A press release has just popped into my inbox, highlighting new research about the amount of time women spend deciding what to wear. On average, we girls spend more than a year of our lives deliberating over our choice of clothing, with 17% claiming they dress with social media in mind, ie. not wanting to wear the same outfit twice in photos that might appear on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Apart from the fact that this press release – from a fashion and lifestyle club, no less – bears no relation to Cornwall whatsoever (an oft-bemoaned bugbear of mine), I find this sort of inanity utterly depressing.
Every so often, my daughter piles on the plastic jewellery, grabs a handbag and announces: “I’m going to work.” I’m not sure where she gets this from. It certainly isn’t me – especially not the tiara. She’s also become very keen on pretty dresses and princesses. It’s funny how, despite having a low-maintenance mum, she still picks up those feminine stereotypes. Apparently, it’s the same at nursery – a recent delivery of toys saw boys gravitate towards cars and girls towards dolls, with no encouragement.
OH finds this a little worrying, but I don’t mind too much – I think a little girliness is fine. I like seeing her in a pretty dress. After all, I dress her myself – it takes me back to playing with Sindy dolls.
But I confess I did find the #nomakeupselfie a little disturbing. I took part – I was nominated twice, and my colleague needed one for the West Briton Facebook page (you’ll also see it in this week’s print edition). It was all in a good cause, for the most part it was fun, and as a piece of social media fundraising with a tally somewhere in the region of £8 million, it was darned impressive.
But all those women posting pictures of themselves, followed by variations on the phrase: “Brace yourselves, here’s a photo of me with no make-up on, looking awful” – that got to me. Most of them looked fresh-faced and pretty, and had no need to apologise. So why did they? Are they really so worried?
I think some are. I know quite a few women who won’t leave the house without eyeliner or mascara, for whom this was a brave step. I’m just not one of them. It wasn’t my best photo – I took it late at night, in my cuddliest pyjamas. But no make-up? That’s me, 24/7.
I write this from the perspective of someone who rarely wears make-up, so I realise I am biased. I am also in my 40s, which means I have less need for concealer than I did 20 years ago, when my skin was prone to volcanic breakouts; and I have yet to encounter serious bags/wrinkles. For this I am truly grateful. Not wearing make-up means I can spend a bit longer in bed in the morning, as does having a low-maintenance haircut (during a recent visit, my mum was disappointed to discover I no longer own a hairdryer).
I suspect most of the women I meet each day do wear make-up. I’ll state clearly, right now, that it’s their choice, and their right. I hope I don’t judge them for it, or make assumptions about individuals, any more than they might think less of me because I don’t wear make-up.
I got into trouble with one friend on Facebook for suggesting that women have been conditioned to wear make-up to attract men. This was a comment made on a Saturday morning by iPhone, while looking after a 3-year-old, and therefore I didn’t spend ages crafting it. As a result, it might have come across as rather reductive. My mistake. I certainly don’t think of said friend, or other women, as a “vacuous tart” as she suggested.
But I do reserve the right to consider how society views the female appearance, and what pressure we feel to wear cosmetics. And I would still maintain that to look appealing and attract a mate is one of many reasons. Perhaps I think that because I started wearing make-up in my teens, when I was keen to impress friends – and boys; and I stopped wearing it when I found my life partner, as I no longer felt the need to keep up appearances. I hope he’s not disappointed – rather I hope he’s happy with the confident woman I’ve become. I certainly am, and I’d hate to be the “little girl” in the song Wives And Lovers, who needs to do her hair and fix her make-up, lest she lose her man. We’ve moved on from that – haven’t we?
If anything, I think there is a societal pressure to wear make-up. We see images in magazines and on the TV of women glammed up, and we are told this is what beautiful looks like. Those who don’t fit the mould, like super-intelligent Mary Beard, are mocked loudly by macho types on social media.
And as women, we often collude in this. It’s women, rather than men, who have occasionally made me feel that I could make more of my appearance if I wore make-up. I carry that criticism with me, in the same way that many other women do; the difference, in my view, is that they wear make-up to counter the fear, and I don’t.
I do have a make-up bag, but it’s minimal. I once heard a decluttering guru say that to keep make-up for longer than six months was unhygienic. That would be terrible value for money in my book. I wear it for special occasions – weddings, glitzy dinners – partly because it makes a nice change, but also because I know practically every other woman will do so, and I don’t want to be the frumpy one in the corner.
Of course, I do make some concessions to conformity. I shower every day. I shave my legs (sometimes). I wear underarm deodorant. I go to a nice hairdresser, and beg her not to make me look masculine (easily done when you combine short hair with less-than-elfish features). I spend some time choosing what to wear in a morning, but not a year of my life.
I don’t want to look like a cavewoman. But I do want to look like me. And to all of those women out there who posted fresh-faced images of themselves – you are beautiful. You just have to believe it.