Merrily hopping from one live music concert to the next, I biked toward my friend’s apartment to end my Friday night on a mellow note. While I swerved past drunk pedestrians and even passing a street corner blocked off by fire trucks and an ambulance (godspeed to those people), I overheard a group of five or six men calling out to two women across the street.
The one man closest to the women, walking in the opposite direction, yelled “You! Too much makeup!”
And then he carried on with his debauchery as though he didn’t say anything. In fact, he laughed with his friends who didn’t seem to have a problem.
Since I was behind the two women as I witnessed this whole thing, I couldn’t see the women’s facial expressions. But I could tell that they were offended by his statement from their body language facing each other, as if to say, “What the hell did he say to us?”
When I biked past the two women, I took a glance at their faces. As a make-up noob who can only work with eyeliner, mascara, and eyebrow pencils, I thought their make-up was on point and fabulous. Contoured cheeks highlighting their cheekbones, multiple shades of dark eyeshadow bringing out their eyes, black liquid eyeliner so sharp that it could have cut that asshole–they got it down to a T.
When I biked past the two women, I shouted to them, “Your makeup looks good!”
I could have added an extra statement of affirmation, like “Screw that guy who said otherwise,” but I think my compliment was enough for their mood to change a bit for the better as they thanked me. I could have yelled at the man who made the comment, but reasoning with drunk men is nearly impossible.
Regardless of the reason for putting on makeup, street harassment* hurts the self-esteem and well being of women, especially when we’re always judged and shaped by the opinions of others based on our physical appearances. Why can’t women be free to beautify themselves as they wish without the negative comments by men (or women)? Let them flaunt their beauty, makeup or none.
*I consider this scenario as street harassment since those women received unwanted attention and comments from a male stranger.
Come to think of it, I recall being checked by my close friends who apply makeup more often than I do. One time, on a cloudy Thursday afternoon in December, we were getting ready to go on a hike near our neighborhood. My friend came out of her room, eyebrows filled in a dark brown shade and red lipstick accentuating the curves of her lips. She exclaimed, “I just did my makeup!”
Without much thought, I said, “Wait, why are you wearing so much makeup? We’re just going on a hike.”
“I just wanna look good!” She answered.
Another close friend, who usually puts more effort in makeup than I do, chimed in her defense: “Yeah, let her wear makeup if she wants!”
It was a very small moment in our day, but it took me long enough to realize that the criticism toward women and makeup has been internalized in me throughout my life. I’m the kind of person who never wears makeup when doing physical activities since I don’t like the idea of my makeup smearing all over my face. I started playing with makeup in middle school, and reserved it for special occasions because I always thought that natural, naked beauty on a normal day is best. I thought that I didn’t need makeup to feel good about myself, and I felt compelled to resist the social standards that often praise and glorify cosmetic beauty for women.
My close friends, who dedicate so much time to perfect the liquid eyeliner in one stroke after already applying a layer of eyeshadow, reminded me that not all women follow my outlook on when and how makeup should be applied. And that should be respected. We all build self-confidence in our own ways; we shape our ideas of beauty based on standards influenced and instilled in our own cultures, families, friends, and media.
Criticizing someone for wearing makeup simply because I didn’t think it fit the occasion is quite disrespectful. Though my friend forgave me after I felt the need to apologize for what I said before, that check was necessary to remind me that I still have so much to deconstruct and learn about the ways I navigate beauty standards in my life and among my interactions with people.
If it weren’t for that moment, I would have taken a look at those two women, agreed with the man who thought they wore too much makeup, and carried on with my night. But who knows, maybe those women didn’t take it as personally as I assumed. On the flip side, maybe they felt more insecure than before about their physical appearance because a random stranger thought it was “too much” in his male gaze.
Women must look out for each other because we don’t have anyone but ourselves to change the conversation around beauty standards and street harassment. I’m blessed to be surrounded by strong-willed women who I call my friends, who affirm each other, and encourage each other to do what makes us look good and feel good.