Parenting Strategy #5: On Makeup
Continuing my theme of ‘Strategies for Parenting a Unique Kid’ (see #1-3 here and #4 here), allow me to share with you my thoughts on…
Parenting Strategy #5: Teach her to Enhance, not Hide
I remember an informal debate arising among my college friends about why we women wear makeup. An answer was, of course, was never conclusively reached, but I found the arguments intriguing. They mostly seemed to agree with the premise that makeup was a shallow but necessary evil, the sad product of our modern culture’s social pressures. (One or two might have gaily dissented, asserting that wearing makeup is just plain fun.) But most of the debate revolved around why we liberated women all get sucked into wearing it anyway.
Some friends said they felt pressure to cover up their natural face, because that’s just what we all do, and they’d look ‘weird’ in public without it. Others said that men were expecting it, making it hard to navigate the single scene otherwise, and they’d never wear makeup if only women were around. Yet others said we really only wear it to cattily impress other women, never men, and there would definitely still be pressure to cover up our natural faces on a women-only desert island.
I disagreed with the premise underneath these arguments. I didn’t think of makeup as a shallow, necessary evil. And while I certainly couldn’t speak for all women, I didn’t think society pressure in whatever guise need be the primary driver behind it.
Makeup doesn’t need to hide or change us (as the debate seemed to assume); rather, it can enhance and frame the beauty that’s already there. I wasn’t wearing makeup because I felt ugly; I was wearing it because I felt beautiful.
After all, you don’t frame a work of art because it’s ugly, you frame it because it’s beautiful – so beautiful that it’s worth a gorgeous setting. Like a diamond elevated in its precious-metal ring. Can a Van Gogh stand on its own? Sure, but why not surround it with an amazing frame? A great frame doesn’t obscure the artwork; rather, it announces, “Ta-daah! Isn’t this gorgeous?”
And that, I asserted, is what makeup does. The rouge added to our cheeks isn’t unnatural; it’s an enhancement of the color already there. A line on our eyelid follows the eyelash line that’s already there. A dash of contour enhances the shadow implied by our natural bone structure.
When done well, makeup (and clothing, and jewelry, and any other enhancement you may feel guilty for using) draws attention to the beauty that’s already there.
Part of makeup’s usefulness comes, counterintuitively, from making a face look more naturally like itself. It diminishes eye-catching distractions like acne or dark circles, deviations that show up when I get less sleep and health than my skin needs, so there’s no guilt covering them up. It’s okay to eliminate those distractions and let my natural face shine through.
Right. Easy. Made total sense.
I enjoyed a guiltless makeup routine for years.
Until… Addy came along.
Suddenly, with Addy, the debate exploded into my mind all over again; because now, this little human was watching me, and she had a face with a Thing on it – a face that I wanted her to proudly show the world in full unmodified beauty someday. Why on earth was I applying makeup in front of her? What pressure was I feeling? What message was I sending?
With three children ages three and younger, the dark circles under my eyes had taken on a touring-with-the-Stones intensity, and I covered them up daily. But… why? (Other than the legit concern that I might be questioned about escaping from a rehab facility if I didn’t.) Just because I have an imperfection, do I need to cover it up? Who am I trying to impress? How dare I use concealer in front of my marked daughter? Am I setting her up to shamefully conceal her own lovely imperfection someday?
I was tempted to tell her to never ever use makeup. I was tempted to tell her that she’s so perfect, she won’t ever need it. I was tempted to tell her that it’s only society’s pressure that makes us want to wear the stuff anyway, and she’s above that.
Because I was terrified that she’d be tempted to use it someday, to cover her own face up, and that fear stopped me in my tracks.
In time, and after many guilt-ridden concealer purchases, I came back home to my original conclusion. I am the artwork; my makeup is the frame that enhances my beauty. Do I need it to ‘be pretty’? Not at all. But am I worthy of a lovely frame? Absolutely. When sleeplessness steals the color from my eyes, I can defend my face by enhancing what’s there – showing again the beauty that’s really naturally mine.
