Celebs like Rihanna are rarely seen without makeup—are you the same way? (Photo: Jeddah Beauty Blog)
I started wearing makeup on a daily basis during my freshman year of high school and never looked back. Though I’ve modified my techniques over the years—learning not to cake on foundation, for instance—the habit has remained entrenched in my morning routine (and my psyche). In fact, I don’t really feel put together unless I’m wearing at least a touch of eyeliner and some strategically placed concealer.
The New York Times recently posted an interesting op-ed debate on whether makeup is good or bad for a woman’s self-esteem, and now I find that I’m asking myself those same questions: Does makeup empower women by giving us the ability to enhance our appearance, or do we wear it because we’re trying to mask underlying insecurities?
Makeup advocates say that it can have mood-boosting and downright transformative powers, citing red lipstick as a classic example. On the side of the semi-detractors, there’s Phoebe Baker Hyde, who recently penned a book about how she spent a year not wearing makeup. Hyde argues that makeup is harmful when women feel obligated to wear it in order to gain professional status and meet social norms. She frames women’s relationship with makeup as a form of dependency: “What if she’d lose her job, her partner’s affections, or public credibility as sane—not to mention her teenage daughter’s respect—without it?”
Hyde certainly has a point. I’ve written before about a study showing that women who wear makeup are perceived as more competent and likable, a finding that could be linked to workplace success. I agree with Hyde that, in an ideal world, makeup should never be a barometer for a women’s professionalism or abilities.
Yet in my own experience—granted, I’m a 25-year-old still getting my career legs under me—makeup has always seemed more like a way to gain an instant confidence boost. I choose to wear it because I feel good knowing I’ve invested in my self-presentation. Plus, I like that makeup can also function as an outlet for creativity (as someone who’s performed countless experiments with smoky-eyed looks can attest), which is the very opposite of the kind of forced ritual Hyde describes.
Why do you choose to wear (or skip) makeup, and do you think it impacts your self-esteem?