“A woman without paint is like food without salt.” Plautus (254-184 BC) Women on the internet have spent the last however many years (not that many) embracing our bushes, our armpit hair, our natural born frizz, our hips, our dimpled bums, our stretch marks, our love handles. Is there something about your body that you don’t like? OWN IT! – is the general message. And it’s been brilliant; the campaigns are working, we’re becoming more body confident, what a relief for the next generation. Yet – aside from that well-intended (it was originally for breast cancer awareness) social media moment dubbed the “makeup-free selfie”, aka the “not much makeup selfie” – women have been so busy embracing things that are mostly unseen, we seem to have forgotten our most public-facing asset. Will 2017 finally be the year we learn to embrace the face? Alicia Keys stopped wearing makeup last year (as far as we fools on the internet knew) and it stopped the press. The year before that, Uma Thurman went to an event without eyeliner or mascara and had to fend off front-page surgery accusations (a pyrrhic victory.) Kim Kardashian certainly appears to be wearing less, although she’s grown at least a foot of hair to compensate. As image consumers – in particular of the right-hand side of the Daily Mail – we seem to revel in the sight of a celebrity who usually wears makeup, wearing no makeup. Even more shocking is the sight of a celebrity who usually wears makeup wearing no makeup on purpose, at a red carpet event. Headlines called Alicia Keys’ decision an act of “empowerment”, “bravery”, a “revolution”” – which sounds kind of stupid, but what’s more stupid is the fact that it actually is brave and revolutionary. We’ve all seen celebrities without makeup – photographed getting into their cars with sunglasses on, clutching a tall Starbucks and walking down the road in a conspicuous floppy hat. We know what Cameron Diaz’s “real skin” is like and what Katy Perry looks like when she’s just woken up. And, I think, it’s fair to say that we like these celebrities more for knowing what they look like without makeup because it closes the gap – a bit – between us and them. Have you ever bumped into someone when you’re not wearing makeup, and thought “Wait! No! This isn’t me! This isn’t what I really look like!” – except it’s exactly what you really look like. From the ancient Egyptians’ heavy eyeliner to Queen Elizabeth I’s porcelain powdered face, makeup has played a part in women’s history (and men's for that matter). But while some may consider it a product of patriarchy (rouged cheeks and red lips were originally intended to make a woman look like she’d just had an orgasm – whoops!) it’s also a female construct, passed from one generation to the next. That Glamour Nana phrase of “not now, I haven’t got my face on” is the tip of the iceberg of women telling other women to wear makeup. And it’s still very much a thing; One Poll conducted a survey of 1,000 women at the end of 2016 which found that a quarter of women “wouldn’t leave the house” without foundation on, a fifth of women wouldn’t leave the house without mascara, and a tenth of women wouldn’t leave the house without lipstick. Do we really need two faces? Isn’t that a trait of a dishonest person? A monster, even. A face to meet the faces that we meet, as T.S.Eliot so femininely put it. Does makeup actually help our chances of getting any of the things we want in life? Or does it, in fact, hinder us? In a study conducted by Katherine Schreiber and Heather Hausenblas Ph.D. for Psychology Today, results showed that "women experience more jealousy toward women with cosmetics." See: Instagram.
For the last two months I haven’t worn makeup, and it’s been harder to give up than smoking, drinking and coffee put together. It started, like many great revolutions, with conjunctivitis, but after not wearing makeup for two weeks while my eyes got better, I just stopped bothering. To my surprise, people have been markedly nicer to me. I have found that when I look made up on the outside – whether it’s in a social situation, at work, at an external meeting – people presume I’m made up on the inside. But when I’m not wearing any, and when my face shows exactly how tired or run down I really am, a barrier I never knew existed comes down and people are just, well, nicer to me. One Poll noted in their survey that many women received comments about looking “tired or ill” when they weren’t wearing makeup. My own mother consistently asks me if I’m ill when I’m not wearing makeup. It’s curious. Maybe looking ill is the opposite of looking like you’re having an orgasm? “She doesn’t look like she’s having an orgasm, she must be ill!” After wearing makeup for the best part of 15 years, it’s strange realising I don’t actually look anything like I thought I did. Like looking in the mirror when you’re really drunk and thinking, “Eh? That’s not what I look like. Is it? Shit, it is.” Except sober. As an Egyptian woman, I’ve always considered excess kohl to be something of a birthright. To this day, I feel totally naked without it – like Neo from The Matrix when he gets reborn into the real world and he’s all slimy and pale with no eyelashes or hair. When I was 15, I ran away to Alton Towers with my boyfriend, whose god-given name was Robbie Williams. It was the first full night we’d spent together as a couple, which was a big deal back then. And the thought of my eyes being naked in front of Robbie Williams was much more terrifying than the thought of my body being naked. I was one more painfully self-conscious teenage girl freshly out of braces and barely into contact lenses and I had all the confidence of a snail. So I took off my makeup, dramatically, like a striptease, in the mirror of the hotel room in front of Robbie Williams, seriously expecting to be dumped the next day on the Banana Boat. As it happened, I dumped him, after an adulterous trip to Center Parcs a few weeks later. And then submitted an intense body of poems to my school magazine about the inextricable link between taking my makeup off and realising I didn’t love my boyfriend. One poem included a line I felt was nothing short of profound at the time: “eyeliner is my weapon of sex.” And yes, it was published and sent to the whole school and all parents. I’ve relied on makeup all my life, in the way people rely on alcohol: to give me a confidence that I don’t naturally have. And I don’t know if it’s because of Alicia Keys, or Kim Kardashian (probably Uma Thurman) or the fact that I’m nearly 30 and a lot more confident than I used to be, but I just don’t think makeup is that cool anymore. Either it’s going out of fashion, or I am. Now, if I’m very made up at anything other than a red carpet event, I feel try-hard, uncalled for, and I feel the women wearing no makeup, or barely any, looking at me like I’ve tried too hard. Will 2017 be the year women give up makeup? Of course not, I'm about to put some on. I think it looks lovely on me and lovely on other people, especially men. But if Kim Kardashian is anything to go by, we might be seeing less of it, and that might be a positive thing.