I wanted to help Addy understand makeup’s proper role (and avoid the pop-culture discomfort many of us feel around it). I wanted her to understand that she, too, could use makeup to enhance the beauty that’s already naturally on her face, if she wanted to. And, of course, I wanted her to see the port wine stain as part of that beauty – worth framing, rather than obscuring.
So I started talking through my makeup routine in positive terms when she was around. When I applied blush: “I LOVE having pink cheeks.” Or eyeliner: “It’s fun to make my eyes a little more visible.” Or eyeshadow: “I like the color of my eyes, so I pick an eyeshadow that helps bring out the color.” Or the emotionally-loaded concealer: “I like the color of my skin, so I’m using this to make it more consistent.” When wiping off an excess of any of it: “Whoops, that was too much. I almost covered myself up! I don’t want to do that.”
She now seems to view makeup as a good thing, not as a cover-everything escape. She sometimes adds blush to her other cheek before an event, so that it matches her port wine stain cheek. She plays with eyeshadows, dusting her lids and feeling glamorous. And sometimes she just slathers ALL the colors onto her face at once, because, hey, why not? Face color is fun.
Of course, the teenage years are around the corner, and I can’t promise that she won’t suddenly decide to cover it all up one day. The thought still scares me.
But I hope she will have learned by then that that’s not what makeup is for. I hope that, when she does start wearing it, she uses it to enhance, and not hide, what’s already there – including the right side of her face.
Talk your child into a healthy relationship with makeup. She will encounter it one day, whether you like it or not; by then, she should see it as a tool to enhance her beauty: nothing more, and nothing less. Provide a running commentary of comfort and confidence when she’s watching you do your makeup routine, whatever it may be. She’ll grow to see it not as a necessary evil, or a product of a deranged popular culture, but rather as something that can frame the beauty that’s already there.
It took me a long time to come to peace with the concealer in my makeup bag. I felt like a hypocrite. But covering exhausted eyes or irritated skin doesn’t mean I’m changing who I am. My natural features are still there. I’m worthy of a good frame. Our daughters are, too.
Posted on January 14, 2020, in 3. Addy Stories & Experiences and tagged Birthmarks, Coping, Parenting, Perspective. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.
I knew a girl at summer camp back when I was 11 and didn’t know enough about rosacea or big red birthmarks. I assumed it was contagious but didn’t really care. (Holding hands and sharing an ice cream cone or drinking out of the same cola can’t possibly spread a birthmark. That’s what my mom told me)
I love this! Very charming. Thank you so much for sharing! I think it’s a totally natural thing to wonder about contagion, and I’m surprised Addy doesn’t get more kid-questions to that effect! :))
Thank you for this lovely reply Jennica! Apologies it’s taken me just short of a year to write back! Since I left that comment I’ve actually stopped wearing makeup to cover up my birthmark.
Several factors came into this: not going out as much over the last two years was a big one and funnily enough, wearing a face covering has helped as it provides an option to not stand out in public places. Additionally, I had four laser treatments quite close together at a new hospital last year which significantly lightened my PWS and gave me a confidence boost.
I also started an internship with a fashion designer in February this year. Before my interview, I read an article in which she had said that she thought the most attractive thing a person can be is themselves. This gave me the push I needed to meet her without makeup on – despite very nearly ducking out. Cycling to work and working with a small number of like-minded creative people who totally accepted me without any explanation has turned out to be the perfect environment to grow in this way.
I intended to just have one place where I would go without makeup but interestingly, when I put makeup on again it felt really wrong. It suddenly felt like I had lost a load of confidence where before makeup had helped me grow my confidence. (I love the way you put it that the majority of people wear makeup to be noticed more whereas some people wear it as a break from being noticed).
I realised that being confident with my birthmark was exercising some muscle in me – maybe courage – and deciding not to use that new muscle made me feel weak.
The first social gathering I went to without makeup was scary, but powerful. I was putting two fingers up at the social expectations of women and ideals of a ‘norm’. I found it so strange that nobody was asking me about it. If I was cool with it, it seemed everyone else was too. I had spent so long believing that I had something to fear, that people wouldn’t like me because of it. Here people were, chatting to me and enjoying my company and all I had to be was myself!
