The Effort of Not Wearing Makeup

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Makeup brushes are the worst. So. Much. Work.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with a skin condition called melasma and an eye disorder called ocular rosacea. What this amounts to is having brown patches of skin, and red bloodshot eyes. It’s fair to say that 2015 has not been a great year for my face.

The melasma has meant I’ve had to coat myself in serums and sunscreen everyday, leading to vampirically pale skin. The rosacea has also meant I’ve had to stop wearing makeup altogether. Of course I can still wear lipstick, but not if I want to kiss my girlfriend often, which I do (this is another femme dilemma for another time). I’ve gone from someone who used to wear smokey eyes at breakfast, to a blankly pale-faced person.

The whole thing has been quite unsettling. But it’s also taught me a few lessons about my relationship to beauty practices.

I pretty much took my eye makeup cues from this guy

I pretty much took my eye makeup cues from this guy

On an ordinary day, I used to love wearing lashings of mascara, glittery eye shadow and My-Chemical-Romance-levels of eyeliner. Yet I remember that I used to feel so uncomfortable not wearing makeup, that even if I was at home sick I’d get up and put foundation on. I’d also start every morning so mad at the ridiculously long time it would take to put on every beauty product. I would sit at parties and look at the people who weren’t wearing makeup and think “I wish I could do that!” as if showing my un-makeup-ed face was not even an option.

When I was confronted with the new necessarily-pale-faced situation, it was quite a shock. But far from being a relief, I felt more beholden than ever – this time to creams, eyedrops and tablets used to treat my conditions – and worse, without the pleasures that makeup used to bring.

I legitimately own one of these

I legitimately own one of these

With my newly neutral face, I barely recognised myself in the mirror. It seemed like different eyes were staring back at me. Not wanting to brave the world, I was reminded of this quote from Germaine Greer: “The women who dare not go outside without their fake eyelashes are in serious psychic trouble”. I braced myself, and for the next four months went with my new look.

People started to comment on how good my skin looked, how bright, how clear. I looked more sophisticated without makeup, they said. Little did they know I was still wearing multiple layers of various serums, and that any skin brightness had been achieved through months of fierce chemical creams. I was still caught up in the desire to “look good”, just now without any of the fun.

This is what you get when you search for

This is what you get when you search for “natural beauty”

After all, my “natural” make-up free look wasn’t without a great deal of effort. Search for “natural beauty” and I’ll bet you won’t find pictures of someone with brown patches of skin and red bloodshot eyes.

I didn’t feel better without my makeup routine, I felt sad. I had lost a part of my day when I got to “get ready” and activated my persona for the world. I looked at past photos of me and longed for my old face. When I next went to see my eye doctor, the nurse commented on my file, “No mascara? Who does that doctor think he is?! Men, they just don’t understand!”

Recently, I decided to try full makeup again, just for a day. But looking in the mirror I was once again confused by the face that I saw. It made me realise that faces are subject to habit. If you wear the same makeup everyday, it just becomes the baseline.

Pretty sure I couldn't do this to my face anymore, for example

Pretty sure I couldn’t do this to my face anymore, for example

Because my face was always an eye makeup-ed one, the day that changed meant I had to adjust to a new face. But more importantly, a face I could never change or play around with.

The whole series of events has made me think that makeup for me is neither a prison nor a completely empowering practice. There are definitely social expectations that keep me tied to the beauty machine, but there are also pleasures that beauty affords that I never new I’d miss until they were gone.

My doctor now says I can wear some makeup, sometimes. But I think I’m going to try a new face…maybe one that doesn’t fall into habits quite so easily.

Why Nipples are not the Test of Freedom

An image from the campaign

An image of a Free the Nipple campaign t-shirt

Nudity was a big part of my life growing up and combined with the weight of the body-shaming Western world I have developed a difficult attitude toward nakedness. While others seem to relish in nude adventures as a mark of rebellion, it merely brings me back to angst over being out of place as the child of a hippy mother. When I came across the “Free the Nipple” campaign that seems to be growing on social media, it brought back childhood memories. Free the Nipple emerged as a response to both laws across America which make it illegal for women to be topless, and rules enforced by a number of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which prevent nipple pics from being shared. A lot of celebrities and other folk seem to be jumping at the chance to rebel against the rules and flaunt as much flesh as possible.

