Sunday, 21 June 2009


When I ran into Leyla on my way to the post office, I almost passed her by by. If she hadn't called out to me, in fact, I don't know if I would have recognized her. "Are you okay?" I asked, trying not to stare. She'd missed a week's worth of classes.

Leyla held a crumpled tissue in her hand. "I have cold," she sniffed, blotting her reddened nose.

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said automatically, trying to figure out what was different about her. True, she looked ill. Apart from her reddened nose, her jet-black hair, usually glossy and well-groomed, was pulled back into a sloppy ponytail. But something was very strange: she looked, if anything, better than usual. I couldn't figure this out.

And then it struck me: Leyla wasn't wearing any make-up. Her skin, usually buried under a layer of thick foundation, was pallid but luminescent. Her eyelashes, usually caked with mascara, were bare, but sufficiently black and thick. Even the line of her mouth was different without the bright red lipstick she invariably -- and lavishly -- wore.

The next week, Leyla's cold was better and she was back to class in full war paint. I'm an English teacher, not a fashion consultant, but I had all I could do not to take Leyla aside and beg her to throw out her make up. And I remembered Consuela.

Consuela and I worked in the same typing pool at an insurance company. Though she was only a few years older than I, Consuela already had two small children and for some reason, I had the idea that she was vastly older. One morning, she showed up for work harried and flustered; her babysitter hadn't shown up and she'd had a real struggle getting to work on time. "I look awful!" she muttered. "I'm really sorry."

Everyone in the office was stunned: Consuela didn't look awful; she looked like a million bucks. We all told her this.

"No way!" she wailed, both hands flying to her face. "I didn't have any time to do my make-up!"

And the minute she said it, we saw that this was true. For once, we could see Consuela's face without the usual clown's mask of thick make up she slathered on. We'd had no idea how pretty she was.

All morning long, Consuela cowered in shame, convinced that her lack of make up made her hideous. "Someone else go instead, please!" she begged when someone called and asked her to deliver a file. "No way can I go, looking like this!" Nothing we said made the slightest bit of difference.

The next day she showed up to work as usual, her face a smooth pink mask, her mouth a pouting, waxy coral, her eyelids a slick, shocking aqua under half-inch long false eyelashes. She looked ten years older and cheap as all get out, but she was happy and full of confidence, secure in the knowledge that she looked her best.

I don't wear much make up. I look so genuinely ridiculous in it that this is no hardship. But while I can smile and shake my head at women like Leyla and Consuela, I too have my masks -- comfort zone accoutrements that make me feel better about myself. And whether these are my facial expression -- self deprecatory grimace or serene Queen-of-England smile -- or the pair of trousers I'm convinced knock ten pounds off me, sometimes it's good to step back and take a good hard look.

I'm practicing my new smile right now. And I've got some trousers to take to The Salvation Army.


Bish Denham said...

I don't wear make-up at all. It's too time consuming. There are always other things I'd rather be doing. But you're right about other kinds of masks...we all have them, many different kinds, that we whip out and put on for different situations/people.

debra said...

Years ago, I had a pair of khaki pants that I wore constantly. My husband hated them, and when they finally ripped, he stood up and cheered. Another layer removed.

A Paperback Writer said...

"...wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door -- who is it for?"
Of course I'm going to quote Beatles to you!

I'm your English teacher, not your fashion consultant. Yep, I've used that line for 2 decades. Even when I was young and thin, my styles never matched those of the kids I taught.

When I was young, I wore eyeshadow, mascara, and blush every day. (I loathe foundation and only wear it when I'm onstage.) Nowdays, I wear enough mascara to darken my eyelashes and chapstick because I talk all day long and I hate dry lips. I simply don't care enough to bother with the rest anymore (not that I ever did the Tammy Faye Baker look). Make up will not change me from a plump, middle-aged woman to a young, thin, sexy girl, so why bother?
I own more make up than most people will in a lifetime, though. It's all cheap stuff, much of it donated. I use it on kids for school plays. Seriously, I own enough to fill two fishing tackle boxes and have a couple of bags of extra supplies. I wonder if Consuela ever had that much.....

Funny story.

Charlie said...

