Friday, December 7, 2007

Make-up, beauty ideals, and artificiality

From Creamy Nougat Lair
This post got me to thinking about why I don't wear make-up very often, why I don't own any dresses anymore, and why I'm not really a girlie girl, so to speak.
When I was growing up, and going through puberty (you know, getting hairy legs and pits and stuff), my mother refused to let me shave my legs, wouldn't show me how to do that, and as a result, I went around with strips of skin missing off my shins and ankles (no disposable razors in our house at that time, I don't even know if they made them back in the mid to late 60's, we had those double edge blades that were a bitch to adjust so you didn't carve yourself up like a Thanksgiving turkey). I wasn't allowed to wear nylons (and my allowance wasn't enough to let me buy them on my own very often), I had to wear anklets with my shoes. Then I got a summer job, and found out I didn't have to wear nylons and a girdle, there were such things as pantyhose (I think I was one of the first girls in junior high to wear pantyhose).
Back then, we had a dress code in school where girls had to wear dresses, no jeans, no slacks, nope, nope, nope. I hated wearing dresses, the style back then was short hemlines and I had the thunder thighs from hell (doing a lot of roller skating can do that to ya). The dress code didn't change until my sophomore year in high school when a bunch of us who weren't the in-crowd cheerleader types got together and all decided to wear slacks to school one day. We were rounded up and sent to the gym for a talking-to by the principal, who told us we had to go home and change before we could come back. We refused, and were sent to see the school superintendent. He told us that there was a right way and a wrong way to get the dress code changed and we had done it the wrong way (of course, we had been asking the principal to change the dress code for most of the year and he was refusing). Anyway, the superintendent told us to get the student council to vote on it and ok it, then the principal had to ok it, then the school board had to ok it. Well, I can tell you that enough pressure was brought to bear that everyone in the so-called chain of command ok'd it, but with restrictions. Slacks were ok, but only if the fabric was what you could make a dress/skirt out of (trying to keep jeans out). So, jeans were in, a couple of girls had denim dresses or skirts. Then, since they couldn't keep jeans out, they couldn't have any holes in them. Fine, I patched my holey jeans with cute embroidered appliques: flowers, butterflies, mushrooms, whatever caught my fancy (can you tell I was a rebel?). And I hardly ever wore a dress to school again.
As far as make-up goes, I think it's usually mothers who teach their daughters how to apply make-up, but I wouldn't know for sure, since my mother had no intentions of letting me wear it, let alone teaching me how to apply it. I didn't learn anything about it until after I graduated and was out on my own, and then it was sorta kinda maybe learning on my own, reading those fashion mags that told you how to look a certain way (I learned the most about it though, from a stripper roommate I had, now she knew how to apply make-up to make the most of a girl's looks). And doing my nails? Well, let's just say that I was a nail-biter until I was in my 40's and ended up having what was left of my top teeth pulled and got a denture (was too hard to bite my nails with that damned thing). I actually have fingernails now, a decent length, but I don't do nail polish that often, and I absolutely abhor the fake nails (too long and I can't do anything when I have them, and if I get them done for a special occasion, they come off immediately after, so I can't justify the money it costs to have them for a few hours). But it's funny about the make-up, most of the time I just couldn't be bothered to wear it (I was always in a hurry to go somewhere). So even though I didn't wear it often, even after I learned to apply it, I still had plenty of guys who wanted to go out with me and thought I was hot without it. Go figure.
I'll never forget the one time I went with Roxie (my stripper roommate) to the club where she danced (I usually went with her to keep guys from hitting on her, she told them she had to take me home because I didn't drive). Now, when I went with Roxie to the club, I always wore jeans and t-shirts, no make-up, and my hair was clean, but not styled (wash it, towel-dry it, comb it and go was my motto). One night, Roxie said I should wear a skirt/blouse/jacket combo I had bought (no clue why I bought it, didn't really have anywhere to wear it), she would do my hair and make-up for me. So I said what the hell, why not. Well, when we got to the club, we were sitting at the bar, where I normally sat, and the bartender called Roxie over and wanted to know who the new chick with her was. When she told him it was me, he said no way, that I had never looked that good. Then he came and talked to me and was shocked as hell to find out it was really me after all. And this has happened to me every time I put on make-up. It changes how I look, and I don't like that. I don't even look like me to me, if you know what I mean. I feel artificial and fake, like I'm misrepresenting who I am.
I don't own any dresses anymore, I've always had a hard time finding ones that fit properly. If a dress has a waist, it hits me too high (my waist is right at my bellybutton, and dress waists want to hit me a couple of inches above that, uncomfortable as hell). If it's an empire waist, there isn't enough room in the top for my rack of doom (love that phrase, btw). And since I have veinous insufficiency and my legs swell (it went undiagnosed/mis-diagnosed for 8 years), I have severe discoloration on my lower calves (it's all red, and yucky, scaly skin that no lotion will get rid of). So to wear a dress, it either has to be a floor-length one, or I have to wear tights (and I have trouble finding pantyhose to fit [that don't bag and sag, anyway] 60" hips, 32" inseam, and thighs that are 30" around, so tights are probably even harder to find).
Add to all of this the fact that I've always been more comfortable out climbing trees, riding horses, working on cars, building stuff than I have been cooking and baking and whatever else it is that women are supposed to like, I guess I'm not a typical woman (if there even is such a creature). Don't get me wrong, I like to sew (making clothes and fabric dolls is fun), and I was into counted cross stitch and embroidery for a while, and I like doing crafty stuff, but I also like running a hammer and screwdriver and circular saw/jigsaw. When I was working on cars, even though it was out of necessity (cheaper to fix it myself than pay a garage to do it), I enjoyed it. I don't know if I liked the fact that I could do something that a lot of women couldn't/wouldn't do, that I was as good at it as a lot of men (and knew more than some of them, my dad was a mechanic and taught me a lot), or if it was just satisfaction that I didn't have to have a man around to do those things for me. I don't do car repairs now, ever since they started putting computers in cars, there isn't a hell of a lot you can do to fix one unless you have those expensive diagnostic machines that tell you what's probably wrong. I'll let my mechanic do the work for me.
I don't think I've ever fit the cultural ideal of beauty, I've never been a Marilyn Monroe/Liz Taylor type, or a Twiggy, and I'm too old now to even think of trying to be what is considered conventionally beautiful by the media and Hollyweird. Not that I really care, either. I've grown fond of who I am and how I look, it's me, all me, the real me. What you see is what you get, pretty much. And I'm satisfied with that.


