Is makeup really damaging our self-esteem?

How can we promote positive body image?

Written by Kate Ryan


Just an average day and an average chat with your friends. Gathered around a table during lunch, talking about every random thing under the sun and on our minds. Someone mentions clothes, another mentions makeup. “I don’t wear makeup!”

You look at the person who spoke, slightly stung, not because of what she’s said but more because of how she said it. Dismissive and condescending as if the idea disgusts her. You ask her what’s wrong with make-up; she shakes her head, cockily smiling, replies “I wouldn't wear it.” And finishes with a nice, judgmental stare. I don’t know if anyone else has encountered that but I have, numerous times from numerous people.

Ever since I started wearing makeup, I've been scared and extremely self-conscious about whether it looks obvious. I've spent longer making sure there’s no orange marks and questioning my mum about whether it looks natural than actually applying it. I’m certainly not implying that there’s anything wrong with wearing makeup or not wearing makeup.

I’m saying that there’s something wrong with some girl’s attitudes towards girls who do. The problem is, you can’t stand in a school hallway without hearing someone mention how some poor girl must be an attention-seeker or completely in love with herself because she put a little bit too much eyeliner on or maybe because her lipstick is a shade to bright. Yet on the few occasions you dared to brace the bare face, you overhear girls commenting on your imperfections, further proving the dilemma for girls. You can’t seem to please anyone. In recent times, the influence of makeup on teenage body image has been greatly discussed and debated. Many believe it can have negative impacts on our self-esteem to constantly wear makeup; it encourages the idea that being your natural self isn't good enough, furthermore making girls feel like they’re ugly unless they wear it.

Of course, these are valid points, many girls experience days where they’re too afraid to leave the house unless they have makeup. It has become a security blanket for many girls who worry themselves to death over the idea of someone seeing and commenting on their blemishes and imperfections, and I can honestly say sometimes I’m that girl too.

Others argue that makeup has become tools to appeal the male standards of female beauty and by wearing it you’re letting them objectify you. Yes, we girls tend to try and look nice for boys, especially ones we like, but we mostly try to look nice for ourselves. I enjoy putting on makeup, experimenting with different shades and messing around, even if I’m not going anywhere. It’s fun, it can be creative and it can be social too. One of the best things about going to a disco with friends is dressing up and applying our makeup together, all crowding around one mirror, asking each other’s opinions and laughing if we mess up.

Yet what’s wrong with wanting to control our image, isn't that empowering? In our teenage lives, so many things seem to be out of our control and in the hands of adults. One thing we can control is whether we wear make-up, what colour lipstick we wear, or if we wear eyeliner today? It’s a small thing and probably won’t make much difference to anyone else, but it does to us. Sometimes there’s nothing better than wearing a new shade of eye shadow and thinking, “Yeah, that doesn't look too bad.” We can blame the media’s obsession with beauty and the pressure to appeal to the opposite sex for making us wear makeup, which apparently destroys our body image, but what can really hurt our body image is not makeup, but other people’s attitudes towards whatever our choice may be about our image.

The worst thing is that our fellow girls who are likely the ones going through the same stuff, tend to be the ones criticizing. Whether you’re for or against makeup, you should respect a person’s choice about how they present themselves. Puberty and adolescence is one of the most awkward and stressful times in a person’s life, and sometimes a bit of foundation can go a long way in making ourselves feel comfortable.

If you don’t need makeup to feel beautiful and confident, and if you can walk down the halls not caring what others think, fair play to you. That’s brilliant and I desperately wish I could too. Just don’t judge the girls who don’t have that luxury of that self-assurance. We shouldn't point out people’s imperfections either, because that’s what we’re exactly pointing out imperfections, and everyone has those. If we want to promote a positive body image the first thing to do is to stop criticizing each other, because it’s people who hurt each other’s self esteem. How much hurt can a bottle of foundation actually do to our body image, in comparison to our peer’s remarks?

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