Performing Beauty (Or Not)

My complicated relationship to the feminine.

  • What I want to tell her is that no action is required of her to be worthy of love—mine or anyone else’s. What I want to tell her is that what she sees in the mirror is not a problem to be solved.
    Photo courtesy of Adobestock / Digital Skilleti

They catch my eye as I walk into the drugstore: the little bottles of polish, vials of liquid, and tubes filled with cream.

But it is with shame that I navigated this vast pharmacopoeia that promises to solve the problem of being and aging, human woman–because this is the problem I have so consistently failed to solve.

When I was growing up, my mother didn’t shave or wear much makeup. She grudgingly taught me how to use a razor when I entered junior high and we both realized it was expected of me.

On the few occasions when she did wear makeup, she offered an explanation that sounded more like an excuse. Her lips and lashes, she said, were losing their color as she aged. I think now about her lips, made rosy by gloss, and I feel a tug, a sense that I am supposed to be doing something about the fact that I am growing older. Some action seems to be required.

I have tried to perform what seemed to be expected of me. I have bought the things in the drugstore that promised to help solve my problems. I have put on lipstick and worn high heels. I have painted my nails and had my eyebrows waxed. I have tried, and failed, to fight stubborn belly fat.

When my daughter was born six years ago, I discovered that I had no time, energy, or interest to cling to the last few tethers holding me to conventional womanhood–things like wearing makeup and shaving. Six years on, I can see what is left after letting go of all these things. I do not know what to call it, but I know that feel deeply, irrevocably myself.

2/26/2020 1:23:38 PM

I realize this is an old article, but i just wanted to mention to the author or anyone else interested, that there is a really good old book (1980s) on this exact subject, "Femininity" by Susan Brownmiller.

1/21/2019 10:53:30 AM

Extremely good perspective. And I truly understand that idea. However, going from child to adult and finding a partner is not an easy road and one needs all the advantages possible sometimes to get to that point. In the animal world, strength or plumage or a song or some other attribute is used to secure your place and a mate. Since the beginning of humankind "makeup", paints, powders, hairstuff, "jewelery," etc. has been used by women and men, to make up for their lack of more impressive physical attributes or for decoration and excitement and beauty. It is not unnatural for people, especially females to want to enhance their appearance, so their prospective mate will take the time to get to know them. It's human nature to choose that which has a certain appeal to you. First impressions. Getting in the door. The catch is getting the right look for what you are wanting to convey. Everyone has slightly different tastes and a different idea of their ideal mate or what they would accept or settle for. It's just the way it is. Beauty is a marvelous thing to gaze upon, whether it is a woman or a sunset or sunrise, a mountain stream or waterfall, a crystal blue sky or a Mardi Gras parade down in Rio. It's attractive. It brings you into its world. One has to be wise in finding their life partner and also has to have the means to lure them into her "trap." If little girls are taught to love and respect themselves, along with acceptable moral and ethical behavior, makeup shouldn't cause a problem.

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