When you don’t wear makeup to work and get asked, “beemar ho?”
I rarely wear makeup to work. Most days, I wear none. Not even BB cream, or eyeliner, or even a basic sort of lipstick.
I don’t wear makeup, and I get asked about it, every single day.
“Kya hua, kisi se larayi hui hai?”
(What happened, have you had a fight with someone?)
“Thori si lipstick tou laga lo, acha lagta hai.”
(Put some lipstick on at least, it looks nice.)
“You don’t want people to think you don’t care about your appearance.”
“Listen, women should put some effort into their looks. Istarah achi image thori jaata hai.”
(Otherwise it doesn’t present a good image.)
“Dekho; presentation matters.”
(Look; presentation matters.)
As I’ve spent more and more time working full-time – listening to workplace banter, being part of the audience during everyday office jokes and stories, watching what employees and organisations do, and why they do it – I have come to understand just how much of a woman’s value lies in her appearance.
Women, like men, change with time; with additional responsibilities, with shifting priorities, with new life experiences, and most importantly, with age. But unlike men, women at 40, 50 or even 60 years of age are still made to compete, appearance-wise, against 20-year-olds, by a culture that refuses to value them for their brains, their personalities, their strength and their hearts.
Women are judged and side-lined for their wrinkles, their bellies, their thinner hair. Older women are passed up for opportunities they deserve by men who want to be surrounded by “chicks”. This is inherently a reductive and sexist way of looking at the incredibly smart and talented young women out there. But it’s not just men. Older women are also judged by other women who have internalised misogynistic messages when it comes to what constitutes as a ‘professional’ appearance.
Thus, men are allowed to grow old, to grow wrinkles and pot bellies, and still retain their worth. Women in the workplace, however, aren’t allowed to grow old at all.
I stopped wearing makeup to work because I’m sick of having to conform to a culture where women are forced to spend large amounts of their time, money, and effort to maintain an appearance meant to cater to the male gaze. Where expecting them to hide their perceived imperfections has become so normal that a girl with a bare face seems “beemar” (ill).
Currently in my 20s, I am aware of the power I can wield because of how I may choose to look – and I do not want this power. I want to be rid of it.
I want to be allowed to grow old.
I want all women to be allowed to age comfortably, and without the fear of losing out on opportunities they deserve, so they can spend their time focusing on the things that matter, on the innumerable ways in which they can be passionate and brilliant and extraordinary as individuals, and as human beings.
I want women to be powerful because they are smart. I want women to be powerful because they are driven. I want women to be powerful because they have achieved a dazzling number of goals in their lives.
So, the next time you see my face as it is, au naturel, please don’t ask me what is wrong.
Absolutely nothing is wrong with me, but maybe it’s time we wonder what is wrong with our system.
I feel it necessary to add that this blog is not in any way against makeup. Makeup is a powerful tool for self-expression and healing, and many women make the informed choice to use it – more power to them. This is about the pressure women feel to meet impossible standards of beauty, especially as they age, because so much of their career paths and life opportunities depend upon their physical appearances.
Whether we want to admit it or not, there is something extremely messed-up with the world and how we imagine, assess and value the women around us. This is something that is affecting us all, irrespective of our genders, which is why we all need to question what we can do to fight this fight. My weapon of choice is my bare face.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.