A lot of statues in our house looked like this

A lot of statues in our house were inspired by this Venus

But before I get into Free the Nipple, what of my history of nudity? Well, I was raised by my single mother – an artist at the time – who was really into celebrating female bodies, particularly curvy ones. She was always sketching nudes, and given that I was a child who feared anything to do with “sport” or “the outdoors” I was always drawing and painting, and given ample opportunity to do life drawing with her. She always had strange art projects going. One particularly notable one involved painting vaginas in the bottom of a series of wooden boxes. To my eight year old horror, a rather conservative-seeming mother dropped off her daughter – a friend from school – while my mum was painting them. When my mum explained what she was doing, the other mother’s reaction was unexpected: “Oh!…Can you paint mine?”. Another time, my mum was really into ceramics and she made large statues of fat women, all breasts and thighs, in a nod to Venus of Willendorf. There were also flying breasts (a tribute to women who had them removed in cancer treatment), and most shockingly for me as a teen, our doorstep was graced with a giant ceramic vagina dentata and a penis covered in thorns. Yes, it’s fair to say that nudity was ubiquitous in my youth.

Our house was full of life drawings like this (image from kristinagaz.blogspot.com.au)

Our house was full of life drawings like this (image from kristinagaz.blogspot.com.au)

But, despite my mother’s best efforts at teaching me body-positivity, the shame of the outside world crept in. I constantly feared having friends over, after a series of parents found my mother’s art too provocative (not everyone wanted their vagina painted). And as my awkward teenage body began to form, I became more self-conscious of all things bodily, which was a terrible mismatch to my mother’s all-out embrace of the female form. I became resentful of the art she would create. In year 11 a friend showed me her own mother’s “secret shame” which was a room full of nude portraits that she had done. I felt embarrassed because all this time our house had been full of life drawings and I had always thought these were the least offensive (to be fair, they were tame compared to the enormous vagina with teeth on our front step). This, and many experiences like it, was all part of learning that in the “normal” world nudity is not really okay. As an adult, I had internalised the self-consciousness of the bodily so deep that I could barely be naked in front of myself, let alone partners and it’s been a slow process to become more comfortable with my flesh.

Another popular image from the campaign

Another popular image from the campaign

All of this means that I find it odd when people gush about walking around naked at home, because it’s just something I could never really get in to. But perhaps because of my experiences I can understand slightly more when people are so adamant to expose their nipples on social media as an act of freedom, because there sure is a lot of shame around nudity to be felt in the Western world (which we can see is actually enforced), and I myself have felt the weight of it. It’s a strange thing when you see that in advertising and popular culture sexiness can be ever-present, but nudity is barely allowed, unless filtered through the production values of Game of Thrones. But while I agree that social attitudes toward female bodies deserve critique, I don’t think we should be going and putting all of our political eggs in the show-your-boobs basket. As a form of rebellion I think it’s very limited, particularly because it can so readily be absorbed under a larger regime of “normalcy”, and end up perpetuating existing standards of beauty, race, size and so on.

Free the Nipple makes fashion

While the core group who started Free the Nipple originally aimed for some diversity of bodies in their images, their main campaign materials involve slim white bodies with perfectly round breasts. Celebrities have jumped at the chance to endorse #FreetheNipple, with models and pop stars alike wearing the t-shirts and getting on social media to flash some skin. Fashion houses have also responded, with “sheer” making a timely comeback. On the runways this season breasts have been pert but unobtrusive. When your tactics are so readily absorbed into the mainstream, so easily sexualised or used to sell products, you’ve got to wonder if you’re on the right track. It seems the nipple reform tactics of Free the Nipple haven’t quite smashed female body norms as hoped.

