Is make-up a lie?

To powder or not to powder? The choice to wear or not to wear make-up is a personal one but yet highly debated in society and friendship groups. Claire Elizabeth Seah discusses her relationship to foundation, mascara and Co and whether there really is a right answer to the question: Should you wear make-up or not?

Make-up. A quick online search will provide you with a whole host of definitions of the word, but I am more interested in the results that appear when the verb ‘make up’ is entered. Though technically not synonymous in meaning, make up, is a homonym, whose definitions are strikingly linked to the opinions concerning make-up. Personally, I do not view this as a coincidence, believing that there is an unavoidable duality between words and perceptions. There are three definitions I would like to consider here. The first is to compensate for something; the second is inventing a lie or story; and the third is to create a whole from various parts. Other than to encourage readers to consider the psychological connections between words and opinions, I turn to these definitions because they are suitable in acting as bases for what I believe are three broad views on make-up, and for structuring my own relationship with cosmetics.

My own make-up journey began with the first definition. I was fifteen when I first started ‘using’ make-up. I had gone to an all-girls school where there were rather strict rules on dress code and one banned the use of make-up. Moreover, the women in my family only ever used make-up on special occasions, due to having been blessed with anti-ageing genes and “trouble-free” skin. This meant I had virtually no exposure to the world of make-up, with the exception of dance performances. Unfortunately, though I retained the anti-ageing gene, I missed out on the other. And so, while my sister could get away with just a splash of tap water after sports, I could not even prevent breakouts indoors. When I finally learned the art of make-up, it acted as my mask, and I turned to it because I wanted to cover up all my imperfections – to use it to compensate for my facial flaws. When I wore makeup I felt more confident and more beautiful. No one but myself would have to know that there was actually a nasty little volcano on my right cheek, or a smattering of zits across the base of my jaw. With just a handy little swab of concealer, the angry redness would be diffused into my skin tone.

“I asked myself if this were all just a deception, where tragically, the biggest “loser” in this charade would be myself”

Though I was temporarily satisfied, it was not long before I felt definition two creeping into my mind. I found there were days I could not peel my eyes off the mirror after taking off my make-up, especially on days when I was mid breakout and the little swarming armies were at their most furious. I would just stare into the mirror comparing my face “made-up” with “post-made-up”. The burning question that occupied my mind was, ‘Is this a lie?’ Hours were spent mulling over this question. I asked myself if this were all just a deception, where tragically, the biggest “loser” in this charade would be myself.

However, almost three years down the road, after much pondering and consideration, my perception has shifted significantly. It now fits that of definition three.  Nowadays, I approach make-up as an art form. In my view, it is not too dissimilar from painting. Like how one uses various tools to produce a complete work of art, I see make-up as the product of a combination of tools that I can use to better express myself. I no longer use it to compensate but to enhance. If I do decide to ‘do my eyes’ it is most likely because I woke up early that morning and wanted to try out a look I had been inspired to create, or because I wanted to match it with a slightly more eccentric outfit. If I swab on some lipstick, I might have felt bolder that morning or wanted to channel a certain vibe. Rather than feel like I am covering up, I actually feel like I am challenging my insecurities because I now use make-up to suit and satisfy myself, while remaining careless towards the response or judgement of others – make-up empowers ME.

“Make-up is a generally positive tool, as long as it can bring greater self-confidence while fostering both inner and outer beauty”

In a time where society cannot be separated from the superficial, in all its multi-tiered senses, I believe it is important for each individual to consider the relevance and significance of individuality and to cherish their uniqueness (or start learning to). I feel that make-up used in its many forms and for its many reasons, is a generally positive tool, as long as it can bring greater self-confidence while fostering both inner and outer beauty for its user. Unfortunately, people continue to face discrimination, intimidation, and coercion in relation to make-up. Personally, I can think of no reasonable grounds of justification for such actions and challenge everyone to consider their own beliefs on this issue. Every person, male or female, should be allowed to choose to use or not to use make-up, and should be able to make this choice freely. After all, you choose who you want to be and a swipe of red lipstick or blush won’t make you a new person.

[infobox title=’For those who are interested in further discussion and opinions on the issues covered in this article, some useful and relevant resources:‘]

‘You Look Disgusting’ – the main focus of this video is the justification behind the validity and purpose of letting others dictate our own make-up choices. 

‘The Power of Makeup’ – This is a ‘video trend’ involving YouTubers leaving one half of their face completely bare and making up the other half.

‘Naked Truths with K. L. Cao SecretLifeofaBioNerd/ Refinery29’ – another good and short video on why you might choose to wear make-up. 

‘Why I Don’t Wear Makeup’ – Finally, an extremely interesting article to read, which is based on the same premise of embracing individuality but takes the contrary approach to makeup is this one by Man Repeller.


Claire Elizabeth Seah

Image Credit: Claire Elizabeth Seah

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