It's a shame, how many girls and women hide their natural beauty with expensive (or worse, cheap) gunk. Their faces truly look like masks fired in a kiln. Even worse, they have no idea how to apply it correctly, so all we see is a big mess.

I think the only person who looks good in make-up is Johnny Depp as Jack Black--I crack up every time I look at him.

Robin said...

My kids make fun of me sitting in front of a zillion makeup products. I have to convince them that it takes a lot of effort to look like you don't try.

Lily Cate said...

Yeah, I'm a mascara and chapstick gal, too. Maybe some powder, if it's a big event, like my wedding, or something.

Bish Denham said...

Mary, check out my blog, tomorrow, 6/22, I'me passing on The Kreativ Blogger Award to you!

laura said...

Let me just say that the world isn't ready for me, without my make-up (ie: things are bad enough as it is). I wish I was a woman who could just wash my face, breeze out the door, and look great, but I can't. However, I use Bare Escentuals (not really that expensive as my little containers last forever!), and I put on only enough to cover the screaming reminders of teenage acne and over exposure to the sun!
I owe it to society!

Charles Gramlich said...

That's kind of sad that their confidence is based on that.

Robert the Skeptic said...

My opinion from the male perspective (having three daughters and a wife), I believe most women look good with "some" makeup. The trick is to apply it artfully well to enhance the face, not the makeup. Done well, you hardly know it's been applied at all.

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- A mask is a mask, isn't it? It doesn't matter whether it's the stuff you spread on your face or a facade you hide behind. One thing nice about not wearing make up is that it's cheaper and nowhere near as messy.

Debra -- My husband had a hideous pair of floral blue jeans that I was happy to see the back of. He feels that way about a certain beaded top of mine. I'm not ready to peel off that layer yet...

APW -- That Eleanor Rigby line is one of my favorites.

When I was younger, I definitely made more of an effort. I'm not sure when I realized that I might as well save myself some time and money, but when one of those make up counter women pointed out that I didn't really look much better in foundation, I knew I'd come to the end of an era. Theater make up is wonderful stuff and I don't think it even counts as make up -- it's just for entertainment and fun.

Charlie -- I've got a few friends who look fantastic in make up -- it really suits them and without it, they don't look like themselves. But I hate it that so many people wear it because it's the done thing. They don't even question whether they look good in it or not.

Johnny Depp looks great in kohl, though. It's like it was made for him.

Robin -- You should see the stuff my eldest daughter travels with: she needed a WHOLE SUITCASE for her cosmetics when we went to France. And you're right: I could hardly even tell she was wearing it!

Lily -- I use powder from time to time, but mascara is reserved for my anniversary or graduations. I've still got a gummy thing of it in some drawer somewhere...

Bish -- Yay, thank you! I'll be there to collect it!

Laura -- I can wash my face and just breeze out the door with the best of them -- but I don't look great. But then I could slave away over my hair, clothes, and make up and just look passable, so I figure I'll save myself the time, energy and money. I do feel a little sorry for the world I come into contact with, but most of it has gotten over the shock by now...

Charles -- It is! And that they don't recognize how good they look without their make up. Just think of all the money they could save!

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- Some women have the knack of putting on make up well and looking great in it. But there are a lot of women who look better without make up and it's a shame that they still feel that not wearing it isn't an option. Leyla and Consuela are pretty much from the Tammy Lee Baker school of make up application.

adrienne said...

That's why I made my daughter wait to wear makeup - once you start, it's too easy to believe you need it.
It is also hard to take other people's advice - good or bad, those changes make you feel as though you don't look like yourself anymore.

A Paperback Writer said...

Hey, Mary,
Can you make a plea to your readers to visit my blog and check out the post for June 23 to vote online to help out the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh? It's all explained in my post, so I won't bother in this comment, but the library's short-listed for lottery funding and needs all the votes it can get. The place is dear to my heart. Please ask your followers to lend a click and vote.

Jacqui said...

I am terrible at make up. Plus, I always forget it exists. I'm always already at the event when I think, "Oh, she looks nice in that lipstick. Hey! Lipstick! I should have worn some!"

Kit said...