An image from FEMEN supporting free the nipple

An image from FEMEN supporting free the nipple

In addition, within a context where Muslim women are constantly being targeted for covering up too much, Free the Nipple’s investment in nudity as the marker of equality par excellence almost reads as an advertisement for a certain form of Western Imperialism. A notable and similarly problematic example can be seen with the antics of Ukrainian group FEMEN. Self-described as “fighting patriarchy in its three manifestations – sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion”, this raison d’être has amounted to topless protests out the front of mosques and other similar institutions, with flag-burnings and the use of all kinds of anti-Islam propaganda. A group called Muslim Women Against FEMEN has even formed in response, to call the group out on the racism implicit in their actions. You may be thinking, well Free the Nipple is obviously a different campaign to FEMEN. For one thing, it’s not targeting religious and cultural institutions per say. But it does similarly invest in the idea of revealing your body as a mark of freedom and rebellion. Here the whiteness of this cause is a related issue, as women of colour have historically been marked out culturally as always already more sexual and bodily – arguing that revealing the body is an act of liberation might not ring true for all women.

An image from the Free the Nipple documentary

An image from the Free the Nipple documentary

Perhaps one of the reasons that this kind of activity can so readily become problematic, is that it is very narrow in focus, in what it is attempting to change and how. Unfortunately sexism is a much bigger fish than absent nipples on Facebook, though this may be symptomatic of the larger issue and I’m definitely not saying that it’s okay (I once tried to post a link to an artist whose work celebrates breast diversity and Facebook wouldn’t let me, which I found deeply disturbing).

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Image from the Free the Nipple fundraiser

A whole heap of social change with regard to how we see gender in society is needed  – how we talk about and understand gender, how we raise and gender children, how we learn about sex and our bodies. Fundamentally what needs to be targeted are the expectations of gender that are enforced to keep people divided from each other in society. At best, posting nipple pictures online as part of this protest might raise awareness about sexism and double standards in society. At worst, it might promote a whole range of other problems and in fact reinforce beauty, body and cultural norms – issues which deserve more space and consideration than a picture of a model’s breasts on Instagram.

 

 

Worried about your body? Join the club.

I haven’t always had a super happy relationship with my body, but it’s only been the last little while that I’ve really started to care properly about my weight. And when I say properly I mean, get obsessive.

In high school I was too distracted with worries about my ubiquitous dark body hair and small bust to think much about weight. My genetic predisposition/height/beach lifestyle/youth meant that I ate crap-tonnes of chips and never really worried about my midsection. Plus my mum raised me with an extremely good ethic of “love who you are“, and never spoke about dieting or an obsession with losing weight herself. When I got to uni, I would prance around in teeny shorts, still revelling in my 19-year-old metabolism. But I remember the day I started caring. I was 21, and I looked in the mirror at my bum and though, “Oh, right. Shit.” That moment didn’t really alter my eating or exercising behaviour much, though I did start covering up more. Mostly all I got was an unhealthy dose of body-angst.

I’ve always been someone who rejects “diets” and been the first to tell my friends who are trying to lose weight that they are crazy and don’t actually need to change a thing. Now I’m 26 and I’m not sure what triggered it in the last month or two, but I started to pay attention to my body a lot more. I decided I would try and take control of my eating and exercising. As soon as I started “calorie counting” and swapping hot chocolates for tea, and pasta for mountain wraps, I became a lot more aware of just how starving some people (especially famous people) must actually be. I’ve been trying to eat “well” and exercise a significant amount, but it makes me wonder- heck those famous people must be eating air to stay as thin as they are. And damn, they must be cranky!

It turns out yes, Jennifer Aniston for one is rumoured to have eaten the same salad for her entire decade on Friends. Just one type of salad. For 10 years!

I’m not on a crazy one-salad diet, but in the last month or so I have changed my eating habits, lost some weight and toned up a bit. But I’ve also become fairly obsessed about food and how I look, and that sure seems like a bung trade-off. I think I was lucky to have escaped the weight game for so long. Though I agree that magazines perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes of bodies, I don’t think you can just “blame the media“. These kind of critiques flatten our understanding of how ideas of what is “normal” perpetuate in society, and I hate to say it, but I think most of the time it comes down to ourselves – we are effectively policing each other’s bodies, every day.

“Well, at least this debilitating illness is making me thinner….”

