“When did wearing make-up stop being a choice?”

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Deborah Cicurel
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Writer Deborah Cicurel was nervous about ditching her daily cosmetics routine to improve her skin, but soon found other people seemed to have more of a problem with her bare face than she did. Here, she questions why anyone should care if she chooses not to wear make-up...

I love make-up.

I have drawers crammed with lipsticks in every shade, mugs stuffed with mascaras and a basket full of nail polish that I like to stare at while spending an inordinate amount of time choosing which colour to use this week.

But though I like following make-up artists on Instagram and spending quality time with my products while getting ready for an evening out, I've come to realise that putting on make-up has become something of an obligation.

I suffer from eczema and very dry skin, so recently, after a spate of itchiness, red skin and flare-ups, I decided to go make-up free for a few weeks to see if it calmed down.

My skin improved instantly (leading me to sincerely question what is in the products I use, by the way), but what I really found interesting about my experiment was the way other people reacted to my bare face.

I was eyed suspiciously on the tube. My friends asked me if I was OK and if anything was the matter. Colleagues queried whether I was having problems getting to sleep. Long-lost cousins remarked on the bags under my eyes. Even my dermatologist said I was "remarkably wrinkly" for my age (thanks, doc). 

Of course, make-up is incredibly transformative, but I've never been the sort of person to spend hours contouring or strobing my face, so it was strange to think the lack of make-up was really so disturbing and off-putting.

I didn't think I looked that different, but apparently my new face made all the difference in the world.

When, one night after the experiment, I ventured out to a wedding with a full face of make-up, one friend said, "You look so nice," as if I usually went out with toothpaste on my chin or two-week-old eyeliner around my eyes.

I asked her why wearing no make-up was so shocking to her and she said: "I would never leave my house without it. It's a matter of being well put together. It's a matter of looking smart. It's making an effort."

I had to ask her why I should be ashamed of how my face looks naturally, and she had no response.

After all, that's what she's saying, isn't it?

That the women who pop to the shops with no make-up on are letting themselves go; that going to a meeting without bothering to check how you look is just not making an effort; that not caring about foundation is not caring about yourself. It's lazy. It's not done.

Of course, if a woman feels good by putting on lipstick, foundation and mascara, she should go for it – but that shouldn't mean that anyone without a full face of make-up is lesser in some way, that they're not trying as hard.

And let's not forget that men never have to worry about being judged for going out of their houses without slathering various products on their faces for 20 minutes every single morning of their lives.

Social media doesn't help. We've become so used to seeing perfection in every aspect of life – from holidays to weddings, anniversaries and babies – that a photo of anyone looking less than impeccable is bound to shock us. 

That's why whenever we see a celebrity on Instagram with a 'normal' selfie, we breathe a sigh of relief.

And though there has been a backlash of late, with celebrities, bloggers and models speaking out about the unrealistic expectations of beauty social media portrays to young girls, it seems to be confined to our phones, laptops and iPads rather than evident in real life. 

After all, for every woman who loves the transformative power of make-up, surely there's another woman who'd love the extra 20 minutes in bed in the morning, and resents having to coat herself in cosmetics seemingly to fit other people's expectation of what beauty, power and confidence is.

Yet look around you: it seems everyone's wearing it, always. You rarely go to a dinner party, a work do or a wedding and see a woman barefaced, and there are countless tutorials on 'no make-up make-up' – despite the best way of nailing that look surely being just leaving your house without any on. There must be more of us who want to, so why aren't we doing it?

Maybe it's because waking up, having a shower and putting our make-up on is so ingrained. Even after my skin improved and I decided not to wear make-up if I didn't feel like it, I'd still feel some trepidation when going to a new office or meeting a new client. A small voice in my head asked: "What if they thought less of me for my plain face? What if they thought I just couldn't be bothered?"

But then, a stronger voice asked: "Is it right that someone should think less of you for how you naturally look?"

No, I don't think it's right. We should be able to go to work, to the pub and to weddings able to legitimately say, "I woke up like this," without feeling any shame whatsoever. If I feel like perfecting a red lip or a feline eyeliner flick or a contoured cheekbone, then fine. But if I feel like brushing my hair, brushing my teeth, and ignoring the shelves of make-up altogether, then that should be my choice.

My experiment has made me realise that if people think less of me when they see a plain face, I'm not the one who should be ashamed.

Don't get me wrong, I still wear make-up. I still buy several lipsticks I don't need every time I step into Boots. I still double tap beautiful photos on the Instagram feeds of the make-up artists, models and bloggers I follow. But now I don't wear make-up every day, because I don't have to.

And if you're contemplating giving the make-up bag a rest, remember the wise words of a woman named Tina Fey:

"If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty which is, who cares?"


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Deborah Cicurel

Deborah Cicurel is a freelance journalist who writes about everything from lifestyle and travel to fashion and entertainment. She loves spicy maki rolls, cosy socks and visiting far-flung destinations, and is unable to walk past a dog on the street without stopping to befriend it.