Make-up has always seemed like a functional endeavor to me. I was never very interested in raising my own make-up skills to that of an artistic level. It always did a nice job of making me look more awake – and my skin less greasy – on a daily basis. Besides that, I couldn’t much be bothered.
For many American women, that seems to be a pretty common approach. A little “natural” looking make-up to get you through the day is all you need to avoid those well-intentioned “Are you okay? You look tired.” questions.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that my relationship to make-up has changed considerably and at the extremes. I’ve gone through two very distinct phases: Phase 1, caring a lot, and Phase 2, barely putting any make-up on at all.
Phase 1: All the Make-Up
Eager to incorporate me into his life, Gustavo and I went out pretty frequently during my first visits to Brazil. Very quickly I caught onto the fact that going out is a thing and “girls” were expected to make every effort to look special for the occasion. (Even though the occasion seemed to happen once a week.)
Gustavo’s friends would arrive at our apartment and, after the requisite greetings, would immediately station themselves in front of the large mirror in our living room to check and touch-up their make-up. Their make-up typically included full coverage foundation, lots of brow product and highlighter, dark lipstick (and liner), as well as eyeliner and, especially around Carnaval, glitter. The first time we went out, I felt very underdressed.
Make-up became a topic in everyday conversation as well. When other women found out I was from the US, they would tell me they wanted me to bring them back make-up, especially M.A.C. “It’s so expensive in Brazil!” they explained, make-up being yet another item made inaccessible by Brazil’s maddening tax structure.
As I began wearing more make-up in my daily life, I also began to notice my own sense of scarcity around the stuff. “What if I run out while I’m here? I don’t want to pay $30 for a lipstick that normally costs $10.” I started bringing extras with me each time I went back, just in case. (Currently, I have more than enough BB Cream to last for at least four years.)
Phase 2: Less is More
And then, in my scarcity mindset, I found myself using make-up less and less. Just for special occasions. I didn’t want to waste it, after all.
As more time passed, and the excitement of going to so many of Rio’s well-known parties wore off, I found myself barely wearing any at all. Between Crossfit, work, and the extensive tediousness of running almost any errand in Brazil, I just couldn’t be bothered to take an extra 10 minutes to “put my face on.”
So I stopped.
That’s also when I noticed that the women around me seemed to only wear make-up when they went out for special occasions. During the day, it gets too hot and too uncomfortable to have any sort of product on your face. Even worse, to have something on your face preventing you from cooling off with a cool splash of water. Rio is hot, not just in the summer, but all year round.
Despite the pretty (and by pretty I mean extremely) intense beauty standards that exist in Brazil, it somehow allowed me to truly embrace going bare faced into the world. As a young feminist, I often eschewed the idea of wearing make-up and would often nix it for months at a time. In the end, I was usually drawn back towards it because I do enjoy the inherent creativity involved in painting your face.
These days, I probably wear make-up about once or twice a month. I don’t do it with any philosophical reason behind it, but have mostly stopped just because it’s easier. I’m also used to seeing my face sans make-up now, which, honestly, is such a big factor. As women, we start wearing make-up so young that we become unfamiliar with how we naturally look.
Some of it may be age, and some of it is certainly preoccupation with other things in life. I do, however, attribute my embrace of my natural self to Brazil. Whether it’s the heat, other women, or the taxes, I’m grateful.