Put on Your War Paint

Op-Ed Piece

It took me a long time to embrace femininity in the Western cultural sense. In some respects, I still haven’t accepted it. But there is one thing that I do which is both expected and looked down on all at the same time (ah, double standards!) and that is makeup. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and so this post is going to talk about the social norms and standards of body modification (as seen through a “Michelle” filter).

Makeup 2.jpg

Bias: My mother refrains from makeup because it irritates her skin something skin to an allergic reaction. I mention this only to show that I really didn’t have any emphasis placed on makeup growing up. I lived on a farm, and the chickens, cats, dogs, rabbits and equipment don’t care if you have on eye shadow. That being said, there came a time when the social pressures reached my small town and viola-a standard was created.

I was in fifth grade (so, age 11) and I wore shorts to school. Not the kind that would send teachers into a panic, but the kind that said “these were definitely overalls without the straps”. Two of the girls I saw in the library were looking at me and I went over to say hello. Before I knew it I head “Eww! You’re so hairy!” and my cheeks grew red, tears welled up and I ran home and shaved for the first time. That was also the last time I wore shorts to school. My legs were covered in nicks and cuts the next day, but I could (if I wanted to) roll my pant legs up and show everyone that I was a mature 11 year old with smooth legs.

It was also about that time that I found myself unable to say the word legs-because I was deeply aware of the latent sexuality of the female body. I couldn’t walk out of a room when men were present without being awkward, for fear that my legs were being watched. This had nothing to do with the people who were there, but everything to do with the way my brain took notice of the hypersexualization of my gender.

It was my freshman year in high school when I began to experiment with color combinations and a proto contouring (this was early 2000s, such a thing didn’t exist yet). I remember putting on navy blue lipstick and going to class, being gauked at and made fun of all day by people I didn’t even know. I remember hearing words like “goth girl has to go cut in the bathroom” and “she’s so weird”. I just happened to really like the color. And I never wore it again.

I created a certain “style” that I used each and every day. Black eyeliner, bright colored eye shadow, chap stick (because I thought bright colors on my lips would be a source of more ridicule). I have bright blue eyes (usually) and the colors compensate very nicely. One day though, I wore red eye shadow (something akin to Gerard Way’s look~check out My Chemical Romance). And I was asked multiple times if I was crying-because that’s how my look was interpreted. So out went the red.

Anyway, these stories are important, because they illustrate one very vital point: Makeup is a demand for women in America, up until you actually express yourself. Body modification is acceptable (and expected) up until you decide how to do it (or not).

I spent most of my college career not really wearing makeup. It wasn’t worth the chance of harassment. I mean, honestly, I was trying to learn, not pick up dates. And the more I studied, the more I understood the truth that I’ve been rediscovering for years:

Bodily autonomy is a good and sacred thing. And no, I don’t just mean reproductive rights. I mean choosing what happens to your body because you want it to (or don’t want it to)-not because of or for someone else but for your own self. I’ve been wearing various quantities of makeup for a few months now. I want to figure out my signature look before law school so I have time to perfect it and wear it that way forever. But why?

Because for me, it isn’t a cultural expectation. It’s the way I show my culture that I chose what happens to my own body.

I wear dark eyeliner (and lots of it) because I like it. I wear bright lipstick (of various shades) because it makes me feel awesome. I contour my face because I want to. I modify my body with piercings and (soon) tattoos and shaving (or not) and hair cuts because I choose to do those things for myself. I’m not “looking pretty” for other people. I’m not “getting dolled up” for other people. I’m looking the way I look because I like to look at myself. I like to catch my reflection in the windows of the buildings on campus and know that I am unstoppable.

Are there days when I look at myself and go “ehh, better not”? Sure. I’m not caught up in the way I look as the only facet of my identity that matters. But what I am is convinced that I am beautiful for myself and myself only.

For the record, I tell people that I’m “searching for the right shade of war paint” while I experiment with color combinations. Why? Because that’s how I see it.

I’m not decorating my face with dainty lines to look airbrushed and model-like. I’m looking to make a statement. I guess I am at war. At war with an oppressive culture. At war with those who would see women denied basic rights. At war with a justice system that’s institutionally racist and sexist and anti-religious equality. The first thing you see is my face-and if it doesn’t match how fierce I am on the inside, you won’t know to be afraid of my passion.

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5 thoughts on “Put on Your War Paint

  1. I love this Michelle! Coincidentally, I wore my pj’s all day yesterday and the pants are 3/4 length. My children objected to my unusually hairy legs. I explained to them that it’s normal for both women and men to have hair all over their bodies. Then I asked my nine year old if he would be embarrassed if I walked around with hairy legs and arm pits in public. At first he said no, then sheepishly he said yes.
    Some people are more open to deviance from the norm than others.
    Another thing that comes to mind is having both my parents tell me my red lipstick was too bright to go for a nature walk while I was vacationing in Nova Scotia this summer. I was shocked and irritated that they would express their opinion as I’m a grown woman and can make those decisions without any input from them or anyone. I let them both know that I wasn’t pleased with their opinion but more so with the fact that they felt it necessary to share it with me.
    Happy Thursday to you 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing!
      I think there’s still a lot of debate about it, because it’s still a new thing for women to have so much say. I have this discussion with my husband all the time about eyebrows and unnecessary pain. I will always side with the “if it makes you feel good about yourself-do it” side because too often we let little things get to us and crush us.
      So you wear that bright red and pajamas (maybe even together!) 🙂

      1. Hahaha, wouldn’t that be a sight! Maybe I should rock the red lipstick in my pj’s. I agree, if it makes you feel good, do it.

  2. Dear Michelle: I am a retired lawyer (AV rated). I tell you this because I would like you, if you are considering becoming a lawyer, to please re-think having piercings and tattoos. It is possible that you might regret these decisions during your career. Our motto in law school (Ivy) was: “Keep your options open.” Please consider this. Thank you and best of luck! TS

    1. Hello! Thanks for commenting!
      In response to your concern, first I’d like to thank you. I know you’re coming from a great place. But let me put some (potential) worries to bed. I only pierce my ears-because I’ve never really liked anything else. And while I do have a quantifiable amount on there (9 total), I can just as easily take them out for a time.
      And tattoos? I used to work in the medical field-so I always designed things that could be hidden under scrubs-and I think that idea will keep even in dress clothes.
      Sensible rebel, I think!
      But I definitely respect your thoughts-as having confirmation of some concerns is ALWAYS worth having!

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