Saturday, October 25, 2008

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRAIN CASE: Is a makeup obsession shallow?

Have you ever been made to feel small or stupid for buying and/or playing with makeup? Anyone ever belittled your hobby?

I ask this because, well... I have. As many of you know, I have a rather colorful educational background (a bachelor's in nuclear engineering from MIT, a Ph.D. from UCLA School of Medicine in biomedical physics and radiation biology) and a number of years under my belt as a scientist working to cure cancer. These days, I've left my petri plates behind and sat down behind a computer screen to tackle science from a writing and communications standpoint, but I'm still a scientist. Essentially, it would seem that my mind is very nimble and quick.

So... "Why the hell are you wasting your time and money with all that silly makeup?" says my husband the other day. "You're supposed to be smarter than that."

This was like several slaps in the face at once. First of all, who really likes a sudden sharp criticism from one's spouse? Especially one that, if analyzed a little bit, is a veiled type of character assassination?

And really... where does he get off saying "smarter than that" as if only stupid morons are supposed to use and enjoy makeup? dWhere does this stereotype come from? Am I supposed to eschew my enjoyment of the stuff just because I have an advanced degree? And what, pray tell, am I supposed to do instead?

Oh, wait. I do know. It means I am supposed to do things that the intelligentsia are supposed to do as defined in books, movies, and coffee joint discussions. Play chess. Read War and Peace and Science magazine simultaneously and cover to cover. Play the violin. Come up with a way to beat the stock market. Count cards in Vegas. In other words, do something that is considered nerdy and smart. Something the husband considers useful (which means, something that might make money).

This isn't the first time people have tried to insult my interest in makeup, though. My own parents find my interest in it petty and useless, and have told me so several times - even going so far as to tell me that I look better without it and that my time would be better spend doing "other things."

Okay... so yes, I do love to read, and if I knew how to count cards, then baby, I'd be that thing that stayed in Vegas in my private suite. But the thing is, I spend all day doing science and "being smart" - my left brain gets a massive workout. And you know what? It gets tired, like anything else, and that's when I can hear them. The muffled cries of my right brain, screaming for action, wanting its turn, wanting that release. Smart or not, I want balance. As much as I crave scientific knowledge, I crave a way to express my artistic, creative self.

Sure, I could paint on a canvas. But there is something much more sensual about using my face and my body as the canvas for my artistic expressions. When I paint my face, I can feel the texture of the makeup, the brushes, my own hands. In a world that has become rather "touchless," I believe this is important aspect of private time. Everyone's body craves touch - we suppress the desire most often in today's world, but indeed that makes it more lovely when we do experience it, even from our own fingers and palms. Touch releases endorphins, oxytocin, and other pleasureable hormones and neurotransmitters (see, I'm a nerd for certain), and that reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, slows the heart rate, spreads that wonderful tingly warmth through the body. Who wouldn't want that? Why should that be reserved for only those without a bunch of letters after their name?

And... upon further analysis, makeup can often be more important to smart women simply because they are smart. In my case, my nerdiness existed back in high school, when everyone was halfway between a child and an adult, and a female nerd was something to avoid at all costs. I was made fun of and excluded from things, simply because my report card contained A's. The assumption was that I was no fun, that I was uptight, and that I was a prude. In fact, this shroud of nerdiness made me ugly to those people...and I am not sure I can explain the hurt and isolation that generates. No one from your school will date you, no one will invite you to parties. When you are made to feel ugly, you seek to make yourself beautiful, and makeup can do that. Learning to do my eyes perfectly, to get lovely skin, to smell so good - all of that allowed me to feel so much better about myself and to at least be able to date a few boys I met at my summer job, who went to other schools and didn't hold the same assumptions about me. Of course... college changed all of this... but I digress here :)

So, my question is, why is doing makeup stupid, when it can have such a positive impact on a woman's (or even a man's) life? The fact is, it is NOT stupid... and we all have the right to do our faces proudly. Don't ever let someone's snarky comments make you feel bad about your hobby... because after all, it is a hobby like anything else, and it makes you feel good. You deserve to feel good, and no matter how you choose to get it, you OWN that endorphin rush.

Happy making up!!!


Megan said...

I have a bachelors in biology with a chemistry I'm not nearly as educated as you are. Personally...I don't know that I've been made fun of per se. I ocasionally get excited about something and express how I have to go out and buy it...which is always met with negative responses from friends and family telling me that I don't need one more make up related item. And I've occasionally gotten comments from my boyf around the fact that he thinks I take too long to put on makeup...and he occasionally makes comments about how I must be trying to impress someone. Overall regardless of being made fun of...I do feel my hobby is met with negativity...until my mom or one of my friends has somewhere to go and wants me and my make up to help out...then they're all for it...

Jennifer said...

Hey Megan... sorry to hear you feel your own makeup fun is met by negativity. I think a lot of us face that. Makeup Addicts Against Discrimination! LOL. :) And I definitely understand when the much maligned train case becomes a holy grail when someone has a big date, party, dance, etc. My mom would yell at me about makeup when I was a teen, but then she'd have to go to these fancy parties for my dad's work and panic and get me to bring all my stuff to the bathroom to help her do her face!

JennBee said...

You said that SO well! Make sure to set him straight... gently, of course. ;) But I think he should really read this. I agree that makeup is a very important addition to the lives of many women, and that it should not be belittled as some "stupid hobby." I'm very grateful my boyfriend is so supportive of me! He knows and understands how much I enjoy purchases, browsing through stores, application and practice until perfection... everything about cosmetics makes me feel good, and he sees that and appreciates it too. :)

And since I was similar to you in high school, I also know how much power it has to change the way you see and think about yourself. If only I had learned that in time to save my high school image, lol!

Again, thank you for the great and well-written post. Good luck!

CG said...

I have always been the plain jane. Although I had an early interest in make up, I didn't really pursue it until this year (kind of late actually). I have an MD along with a specialization that qualifies me as a shrink. My colleagues look at my recent interest in make up with some amusement. One of them even told me that I must be enjoying this - and I am! I feel good and I look good and when I look good, I feel good about myself.