When I took my makeup off tonight, I was appalled when I saw my makeup removal cloth. It can’t be healthy to have that much shit on my skin for hours, no matter how “natural” or “organic” the ingredients may be. My first thought after viewing the cloth was “throw out all your makeup right now and never wear it again.” But I’ve done that before, and I don’t want to go back.
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I lived my “fuck the kyriarchy” years in my twenties. Those were five or six years of shaving my head, but not my legs; of wearing makeup only when I got paid to do so; and of rarely, if ever, wearing “feminine” clothing. They were also the years of living with an abusive partner and of retreating into social phobia for the second time in my life. But eventually, I left that partner, and I started to force myself out of the social phobia.
Around that time, I started working in a nightclub where presenting as femme made a lot more money and caused most of the patrons to treat me better. I fell into the routine of wearing makeup again. As the months went by, I started to choose being late for a shift over not wearing makeup to a shift. The makeup had become my armor — again.
~ ~ ~
Makeup was first my armor when I was a teen. On the days I put it on and turned the glam factor up to ten, I was able to go to school and hold my head up. I could make eye contact and talk to people I didn’t know (which was all but a handful of people). My unconventional makeup (and to be fair, hair and clothing) choices became not just a conversation starter, a bridge between me and everyone else, but also an olive branch — both to myself and to others.
Extending the branch to myself meant giving myself permission to feel at ease with myself, which I never otherwise felt. Extending the branch to others meant that I stopped dressing in layers of black and walking around with my hair covering my face, head down to view only the ground, completely avoiding eye contact, and never speaking to anyone, thus giving off an attitude of being unapproachable. Instead, the makeup (and hair and clothing) provided conversation starters (luckily for me it was all positive), which somehow indicated that I was approachable.
Dressing like a drag queen is the only way I was able to make even the tiniest social gesture. I was 14.
~ ~ ~
I’m now thirty-five. Makeup is still my armor. I put it on as I would put up a wall between myself and everyone else. It insulates me against social pressure, envelopes me with the protections of femme. It allows me the security that comes with covering myself up. Two synonyms for “protect” are “cover up” and “give refuge.” Makeup provides both a covering up of the skin as well as a shielding (another synonym for “protect”) of the wearer from psycho-social pressures.
But makeup isn’t just my protection, my armor. It’s also my first act of offense, my weaponry.
~ ~ ~
To the left is how I usually appear these days. Heavy brows, heavy eyeliner, dark red lips, but none of it done in a seductive way. It’s all stark lines of color against my impossibly pale white skin. Combined with the rest of my usual look (dark hair, dark clothes — mostly black with a little rainbow thrown in here and there, “statement” jewelry — usually more than one piece at a time because boo to fashion rules, and enormous black stompy boots), the first impression that I visually give is often one of confrontation.
I strike first. “Do not fuck with me.” My gimpy steps stomp with surety that implies my dominance over any given situation. I do not tread softly. I do not go gently into the night, good or not. I rage, I burn, I rave.1
I have not been harassed on the street (or online, for that matter) in years. When I move, I move with intention. When I use my words, I aim to “fork lightning.”
With my weapons on display, my vulnerability is minimized. And with my armor up, even the minimization can be concealed.
~ ~ ~
My armor hides the crip/disabled features of my face. The right side of my face (viewer’s left) has experienced some kind of muscle or nerve damage. The eyebrow, eye, cheek, and side of the mouth all dip lower than their counterparts on the opposite side of the face. When my eyes are open, the right eyelid droops over the eye; this is concealed by applying thin eyeliner to this eye and thicker eyeliner to the opposite eye. My armor protects me from ugly law-type harassment.
My armor hides the signs of aging on my face — signs that have only really become apparent in the past year. The thinning of the shape of my eyebrows, the lightening of my eyebrow hair. Around my eyes are ruddy aging spots, fine lines, and permanent dark circles. The hair growing on my my upper lip and under my chin is darkening and growing in thicker. My skin tone, though still obscenely pale, has grown unpredictably blotchy. But most of all, I just look tired. Which is fitting, because I am. But to show the signs of aging and tiredness is to open one’s self to ridicule and speculation. My armor protects me from those judgements.
~ ~ ~
Vulnerability has its time and place, but I think this is neither that time, nor that place. May this arsenal somehow protect me and all of those who choose to arm themselves like me: fierce and fabulous.