Make up, break up

Karen’s Quest

Published on November 8, 2013

I’d been playing along quite nicely, dutifully handing over my money and all it stands for. In the early stages, it amounted to experimentation and fun. You know, easy, breezy. Then it steadily grew into a daily habit of curling, coloring, highlighting, brightening and glossing.

Eventually, when my youthful confidence began to dip, I came to depend on it to conceal myself. For too long, I bought into the media-made beauty standard and submitted to it.

I admit though, I’ve always been conflicted by the fact that women the world over have no money, nor time, nor freedom for make up.

And what about the women who have no choice but to reject the standard, forced out, with faces mangled by acid, or fire, or violence? Ravaged by poverty, abuse, or lack of love?

I’ve wondered too, are the cosmetics companies in an ‘arms race’ in this competitive-beauty war we women unwittingly strut into?  Ha, ha! Seriously though, this gloss makes my lips so shiny! And, like this, I carried on.

That is, until a simple commercial set me on fire. I knew they were trying to sound nice. Trying to be encouraging. But, I couldn’t shake the skepticism I felt, furrowing my brow well past the manipulative tag line. Their words reached out and touched me. And I was repulsed. Angry even.

They’re reaching out to you, too: “You’re worth it,” they assure you, with their fabricated flawlessness. And, personally, my ego would love to stay on the self-indulgent ride make-up provides.

Boy, it feels good to get dolled up and turn heads. It can make me feel almost invincible when I get it right. But, this false sense of security, this pretense, only serves to isolate me. You might notice me, even compliment me, and, honestly, I’ll be delighted, but I’d be a fool to go on ignoring the truth.

And that’s what we’re supposed to be worth? I’m worth denying my age, denying my physical reality? I’m worth hiding the evidence of late nights up with little ones and long hours struggling with anxiety over marriage and motherhood and personal ambition; the way a woman’s identity is stretched to the limit? I should cover all my grays, dark circles, flaws and insecurities? I should work to get approval for carefully applied lashes and lips? Certainly, I should save it for my mother and sister to endure my haggard and tear soaked face. Don’t expect that of others. It’s too much. But what if it’s not? What if exposing my vulnerability would put others at ease?

Forget make up, forget seeking security in a mask, and forget trying to be perfect. I want my outside to match my inside, to express it. I want it to tell you I struggle, I waver, I triumph. I care. Not about impressing you but about revealing myself to you. I want to take that risk, the reward is worth it: I will drop the mask and experience both real acceptance and real rejection. I would rather be on the front line of my own life than hidden and untouched in an ivory tower.

I want to step back and laugh at the implied/inferred expectation that we are to polish ourselves in order for civilized society to carry on. I want to rebel. I insist that I will be bare and radiate beauty or pain or power or even ugliness. Not because of any religious or feminist ideals, but because I’m a person and my face is not the whole story, but it can tell you a story, a true story, if I let it. I am determined to discover and experience my own worth on my own terms. And so, I’m going to dump this self-conscious facade for courage and boldness and humility. I will not subject myself to an inhumane ‘standard’, which excludes so many. I’m “worth it?” I’m not buying it. I can do better.


Karen Smith is on a quest for personal truth and boundless consciousness. She’s feels lucky to live with her family in Truemanville. Her column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.