I genuinely think my birthmark is really cool and I love what it looks like. I reread your piece on makeup here and it resonated for different reasons than before. When I stopped covering my birthmark, I felt like a bit of an alien and was completely desexualised by this so I didn’t bother using any make up to enhance my features. Slowly I have started to decide for myself what is beautiful and ‘sexy’ and have felt confident wearing makeup like mascara to enhance what is already there.
I am so happy to be writing this to you – I didn’t think was possible but it’s funny how when you make the impossible possible, the sky’s your limit! I have developed something like unselfconsciousness about my appearance (double whammy considering that in modern society, men are taught to see and women taught to be seen) so that strangely enough, not wearing makeup to cover up feels normal and feelings of vulnerability have gotten less as the experience of being confident and exercising courage has made me stronger.
And I am still making art! I actually did a self-portrait, it was so refreshing and empowering to recontextualise my face into a creative and celebratory background rather than the medical framework my birthmark is usually viewed within.
I hope you’re all well!
This is such a wonderful exploration of makeup and its role in young girl’s and women’s lives. The ‘management and treatment’ sections of so many port wine stain/SW web pages talk about makeup as having the ‘desired effect’ when it comes to covering up ‘unsightly’ birthmarks. I’m in disbelief when I still read this kind of thing on medical and professional pages. The fact that young people with birthmarks continue to be encouraged to use makeup as a treatment, rather than awareness and understanding being spread in in schools for instance, flummoxes me.
I started wearing makeup at the beginning of high school and still do over ten years later. Wearing it for the first time gave me a high that became addictive in an unhealthy way. Suddenly I was invisible: no one was staring, strangers weren’t commenting on my appearance but treating me normally and being friendly. Yet, I felt constantly on edge, afraid that someone would find me out. Makeup coated my birthmark in embarrassment and shame. I was dependent on the stuff for a while but I have been weaning myself off it for several years, no longer afraid and determined to get to a place of unconditional courage and good humour surrounding the subject so that I am invincible without makeup.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear your own concerns around makeup as I have worried at the thought of still covering my birthmark when I myself am a mother and not having the courage to be an example to my children. Then again, I don’t want to give an entirely bad review of something that has allowed me so much freedom (or what feels like freedom). It has felt empowering to be able to choose where and with whom I don’t wear makeup. I have been able to relax into social situations where I don’t want to be under the pathologising gaze of the general public, having to constantly come back with witty remarks so that my interaction with a stranger doesn’t stop dead after I inform them of what’s on my face and am left with their commiserations.
Although skin deep and only a one small idiosyncrasy of a person, I have found that birthmark’s can be magnified to consume a person’s entire identity. I was having a chat with my dad the other day who was remembering the way he and my mum would forget I even had a birthmark. I was such a boisterous and bubbly kid but there were people who, instead of seeing who I was, saw only the mark on my face. He said he would be in disbelief at the way someone could bear pull me out of myself to satisfy their own concern or curiosity. I continue to appreciate this platform as one of the only spaces I have found to explore the complexities of this issue with such empathy and intelligence.
MILLIE!!!!! I can’t tell you how excited we are to hear from you — we think of you so often!
Thank you SO much for your encouraging words here. Your similarity to Addy (both in your PWS shapes and your bubbly childhood temperaments:) gives me great hope. I so deeply appreciate your eloquence here. Yes, yes, and yes.
We parents want our children to be comfortable in their own skin, and hope they never cover up their features. But I always knew that I’d never stop Addy if she wanted to cover her port wine stain up… Because while makeup for the rest of us might bring extra glamour & notice, makeup could bring Addy (and you) a break *from* being noticed. I can’t withhold that relief. Something the rest of us take for granted, while we strive to stand out!
I absolutely love your perspective on it here. It’s so valuable! From being something that could bring you normalcy, to an unhealthy addiction with fear of being discovered… what a spectrum.
I hope you always feel free to share your insights and wisdom here — we love to hear it! And I also hope you keep making art… 🙂
Pingback: Parenting Strategy #9: Be Honest About the Error | What Happened To Her Face?
Pingback: Parenting Strategy #6: Find Likeness | What Happened To Her Face?