Example 1: You comment to someone, “oh, have you lost weight?”. They might immediately feel self-conscious that you have been silently judging their weight in the first place (“you thought I was fat before?!”) while simultaneously proud that they look thinner (and who knows, maybe they’ve lost weight because they have swine flu…)

Example 2: You complain to someone that you feel “so fat” and are trying to lose weight or are on a diet. This often comes up when you are buying/eating food together. The other person might immediately feel guilty for not doing the same act of abnegation.

Example 3: You judge the crap out of your own body. If you get in a judgey state of mind, there is no way that you are not judging everyone around you and comparing yourself to them. It’s a negative cycle with all roads leading to judge town, population: you.

Then of course, there are the overt examples of you or others blatantly commenting on weight or size, “you could exercise more”, “you are too skinny”, etc etc (or my personal favourite: I bought a packet of Oreos to a work meeting, and one of my colleagues told me I should “watch [my] arms”). If we simply blame the media, we miss the fact that we open up Vogue and condemn the lack of diverse bodies on the one hand, and then all secretly download calorie counting apps and don’t have a tim-tam when it comes to afternoon tea, on the other. We are promulgating the issue, just by the fact that we don’t acknowledge just how much we are really judging ourselves.

There’s obviously no simple remedy to this (except maybe watching a local Roller Derby game to remember that kicking-ass comes in all shapes and sizes). But perhaps, if we can’t stop judging ourselves – and by that standard others – maybe we can at least admit that we are. We need to think: when we are watching weight, is that all that we are really watching?

 

What’s with all the fat hate of late?

Tara Lynn- a so called "plus-sized model"- reminding us that on some women thighs are allowed to be bigger than ankles!

Currently on Australian television, there are at least two anti-fat (fatphobic?) shows screening. Sure, this kind of thing has been around for years. But amazingly, they seem to be reaching new lows on the encouraging body-hate front. Yes, this year’s Biggest Loser program (as if it isn’t bad enough that they make everyone’s stated aim to be a “loser”), is all about the “singles”. That is, those people who supposedly can’t get a date because of their weight (cos like, no one wants to date a fattie right?).

Since when did being weighty make you unloveable? It seems like a lot of the people on these shows have major self esteem problems, that actually probably go hand in hand with their weight gain due to some other reason. But rather than dealing with those kind of underlying factors, the aim of the game is to lose lose lose and be a normal skinny person – hooray! And rather than getting fit and stopping at some still full and voluptuous weight, these people are encouraged to keep going until they practically fade away. And I’m pretty sure that for most people, a “normal” weight range (whatever that means) is actually pretty vast. I downloaded an app the other day that told me I could literally put on another 20 kilos and still be a “healthy” weight.

It turns out these TV shows sure ain’t the only fat-hate going down at the moment. The recent Strong4life campaign being run in Georgia USA has been advertising a serious war on children’s weight. Apparently you can’t actually be a kid now if you’re fat- as one Strong4life tagline tells us, “being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.” This argument reminds me of the whole “we have to correct intersex conditions or those kids will be incessantly teased”. It seems to me like when we run campaigns that say what’s okay and what’s not okay, or perform surgeries to reinforce what is “normal”, well, actually that’s bullying- through defining what is normal in the first place.

Queer fat femme standing against weight-hate. She's pretty much the bestest femme ever. Check her out at queerfatfemme.com

Somewhat hearteningly, there has been a backlash against Strong4life called “Stand4kids” (not to be confused with the terrifying missionary group of the same name) which aims to target weight bigotry (you can join them on Facebook here).

When it comes down to fat-hating TV (and lets be honest, most of the film and television industry is pro-skinny), I think we have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask where the enjoyment for these shows comes from. Maybe it’s interesting to watch before and after journeys. Maybe it’s that we want to watch people struggling to exercise and eat well, just like we all do. Or, maybe it’s just that we want to watch some “freaks” get tortured and shamed for being “different”. Oh dear.

But the more I look around me, the more I notice curvy chicks oozing confidence and being proud of their bodies. And why shouldn’t they be. What I wouldn’t give for some cleavage…