Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well…almost nothing.
I hate click-bait titles, so for those of you who care to hear what did happen, I hope you’ll read on.
This is just my own personal experience. And I’m aware that others may have had varying experiences in their lives with different individuals. But my experience is mainly based on the experiment of not wearing makeup around those who aren’t already familiar with me.
And trust me, this is not a full commentary on the social aspect of how women are perceived in society.
Continuing on…I work in the public eye. Every day, I’m in front of and happily interacting with thousands of people from all over the world. As an airline crew member, I sometimes feel as though the aircraft aisle is like a theater stage: when it’s time to be at work, I need to be 100 percent “on.”
As someone who usually wears a full face of makeup when I’m at work (or weddings, which I did happen to attend during this time), I thought it might be a fun social experiment to see what would happen, if anything, should I stop wearing makeup over the course of a month and a half.
I remember being young and my mom telling me she “had to at least put on some makeup” before she went to the grocery store. She even did this for the gym. This puzzled me. What’s the difference?
Perhaps it was to thwart any judgmental comments about looking “tired,” or simply any unwanted comments about appearance, as women have been known to experience. I think this mindset was also incredibly common for her generation and older generations.
Nonetheless, I aged and began thinking similarly: “What if I run into someone I know and I’m not looking my best?” Or, “Don’t I look a lot worse without any makeup on?”
There’s nothing like full transparency. Here’s an excerpt from my journal as I began this experiment:
“I was talking to Jay [my husband] about it today and how liberating it is; about the social/cultural connotations. How damaging I think it’s been to my self-identity and self-esteem. You could either say makeup has been damaging or it’s just been a reflection of my otherwise poor self-esteem and uncertainty about myself when I was younger.
I guess that’s the thing though, I don’t feel like I’ve had any uncertainty about myself in a long time—I just recently had a moment in life where I felt like I was perhaps misrepresenting myself through makeup while at work.”
The feeling of misrepresentation may have also come from a recent conversation with a friend who mentioned that she struggles with making new friends with women who always wear full faces of makeup; she feels as if they don’t have the same outdoors-y interests or are afraid to get “dirty.” I frequently wear zero makeup when I’m not at work, but the conversation made me wonder—was I being perceived as a completely different person than what I actually am?
I didn’t want to invite unwanted attention because of some real or imagined preconceived notion about what kind of woman I was. I wanted to feel more “authentic,” especially since I work in a stereotypical female career, wearing a dress and heels every day.
I’m happy to be a woman, and feel that women have a natural intuition and strength that often gets overlooked, specifically in our Western society. We aren’t valued for our feminine qualities, rather, we’re valued for whatever masculine qualities we may possess. I hope this idea changes over time. I like to think I can contribute to this change in my small way and be a positive role model for younger girls.
Despite now embracing my femininity, I’ve always been a proud tomboy. I liked playing outside, climbing trees, getting dirty, and playing sports. I played in different drumlines my entire youth and was frequently drawn to male-dominated activities. I enjoyed learning how to be assertive, speak in front of others, and take charge.
I started to wonder, by wearing makeup while at work, was I being taken less seriously than I could be? Flight attendants don’t just make announcements and provide you beverages and snacks. It’s unfortunately all too common to have medical events, security issues, and passenger disruptions that require someone in this role to act quick, keep their head, and assume control.
I also went down a YouTube wormhole of videos with women explaining their reasons for quitting makeup. Many of them discussed how they are now treated versus how they used to be treated, how it made them feel better about themselves, how they felt more genuine in their own skin, and how the health of their skin improved.
All compelling arguments, too. “This sounds great,” I thought. “Let’s give it a try!”
I was hoping for less unwanted physical attention, more emphasis on how I carried myself and performed my job duties, and perhaps creating a better reflection of how I felt inside.
I began my experiment on a type of work trip that we call a “stand-up,” or “lean over.” You fly a short, one-leg flight into your destination as the last flight of the night, perhaps get three hours of rest, and then fly the first flight back to base the next morning. It’s given its name because you’re not getting a regular, full night’s sleep. It’s not a “layover.” It’s a “standup.”
It’s common for flight attendants to take their makeup off and put night creams on for that first leg, making it easier to get some sleep as soon as possible and not fuss with the nightly routine.
“Your eyes are so green!” “You look healthy.” I noticed I started getting comments on my appearance pretty much right away. The comments were different, though, usually relating to my biologically given features or my general appearance instead of comments related to how I did my makeup specifically, like a lipstick color or an eyeshadow shade.
Not a huge difference, but it was notable. I’ll always value the comments about my personality, communicative style, or the service I provide much more than anything about my appearance though.
Time went on and weeks went by. I worked the same. My performance was the same. My passenger reviews were the same. I still received acknowledgement for a job well done. Crewmembers didn’t act any different around me. The sometimes-inappropriate male comments still happened with the same frequency or infrequency. I was pretty underwhelmed.
What I learned is that those who are going to comment on our appearance will likely continue to do so, makeup or not. Positive or negative comments will happen. This is the nature of simply being a woman, perhaps.
People are more concerned about their own lives than they are about you. This not only applies to appearance, but just in general, as well.
We all tend to be the “stars’ of our own show in life. But while we often look at selfishness as a sad reality that we work to change, the idea that someone isn’t paying that much attention to us can also feel liberating and perhaps give us the encouragement to just do what we feel like doing.
And if we do feel like someone is overly concerned about our face, don’t worry—it will likely only take them a few seconds to forget about it.
There was one funny and unexpected observation during this experiment: I should probably start wearing moisturizer. I did realize that as I’m getting older, my previously oily face is now drying. No makeup for six weeks proved how much smoother my skin could be, clearly demonstrating that my typical foundation is attributing to this drying appearance.
I’m back to my normal routine of sometimes wearing makeup and much of the time not at all. But these six weeks helped me realize that the concerns of others should not be a factor in how I feel about myself. I like myself. I like how I look, and more importantly, I like who I am as a person.
We need to stop criticizing others who choose to wear or not wear makeup. I observe this criticism in articles, spoken about personally, and demonstrated all over society with people telling women what they should and shouldn’t do.
Do with your face what you like, when you like it. Most people are probably more concerned about their own face or problems than yours anyway.