Looking at the blog lately, I realize I’m not keeping very close to my mission statement. Ostensibly this is a blog about my thoughts about “navigating gender transition.” The last few posts have gotten a bit off the mark from that. I suppose it’s time to tap into my inner Juliet Jaques and dish on some of my ugly, awkward transition related details. Today’s topic… makeup.
It took me a long time to understand makeup.
Before I had my facial hair removed, makeup had the singular purpose of covering my disgusting beard shadow. In order to do that I applied a heavy foundation dolloped on with a virtual trowel. The end result was a face so overly caked up that it might belong to a figure in a wax museum. It looked and felt terribly unnatural, and I hated it.
I hated it so much that I didn’t really bother with makeup for years. Of course this meant I didn’t go out and socialize as a woman either. But I didn’t feel like I had another option. I refused to trowel on makeup like a drag queen just to go shopping or to have coffee with a friend. There was so much I needed to fix before I should even begin to worry about makeup, I told myself.
Then came the time for my real life transition and I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. I no longer had a beard to hide (yay!), but then what the heck was the purpose of makeup now? Why do women feel the need to make themselves up when they obviously “pass” as female without it? This may sound like I’m making a joke, but it was a serious problem I needed to face at that point. Before this point I needed makeup in order to have any chance to be seen as female in public. But now my need was much subtler.
And it was a real need, not simply a want. Women in my profession routinely wear makeup into the office – it’s a matter of everyday professional appearance. I may not need makeup at home, but the office was another matter. Mission number one for my workplace transition was to blend in, not to rebel against the conventions of beauty. I was going to be under enough of a microscope anyway. Others would find it easier to respect me if I could at least look like I knew what I was doing as a “normal” woman.
So at the age of… um… let’s just say at an age well beyond the norm for a woman, I found myself trying to learn how to apply makeup in an everyday manner. Much like any late-blooming girl I was doing this as a purely defensive act – I didn’t want to get laughed at for not knowing. And like any late-blooming girl I felt completely overwhelmed by the variety of products available, but embarrassed to ask for help.
I’ll skip past the gory details of how I learned to do things. But in essence I learned a few important lessons.
- Good skin equals less need for makeup.
- You don’t need a lot of different products for an everyday professional look.
- You don’t need to spend a fortune for an everyday professional look.
- Makeup looks best when it’s not obvious that you’re wearing it.
- It’s okay to be confused about the more elaborate (and optional in the everyday sense) styles of makeup – most other women are just as confused.
But there was one other lesson I learned that was more important than all of those. I learned that makeup, like any other aspect of a woman’s appearance, relies upon a large component of being yourself. On the surface that may sound like a contradiction but it’s not. For example I have a friend of similar age who spends quite a lot of time and money on her everyday makeup and she looks fabulous. If I did the same I would look weird. It doesn’t suit my personal style.
Some people may laugh about someone “being themselves” with makeup. After all, isn’t makeup about making yourself look better than you really do? Yes, but so is clothing and we don’t walk around naked all day.
Anyway I still have loads to learn about makeup… just like I still have loads to learn about myself and my personal style. But at its heart I discovered that the basic need for makeup is easily conquered by taking ownership of my own appearance. After that the options are truly endless, and the only person who knows which of those options I personally need is myself.