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Makeup is My Choice: I'm Not Making This Up

Monday, 7 December 2015  | Erin Sessions

For many of us, our morning routine goes a little something like this: hit snooze, hit snooze again, curse time’s paradoxical flying/slow decay (that last part might just be me), stumble into the shower, stumble out of the shower, insert cannula of caffeine (ok, brew coffee), and then commence personal grooming so that we are socially acceptable – but where does “grooming” finish and “makeup” begin?

Substantial research has gone into the link between makeup and self-esteem, and how we perceive women who wear makeup. Women face (pun intended) an absurd double standard when it comes to makeup. If we don’t wear it we’re told we look tired or sick (or worse: http://www.dailylife.com.au/dl-beauty/beauty-bloggers-powerful-video-highlights-the-double-standards-women-face-with-wearing-makeup-20150704-gi5286.html), and when we do we’re told it’s because we’re ugly, or hiding something (or worse: http://www.puckermob.com/lifestyle/why-wearing-makeup-isnt-false-advertising). But there’s more to it than that: studies show that women who wear natural-looking makeup (whatever that means – surely this varies personally and is culturally relative?) are associated with greater competency in the workplace (what?!), greater attractiveness (no surprises there), greater trustworthiness (again, I say what?!), and greater likability (*sigh*) than women who do not wear makeup. But don’t overdo it ladies, because wearing “too much” makeup renders us untrustworthy again (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/fashion/makeup-makes-women-appear-more-competent-study.html).

While two branches of feminism argue over whether women should (basically, because it’s empowering) or should not (basically: consumerism/patriarchy) wear makeup (see: http://people.howstuffworks.com/about-makeup7.htm), I think it’s fair to say that wearing makeup is now expected, the societal norm and, yes, for some of us, about as second-nature as brushing our teeth. So, what do we do with that?

Firstly, is there a biblical reason we shouldn’t wear makeup? In short, no. There are three main bible verses which, in passing, refer to “makeup:”

“Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she put on eye makeup, arranged her hair and looked out of a window.” (2 Kings 9:30)

“What are you doing, you devastated one? Why dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold? Why highlight your eyes with makeup? You adorn yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you; they want to kill you.” (Jeremiah 4:30), and

"They even sent messengers for men who came from far away, and when they arrived you bathed yourself for them, applied eye makeup and put on your jewelry.” (Ezekiel 23:40)

None of these verses say women should not wear makeup. In fact, these verses aren’t concerned with makeup. 2 Kings 9:30 describes Jezebel mocking or intimidating Jehu rather than hiding (Her purpose was not to “captivate.” Need I point out that women (and men) painting their eyes with kohl was a normal part of ANE culture and, at this point, Jezebel was a grandmother?); Jeremiah 4:30 uses familiar imagery to warn against misplaced trust in foreign alliances (Pretty sure Jeremiah had bigger problems than crimson apparel…); and Ezekiel 23:40, much like Jeremiah, is addressing the courting of foreign nations. Perhaps when we read these passages we could be focused on obedience rather than a woman painting her eyes?

When we turn to the New Testament, 1 Timothy 2:9-10—“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes”—is often cited as a reason for women not to wear makeup, only, this passage doesn’t actually say anything about makeup… at all. What it does say is for women to be modest, a word which has more to do with orderliness, self-control and appropriateness than skirt-length, body-shaming, or what we put on our faces. (Modest(l)y (kosmios) appears only twice in the New Testament, and interestingly, its second usage refers specifically to men [1 Timothy 3:2].) Actually, much of what the bible has to say on modesty has more to do with materialism than it does with beautification.[1] Perhaps when we teach on modesty we could encourage people to make sure their adornments (both men and women’s clothing, jewellery, and makeup) weren’t made in exploitative conditions, rather than telling women what they can and can’t wear?

Secondly, is there a good reason to wear makeup? Whether you think women are pressured by society to wear makeup or you think makeup is simply a personal choice, there are plenty of good reasons to wear (or not wear) makeup. Makeup might inspire a quick confidence boost, for others it is a form of artistic expression, for some it is a matter of professionalism, you might even experience discrimination for not wearing it, still others are dancers, actors or performers for whom makeup is part of their character, and for some, makeup is about making their way in the world. 

And so this isn’t just lip service (more punning!), and in case it wasn’t already clear, here’s what I think: it’s no secret I like makeup. I can use it to camouflage the gash on my cheek (yeah, it’s fun when my toddler accidentally makes me look like Inigo Montoya but, after the third or fourth explanation, I’d rather just get on with my day), and I can use it to feature (puns!) my eyes (I like God’s handiwork there and did I mention I studied Egyptology?), I can use it to express my mood, tastes, style, etc. and I quite enjoy helping brides decorate their faces on their wedding day. I’m also a firm believer in a Thomas Helwys-esque freedom of conscience—if you want to wear makeup, wear makeup. It’s what you make of it!

(I’m done with the puns now, I promise.)      

[1] Isaiah 3:16-23, 1 Timothy 2:9-12, 1 Peter 3:3 (http://qideas.org/articles/modesty-i-dont-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means/)

Erin Sessions lectures in Church History and Old Testament at Morling College and commences her thesis on Song of Songs in 2016. She is also a poet, toddler-wrangler, and 'Princess Bride' fan. (Inconceivable!)


Caroline Batchelder
December 8, 2015, 10:19PM
Have a look at Isaiah 54:11-12 where the formerly barren woman merges with the restored city, and Yahweh ‘does her makeup’! The word translated ‘antimony’ (54:11) is thought to be the word for black eye makeup.
January 6, 2016, 9:15PM
I think makeup should be just a choice...but you correctly wrote that it is many times expected, unfortunately. I don't consider it fair to women...I'm not a makeup wearer myself end yes, I even experienced bullying for my makeuplessness..both from men and women.. and I'm told by many people I'm beautiful even without makeup, I'm not lying. But still I experienced that sort of bullying...So I don't want to imagine, how much more bullying due to my natural face would I get, if I was considered "ugly" by many people... I'm all for women going natural, without even a stitch of makeup. However I think we women must get rid of our insecurities in the first place... the more women dare to go out barefaced, the better it will be and the society will then not force makeup on women who don't want to wear it.

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