I haven't used make-up for years now, except for a dash of mascara if I'm dressing up for something. The trouble is that is so infrequent that the mascara tends to dry up in between times. I used to do a mean multicoloured eyeshadow blending back in the early eighties, though! Now I just plaster a smile to my face - great insight about the variety of masks we use.

kara said...

i struggle with make up. in the corporate world, some of it is necessary. but i'm also extraordinarily lazy. you see where this is going.

Mary Witzl said...

Adrienne -- I could not agree more! My stepmother once sent our two daughters some play make-up kits. I'm afraid I disposed of them swiftly: our girls were six and three years old, and NO WAY was I going to actively encourage the inevitable.

APW -- I was away from my blog for two days and I missed this. When I'm in Edinburgh, I'll stop in at the poetry library. I should be there in a couple of weeks' time. I'm so sorry I missed this -- it wasn't due to lack of interest.

Jacqui -- I do that all the time too! The lipsticks I have tend to be nasty old things that are all gummy and sticky and have lost their flavor. I aspire to be the fashionable type who can deftly apply just enough lipstick and always has it in her bag. But I seem to be incapable of this. I reckon it's a lost cause.

Kit -- Keeping make-up replenished is an expensive and time-consuming occupation. I'm past it now, but for years I did the quick mascara and lipstick thing too. Now if I'm desperate I just ask my daughters to do me up. They're handy for that sort of thing.

Kara -- I'm lazy too. In fact, on those occasions when my vanity and laziness vie for top position, laziness wins every single time. When I was a nubile young thing, vanity just managed to tip the scales.

Chris Eldin said...

LOVE this post!
I don't wear much make-up either, but I can understand how some people would feel more comfortable and confident (though this makes me sad). It's all about being brainwashed to think a certain 'look' defines beauty...

Phil said...

It's been a while, Mary - sorry.

It never ceases to amaze me how you can turn the apparently humdrum into interesting reading.



Kappa no He said...

I slather on the sunblock. I look like a clown until it dries. Is the sun there as harsh as the sun in Japan?

Mary Witzl said...

Chris -- Some women really do look great in make-up. I look like a jack-ass in it, so I resent being expected to wear it. Like you, I can't accept the notion that there is only one way to become beautiful. Especially when that way fills the coffers of the cosmetics companies.

Phil -- You are really kind. Thank you. I still wish you had a blog!

Kappa -- The sun where we live is so strong it really staggers belief. In August, I'm told it gets as high as 45 (over 105), but the humidity isn't as high as it is in Japan. I use job lots of sunscreen myself in lieu of foundation.

Nandini said...

Never felt comfortable in make up, even when I did wear it. Don't wear it anymore. Once in a great while I use my favorite lipgloss and a dusting of foundation. The advantage of being a stay at home mom/writer, hey?

But we all have our go-to look that we feel most comfortable in, it's true. I feel dressed up if my hair is under control (who has the time to blow dry?) and I have on pretty handmade earrings (love unusual accessories), even if I'm in jeans (usually).

Chocolatesa said...

I hardly wear makeup any more either, and I'm only 25. Even when I used to it was just mascara, cover-up on my acne, and some lip gloss. I never learned how to apply eyeshadow, eyeliner, lipstick or foundation. Maybe it was cause I was an only child (a loner at that) and my mother never wore any? Like others, laziness and not wanting to spend much money on it prevent me from wearing it more often. I have a mascara and a cover-up stick in my purse that are both about a year old, that I use for special occasions. I still have to replace my lip gloss.

Mary Witzl said...

Nandini -- (I've only just realized how behind I am in posting this reply!)

Don't you go near make-up with a photograph like that: how could you dare to make yourself look any better than you already do?

Like you, I LOVE my dangly, exotic earrings and have a whole box of them. Sadly, I almost never wear them: I have a pair of gold earrings that I can put in and forget about and laziness almost always prevails. But on special occasions, those wild and crazy earrings go on display.

Chocolotesa -- (What a great blog name you've got!)

I grew up with two sisters, but I never learned how to put on mascara or eyeliner; my mother didn't know how and neither did they. Like you, I carry old stuff around in my purse. God knows why: I think that if I ever meet Barack Obama or the Queen of England, say, I'll be able to whip out my crusted-over mascara wand or by now bacteria-infested eyeliner, somehow manage to apply them correctly, and transform myself into a fine-looking woman. As if.

Chocolatesa said...

Thanks :) Hehe!