Giving Up Makeup As A Fat Woman Taught Me Some Difficult Life Lessons

I saw them before they saw me. As I made my way across the street to the local Co-op, I watched as one of the boys elbowed a mate and pointed in my direction. There were six in total, all wearing uniform from the nearby high school. I felt exposed. My 275lb body is only ever exposed, to be fair, but today I had no armour. I was dressed simply in leggings, wellies and a heavy puffer coat. And I wasn’t wearing any makeup.
I heard the first "moo" when I made it to their side of the street. There was no way to avoid them. I walked a little bit faster, then heard some more "moos". The "moos" got a little louder, and a little louder still, until the teens were all giggling and mooing among themselves. I could still hear their laughter as I entered the shop. 
Most visibly fat people are accustomed to street harassment (and many other variations of harassment, really). Some folks might call us "fat c*nts" for taking up what they perceive to be too much space on the pavement. Others might "oink" at us from their cars as they pass us by. The fat person/farm animal comparison is apparently one of the most hilarious jokes of all time and not at all unoriginal. Others still might take things beyond verbal abuse and into something more physical. I've noticed certain patterns when it comes to the street harassment I personally receive, though. Mainly, that it’s a hell of a lot tamer and less frequent when I’ve put some effort into having a pretty face

My face is still fat when I've applied fire-engine-red lipstick or a layer of foundation. But it is fat in a more socially acceptable way.

Much like our clothing or hair can act as armour — aesthetic barriers that keep us feeling secure or safe in ourselves — so, too, can makeup. My face is still fat when I’ve applied fire-engine-red lipstick or a layer of foundation. But it is fat in a more socially acceptable way. It’s as if by putting in the time to doll myself up, I am given just a little bit more of a pass from those who would otherwise call me a "fat slob" or remark that I’ve "let myself go". To them, I am making an effort. I am adhering to ideals of what is considered attractive. At least a little bit. 
I recently gave up makeup for two weeks, in part because I have two small children and minimal time to apply the stuff, but also because I wanted to put my theory to the test. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t wrong. The amount of "fat-calling" (fat-phobic insults I received in public) undoubtedly rose.

Having given up makeup, the number of fat-calling insults I received in public rose.

My interaction with the teenagers outside Co-op came first. A couple of days later, I took my daughters to the park. As I chased them around the football field, a man walking in the vicinity shouted "fat cow" at me and kept on walking. A couple of days after that, I ventured out for a pint at a pub in town. While I was ordering a drink at the bar, a couple were making their way out. The woman called me a "fat slag" after bumping into my bum, and quickly hurried out with her partner. On a different day, a very muscular, seemingly very strong man who bumped into me coming out of a Japanese takeaway, shouted "Oy, get out of my way you fat c*unt" with such vitriol that I was genuinely afraid he might come at me. As for people who know me well — people who care about me — several simply asked if I was more tired than usual, or if I had been poorly, over the course of the two weeks. 
All of this could have happened just as easily if I had been wearing makeup, of course. Fat-phobia is pervasive like that. For some, spewing fat-phobic insults comes as naturally as breathing. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that the frequency with which I was receiving the comments was elevated. The term for fat people who take steps to be perceived as more acceptable (or somehow less grotesque) by the general masses is 'good fatty'. Sometimes, this might manifest as posting gym selfies to prove health or wellness. Sometimes, it means reassuring those around you that you want to lose weight. Other times, it’s adhering to what is considered sartorially trendy to avoid being perceived as undisciplined, ugly or sloppy. 
There’s a lot to be said for trying to unpack all this stuff – if not defy it entirely – as a means of taking a stand against fat-phobia. However, there’s also a lot to be said for preserving our mental health in the ways that we can, when we need to. If someone feels safer or less likely to be bullied when they rock a cat eye, it’s their right to do that. 
Perhaps more interesting than the reactions I got from dickheads on the street during the weeks I went makeup-free was my reaction to myself. I was surprised at how tremendously insecure I felt without my face on. It wasn’t that I felt uncertain of my 'beauty' or 'worth'. Rather, I felt like so much more of a target.

It's as if by putting in the time to doll myself up, I am given just a little bit more of a pass from those who would otherwise call me a 'fat slob' or remark that I've 'let myself go'.

There are days when I can be a target of cruelty and move past it or even find it in me to confront the perpetrators in ways that feel either productive or satisfying. There are also days when I just want to wear makeup. I could be working from home, seen by no one, but still fancy a play in my cosmetics cabinet. Like fashion, beauty can be an outlet for self-expression and fulfilment, and that’s something I want to make space for.
Realistically, though, there will also be days when I can’t handle so much backlash. I will always know that the fault is not with me but with our culture of fat hate. Still, I might need to spare myself. On such days, I probably won’t want to deal with the types of people who get off on insulting strangers. On such days, I imagine I’ll slap on a bit of blusher.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series