Awkward Aphrodite: Stripping beauty bare

I came across a presentation on TedX the other day, where Australian Journalist Tracey Spicer stripped off her makeup, frizzed up her meticulously coiffed hair, and took off her sleek blue dress in front of a live audience.

She did all this – and I admire her courage – to discuss the huge amount of daily effort we women undertake (27 minutes every day it is estimated) to get ready to face the world.

It was a striking way to make a point.

I’m surprised it’s not longer than 27 minutes a day. I know that my “regime” is pretty convoluted, especially on days when I wash and then have to straighten my hair. My “beauty bag” when I travel literally takes up half my suitcase. I’m not kidding. I try to pack light, and fit everything into a carry-on sized case (which I do), but half the space is cosmetics and toiletries.

My travel list of cosmetics and toiletries and medicines includes:

toothbrush, toothpaste,
hairbrush, shampoo, conditioner, hair styling treatment, hair straightening tongs,
contact lenses, contact lens case, contact lens fluid, spare contact lenses, glasses,
disposable razors, tweezers, mirror,
face cleansing wipes, AHA 7% lotion, retinol treatment, sunblock-moisturiser, body moisturiser, tinted face moisturiser,
eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, blusher, lipstick, lipbalm, eye drops,
body wash, body washing mitt
cortisone cream, anticonvulsant medication (I have epilepsy), antihistamines (I have hayfever), tampons

And I don’t consider myself to be a “high maintenance” kind of woman. LOL.

What my husband takes, for comparison?

toothbrush, toothpaste,
body wash,
antihistamines (he gets hayfever)

The difference in lengths between the lists is a stark reminder of the inequality of the sexes.

Putting on my “armour”

Ironically, I don’t actually mind some of it. I consider the sunblock part of my health care against cancer, for example, and think my husband should put it on too (he doesn’t and won’t). But I hate having to straighten my hair. I hate the whole makeup thing.

Yes, I could stop doing all of it. But what would it cost me? I’m going back to work this year, and I want to present a professional image.

For women, that means a certain “uniform”, and that uniform includes makeup, a certain dress level, a certain fat level (yes, it’s true – fat women are discriminated against, didn’t you know?), and makeup and hair done a certain way.

Women without makeup and hair styled are less employable, and earn lower wages. I’m a professional woman – or I was before I took time off to have kids – and I want to regain that and earn well.

Hence, I’ll be wearing what Tracey Spicer, in the video above, aptly calls the armour.

Daily life

Some women argue that we don’t have to wear the armour in our daily, non-working life.

Yes, that’s true – but have you noticed how differently you’re treated when you’re dressed up as opposed to when you’re not?

I first noticed it when I was a lowly secretary. I had to wear a suit (skirt and jacket) and look very flash because I worked in the legal field. But even though I was earning a crappy salary and had no power at all, every single time I walked through a department store in town the sales assistants would fawn over me.

Did madam want to try some perfume? Did madam want to try this makeup? Did madam need some assistance?

“Madam” was earning a basic wage at the time and couldn’t afford any of it, but she learned a really important lesson.

Clothes really do make the man – or the woman. If you want to shop without being bothered, wear jeans. If you want to be assisted every step of the way, dress up. I don’t like it, but it’s a system and if you want to work the system, be smart about it, know it, and use it.

There are very very few people who can remove the status clothes of society and make a point doing so – Gandhi springs to mind here as an immediate example, but these people tend to be so instantly recognisable that their face is a thing of power. They have built so much personal power that the rules no longer apply.


People judge the rest of us on what we wear, and that includes makeup and hair and weight. It’s not a fair system, and it’s not the least bit sensible, but it’s the way things are.

Beauty is a system. Beauty isn’t what we’re born with. It’s a look. It’s a style of presentation. Ever seen Tori Spelling? She’s naturally very plain, but she’s styled correctly. She has her armour on.

An armoured woman.
An armoured woman.

Isn’t refusing makeup a feminist act?

Theoretically, refusing to wear makeup is a feminist act. It’s refusing to play by the rules. But armour – and makeup is armour – can give you strength. I think makeup-refusing feminists forget that. Good looks – even society-sanctioned good looks – provide a person with power. And as women, we need all the power we can get.

So I think the sensible approach is to take that power and fight the system from the inside. Become powerful, and pull the patriarchy apart from within.

Yes, makeup is a drag. Doing our hair is a drag. But when there are issues such as abortion and rape and pay equality to be dealt with, and young girls are still being pushed into lower paying careers and encouraged to be Disney princesses waiting for their princes to save them, I think there are more important fights to fight.

Let’s fight them first, and win them.





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