering. i knew nothing about make-up when i started. in fact, i’m pretty sure i still don’t. i just like to play and sometimes it works out okay. no one ever told me how to work it out. another admission: i just bought some light weight foundation i wear some days. but it’s still a weird adjustment.

    p.s: girl, you might be one of the only people who can pull off short hair and still look banging. it seriously highlights your facial features in all the best ways. have an excellent tuesday :)

  13. Erika @ Health and Happiness in LA responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    I’m like that with hair. I’m good at makeup and I had some friends in middle school who taught me how to do my makeup and what to use but I never did figure out what to do with my hair. Now people ask how I “do” my hair and I say, “Well, I wash it every few days and then I let it dry. Does that count?”

    So my unroast for the day is that I love my crazy, curly hair.

  14. Wei-Wei responded on 21 Sep 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    I don’t wear makeup – and I don’t plan to, unless on special occasions. I believe in taking care of myself and just letting that shine through… plus I don’t know how to do makeup. At all. And I don’t think I really want to learn.

  15. Diane responded on 22 Sep 2010 at 10:23 am #

    I’m torn on this one. I wear a teeny amount of makeup everyday. Mascara on the top, blush, tinted lip balm. I feel like it makes me look fresher and healthier. I’m phasing out powder, because I like my freckles, and “dewy” is the new oily. If I look like hell in the morning, I use a teeny bit of concealer under my eyes. When I buy new makeup, its not because I’m out, its because what I have has expired.

    What I HATE is seeing women with caked on foundation and unnatural colors rimming their eyes. Ditto with “contouring” eye shadows. I feel like they just have dirty eyelids. Also, I don’t understand lipstick and gloss at all. What’s fun about picking hair off of your sticky mouth?

    PS, I just discovered your blog, and I love it!

  16. Laura responded on 22 Sep 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    what a good topic!!!! i remember the amount of makeup i bought when i hit high school and realized, suddenly, that wearing make up every day was a very cool and mature thing to do. every morning for 3 years, i woke up an hour early, gobbed on copious amounts of foundation, bronzer, and mascara, and went to a school that accepted the girl with all the cover-up on. in fact, in many regards, it was the only way a lot of kids knew me. i certainly wasn’t the only one doing this, either- the mirrors in the girls locker room after gym class were always swarmed with fifteen or twenty some odd girls applying glosses and powders and creams to their already (in my eyes) perfect faces. i continued to be one of those girls until SAT time hit and suddenly I wasn’t sleeping at night. i decided to trade in cute outfits and 3 tone eye shadows for sweats, a hanes white tee, and a swipe of chapstick every morning, which was a huge deal for me. it more ways than one, it marked a change from concentration on the way i looked to concentration on the way i acted. and it was a huge, huge relief to not feel like i was hiding every day.

    today, i still have a little bit of both girls in me. i usually roll out of bed in the morning five minutes before class and lumber off in leggings and a ripped flannel (which is now considered to be “hipster chic” but i mean really, what does that even mean?!). on these days, i never wear makeup. my friends are used to it and i’m lucky that i found a great group of girls who do the same thing as me and guy friends who like us better au naturale. but i also still love getting dressed up to go out- there’s something i love about the ritual of applying make up and doing my hair and picking out an outfit. i think it’s because now, it’s something special instead of something i have to do every day!

    anyway that was a long ramble but i reallly liked this post !! thanks for putting it out there to talk about ^_^

  17. Wednesday Challenge « a sparkle a day responded on 22 Sep 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    [...] is me; at work; knitting; no make-up; running shoes on (despite the fact that I didn’t [...]

  18. Chris responded on 22 Sep 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    “I’m bad at makeup.”

    Bad at makeup, bad at being an atheist, bad at being a feminist, etc etc… Start telling us what you’re GOOD at! ;) Oh wait, we already know… good at being a writer, good at breaking new ground, good at bridging communities, good at being radically YOU… I could go on, but I don’t want to make your non-makeupped (uh, sure, let’s go with that) head swell!

  19. No Makeup Days « Beauty Schooled responded on 23 Sep 2010 at 8:00 am #

    [...] wasn’t that, like Kate on Eat the Damn Cake, I was afraid of makeup or had missed being initiated into the makeup thing — I worked in [...]

  20. Rebecca responded on 23 Sep 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    You are lovely in your own skin…
    and I think that’s AWESOME.

    I wish I were more comfortable with leaving the house sans powderblusheyelinermascara–but I’m really not.

    As far as your wedding day goes,
    do what makes *you* feel beautiful.

    (It may be nice to have a bit of color and mascara for photos, but if it makes you feel uncomfortable, go without!)

    Knowing how to wield an eyeliner pencil is not a mark of true femininity; just perhaps of steady hands. ;)

  21. Anna responded on 25 Sep 2010 at 3:43 am #

    Yay, a compatriot!

    I rarely wear make-up, and if I do, it is not to “enhance natural beauty” (i.e. cover up skin flaws, exaggerate eyelashes, lips, and cheek coloring, and whatever else). Make-up I see as decoration, so just about the only make-up I’ll wear is bright eye shadow which I’ll end up applying so lightly that few people can tell anyways because while I enjoy the whimsical, I’m also not that bold. I have long wondered why people wear pretty colors on their eyelids, but not on their noses. I’ve been wanting to try that out. Hmmm, smokey nose?

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to feel the need for long “beauty” regimes, the need to cover ones face before going out.

  22. Best of No Make-up Week responded on 26 Sep 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    [...] And as I’ve said this week, whether you wear make-up or not there is a story there. Kate at Eat the Damn Cake tells hers especially well. “By the end of college, I hated my inability to wear makeup. Why [...]

  23. Kat responded on 03 Oct 2010 at 6:33 am #

    Wow, so many women not wearing makeup! I’ve known a few who don’t but they’ve been in the minority. Personally, I’m dependant on it, although I do enjoy it. I get a buzz out of shopping for the perfect mascara (not found it yet) and the wearing lipstick makes me feel so much better, even if I dont think it’s necessary. My mother who taught me to use it loves makeup too, we bond over sharing products and shopping for it. I still think I’m doing it mostly for myself and not to fit in or live up to expectations though, it’s just part of my identity. Hard to explain how I can be so dependant on it and not see that as a bad thing, but I dont. I dont think I’ve left the house without some makeup in about 8 years! Whether I look better with or without or just different, the me in makeup is the one I identify with.

  24. Eat the Damn Cake » The summer of the unshaved legs responded on 16 Nov 2010 at 11:32 am #

    [...] feminine toiletries (I really doubt that he used that terminology). This was when I was ten, and makeup impressed me, especially since my mother didn’t wear it, and it was a mystery. The woman who would never not [...]

  25. Eat the Damn Cake » Out in public with a naked face responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 11:05 am #

    [...] do feel like they can’t live without it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve talked about it for No Makeup Week, and when I tried to figure out if I had a beauty routine, like Beauty [...]

  26. Eat the Damn Cake » Painting of a naked woman responded on 23 Jun 2011 at 11:32 am #

    [...] who had let me borrow her gold and pale blue silky J. Crew dress. She had also done my makeup (I don’t know how to do makeup). I was also wearing her strapless bra (I don’t own one) and her earrings. I don’t know [...]