  1. Face it, Vesta: you were/are a tomboy. ;) And there ain't nuthin' wrong with that!

    I can totally understand what you mean when you say it makes you feel fake. It's not like that for me, but having known a lot of women like you (my own grandmother is a lot like you in what you describe), I can definitely "get it."

    I USED to be the type that never went anywhere without hair done and makeup on. Then REAL LIFE hit (with kids! bonus!). And I realized that as much as I would LIKE to look nice every day, it just isn't possible EVERY day. I look around me when I take my kids to school and I wonder just what hour these women got up to make themselves look like they do. (Hair done, total warpaint on, clothes I'd wear to go out with The Hub in, etc. To TAKE THEIR KIDS TO SCHOOL!) As much as I'd love to wave a magic wand and make myself look like that, I ain't got the time, and I've got much better things to do with what little time I DO have.

    While I don't actually see anything WRONG with going all-out every day (although I think it's a little insane to do it when you're just taking your kids to school), it's just not me. And the same goes for the women I see who are like you: they've got on clean clothes and THEY are clean, but that's about it. Nothing wrong with that, either.


  2. You are beautiful! I saw your other pictures from you previous posts that you got from your mother and you've been gorgeous all your life.

    Your confidence is addictive. You're one of my favorite blogs ;)

  3. Great post, Vesta!

    I've always been a girly girl, started wearing make-up in junior high, and didn't even get comfortable enough to go out without it until my late 20s. (Yes, a good portion of that is thanks to oppressive beauty standards -- not to mention bad skin I was hypersensitive about -- but I'm also the kind of person who really enjoys getting dressed up, doing my hair and make-up, etc., which a lot of women aren't.)

    My (much fatter) sister is a total tomboy by nature, and she's always caught hell for it -- especially since the comparison to skinnier, girlier Kate was inevitable. I can remember my mom yelling at her, "Won't you AT LEAST please carry a purse?" I actually love purses and have a million of them, but my sister can't stand them and thinks that's why god invented pockets. I can't imagine how much worse all my body image issues would be if purses, dresses, and make-up had felt unnatural to me, on top of everything else.

    And then you have the people who insist that the only reason a fat woman wouldn't wear make-up or a skirt is because she has such low self-esteem, on accounta teh fat, she just "doesn't bother." Meanwhile, skinny girls who eschew girly accoutrements are just cute and "natural." Grrrrr.

    All of which is a long way of saying, kudos to you for knowing who you are and being yourself. It ain't easy.

  4. When I first dated my partner I told him that I never really learned to wear makeup, so he (on the advice of another friend) suggested I go to the Chanel Counter at Nordstroms. So off I trooped.

    My makeover person was a gay man who insisted that NO ONE should leave the house without concealer. He put on about 3 layers to my face (2 of which were wholly unnecessary). Still, it was fun, and I will put on make-up more regularly now just for fun. Although, I'm a pretty low-maintenance gal otherwise.

  5. LOVE your story about the dress code! You are such a rebel!

    Have to admit I still wear my makeup most days, but not because I'm a girly girl. I mostly wear it because it keeps me from looking like a corpse and scaring the neighborhood children!

    I have absolutely no natural color to my skin...pale & dead looking. Nothing cute or natural about my face sans makeup. But I do keep my makeup simple & to a minimum.

  6. NP - yeah, tomboy pretty much sums me up :)
    michelle - thanks, it took me quite a while to get that confident, and I still have my days...but it gets easier as I get older.
    Kate - it does get easier to be who you are as you get older and to say to hell with what others think. I think mainly because you realize that it's time wasted caring what strangers think when they aren't going to be a part of your life for more than a few minutes.
    spins - I went in to a store (can't remember which one) once and had a make-over done, and it was pretty cool, but I really didn't want to take the time it took to keep up with it. I'm very low-maintenance, that's what DH likes about me (I can be ready to go out in less than hour if he decides that's what he wants to do on the spur of the moment).
    kat - I've always been that way (a rebel), I'll have to tell you sometime about what happened with me and the preacher at the Lutheran school I attended for 5th and 6th grade. Needless to say, he didn't find it funny (but I sure did). I'm surprised I didn't get suspended over that one. And I know what you mean about the pale skin, before I got the discoloration on my lower legs from them swelling all the time, I never wore shorts because my legs were always fish-belly white (a friend of mine teased me that they would glow in the dark), and I don't get tan until I've had a couple of sunburns, and that I can live without. I wore make-up when I got dressed up for my son's wedding (but it was minimal) and I did the same for my wedding, so it's not that I won't do it at all, it's just that most of the time, I can't be bothered with (my mother would say it's because I'm lazy.....I'm not lazy, just prioritizing....).


Comment moderation is enabled. If you're a troll and trying to slander someone or just being generally an asshat, your comment probably won't see the light of day. If you want to have a reasonable, civil discussion, welcome, and feel free to comment.
To the troll at IP: ,, your comments will not be published, nor will they be read. They will be automatically deleted. Get a life, sad sack.