Like many women, I have a complicated relationship with makeup.
When I was very young, I was a tomboyish type, never dainty but instead playing in the mud. When I got to middle school, when many of my peers began to get interested in makeup, I held off from it, disinterested. Perhaps it was in part a reaction to my mom and sister, who absolutely loved the stuff. My mom didn’t know much about makeup until she got a part-time job behind the makeup counter at Walgreens; after going through the training for the position, she began to experiment more boldly herself, eventually becoming an Avon lady for our neighborhood.
In the early 1980s, my dad’s job got transferred from the Midwest to southeast Texas. My mom made the mistake of wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and gym shoes for her first trip to the grocery store, where she wandered the aisles feeling the bewilderment and scorn of the local townswomen who never ventured into public without a full face of makeup, big hair and high heels. There was no doubt about it: We were in the land of Southern Beauty Culture. My sister decided to enter the local Junior Miss contest just for fun…and again, she and my mom realized early on that in that part of the country, there is no such thing as beauty contest “just for fun.” It’s a serious, cut-throat business, just like we see today on Toddlers and Tiaras. Because my sister was brand new to the pageant circuit, none of the other contestant/mother pairs thought she had a chance of winning anything, but to their surprise, my sister won 3rd place. (A major coup considering that there was some sabotage: Someone stole her hot roller set backstage.)
From then on, my sister was bitten by the beauty bug, big time. As someone with natural artistic sensibility–not to mention that she is totally, naturally gorgeous–she discovered her passion in makeup. By the time I was in college, my sister had an established career as a makeup artist: first at Glamour Shots and, later, a fancy salon chain where she rose to be a manager, shape the product line, design the packaging and train all the other makeup artists. Today she is an esthetician and skin care consultant–which is great if you’re me because she always treats me to free facials, skin care and high-end products whenever I visit her. She never goes anywhere without a full face, and I mean the works: foundation, powder, multiple shadows, eyeliner, blush, highlighter, lipliner, lipstick, lipgloss and fake lashes…just to run to 7-11. She’s totally like those Texan grocery ladies my mom used to see. She’d fit right in with any of Bravo’s Housewives.
Anyway…back to the seventh-grade version of the Daily Chicana. Whereas my friends’ parents all banned them from wearing makeup, forcing them to bring their beauty stash to school and frantically fix themselves up in the bathroom before class started, my mom was on the opposite end of the spectrum: Encouraging me to wear some makeup. And not just encouraging, but really pushing me to do so. Every day, she would watch me get ready for school and sigh, “Come on, don’t you want to try a little mascara? A little blush? Wouldn’t it be fun?” My answer was always “no.” Instead of defending me, my sister would chime in and say, “Yeah, don’t you think you’d look a little better if you just put on some lipstick?” To this day, I like to tell people that I think I had the only Mexican mom who wanted her daughter to wear makeup. (Btw I also maintain that she is the only Mexican mom in history who ever charged her daughters rent.)
By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I started coming around to the idea and once I finally began, it was a full embrace of what I had once so easily rejected. I started using powder, eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush and lip gloss on a daily basis. It was pretty age-appropriate and looked natural. Many of my friends still had to hide their makeup from their parents–and often went overboard with the amount of color they splashed on their faces–but my mom and sister were so thrilled I was on the bandwagon, even if the makeup I was wearing was “light.”
Flash-forward to today. I like makeup and wear it on a daily basis, unless I’m extremely ill and staying home all day. I wear at least mascara and lipgloss even when I’m just taking my dog out for a walk. I had to have my appendix taken out two weeks ago, but before I went to the emergency room, you know I made time to apply tinted moisturizer, bronzer, blush, mascara and lipgloss. What can I say? A woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do.
I do wear a full face of makeup on the days that I teach or have meetings on campus. For me, “full” makeup means the following steps and products:
- Revlon Color Stay Foundation (my sister never thinks I wear enough and can’t believe I would let my freckles show through. “They’re blemishes!” she insists, but I like that they give my face character.)
- LORAC eye shadow primer
- Makeup HD concealer (according to my sister, now that I’m in my mid-30s, this is a “must”)
- Brow maintenance (tweezing and a quick brush into place)
- A blend of 2-3 eyeshadows, usually made by LORAC, MAC or NYX
- Maybelline Expert Eyes eyeliner (heated with a match, chola-style, for longer staying power)
- MAC Studio Fix powder
- Bobbi Brown blush
- MAC shimmer powder
- Lancome Définicils mascara (after lashes are curled)
- MAC or LORAC lipstick
- NYX lip gloss (these last two reapplied throughout the day)
This may sound like a lot, but believe it or not, I apply all this in 10 minutes and it’s easy for me (it certainly helps that my sister is a trained professional and taught me how to do all this). This regimen is now a part of how I present my professional self and what helps me feel confident when I walk into a room.
So back to the complication: While all this makeup seems like no big deal to me because I come from a line of women who are comfortable wearing it, I work in a profession that frowns upon beauty culture and fashion. Every year, around campus visit time (when academics are going on job interviews to get teaching positions), there is a thread in the Chronicle of Higher Ed Forums in which female applicants pose panicked questions about whether or not they should wear makeup to their job interviews. Without fail, women start complaining that makeup is a pointless form of oppression.
I often get the sense even more strongly from older female colleagues, most of whom wear little to no makeup and walking around in their flowy Chico’s clothes like modern-day Jesuses. To them, being a “serious academic” means that you are above such gender-normative traps and do not indulge in frivolous artificiality. As a result, because I’m young, pretty hip (at least I think I am), usually rockin’ big earrings and fabulous cocktail rings and wearing a face full o’makeup, I feel as if this is how such colleagues view me:
I’m not exaggerating here: one senior colleague with whom I’ve worked for years once turned to me and asked, “Now who are you? A grad student?” and when I told her, “No, I’m a tenure-track professor and your colleague,” the woman actually said, “I guess I didn’t recognize you in all that getup.” Now that’s one jealous beyotch! Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, mmmkay?
By contrast, when I hang out with my glamazon sister and her friends (nearly all of whom work, like her, in the some aspect of the beauty business), I feel like a supreme plain jane who put no effort into her looks. I’ll put on my makeup for a night out, thinking, “Wow, this looks good for tonight!” only to turn around and see my sister putting the finishing touches on her JLo/Salma Hayek/Kim Kardashian perfection. And I can’t help but feel a bit deflated:
So folks, just as I feel most of the time like I’m in the murky in-betweens of ethnicities and cultures, I’m in a in-betweenness in terms of make-up, too. And on that note, I’ll wish you a good weekend and leave you with the classic Chola Makeup Tutorial. Enjoy!