A Defence Of Cosmetics

I read this essay many years ago; and it was written many years before that, in 1894, by Max Beerbohm.  The title pleased me, for I thought I had found my advocate.

Max Beerbohm was a delightful writer, living at a time when one can turn wit into a career.  I was not surprised that he would be the one to write an apologia so dear to me.

Max was a dandy – dandyism was one of the more effervescent trends of the late 19th century.  It delighted in surface perfection of course, in Brummel's precision, but also sought the mental superiority that would lift its practitioners above the miasma of dirt, industry and vulgarity that lurked in every Victorian alley.

Max was a satirist.  His humor was coy and fanciful.  But when I read phrases like these, I chose to believe them:

"No longer is a lady of fashion blamed, if, to escaped the outrageous persecution of time, she fly for sanctuary to the toilet table."

"Artifice is the strength of the world, and in that same mask of paint, of powder…is a woman's strength."

"Artifice, sweetest exile, is come into her kingdom.  Let us dance her a welcome!"

But the article, of course, was a farce, a parody.  (Max, in fact, was a great admirer of the classic, unadorned British complexion)  I had been taken for quite a ride – it was a wonderful gallop, but the fall was stupendous.

Had Max left it to me to defend cosmetics?  Perhaps I can defend my use of cosmetics.

I've used make-up since high school.  I'm not saying that I used it well, having fallen many times into the inexcusable trap of matching your eye shadow with your clothes.  Especially inexcusable when you're wearing a powder blue pant suit.  I didn't use it to hide, nor to glorify.  It didn't, by the way, destroy my Youthful Glow or turn my skin moribund.  It did, however, make me different.  It gave me drama.  That was reason enough for a teenager.

And in my twenties, when I had nothing else to do but think about such things, I realized that I would age very ungracefully.  That is, I would protest the encroaching years most vehemently, using whatever weaponry I had at hand:  pots, paints, rouge, reds, pinks, whites, liquid blacks.  And I worried – I hoped I would be up to the task.

Fast forward – way forward – to the present, and I still use cosmetics.  I might apply foundation and powder with a lighter hand (in college I went through a Noh actor phase); but you will only pry my lipstick from my cold, dead hands.

A naked face is no more honest than a painted one.

My face shows age, mere years.  The laugh lines tell me that at some point in my life I have laughed.  Wrinkles tell me that I have indulged in habitual facial expressions, been damaged by the sun, and that I am a poor hydrator.  And that is all.  Cosmetics do not blot out my life's experiences because my face isn't the picture that will tell those stories.

(Oh, in addition there is a slight separation in my right eyebrow which was a result of a traffic accident, when I was hurled from the backseat to a stare-down with the gear-shift.  Wear your seatbelts, kids.)

My make-up will cover these imperfections as well as contribute to a creation.  I like dramatic coloring – this is why I enjoy the dark eyes and blatant mouths of the 1920's.  I am partial to theatricality both in look and in act.  The onslaught of age weaves in and out of my reasoning like a ragged thread.  Some of my cosmetics fight the battle, and some are used for pretty.  Age certainly will not determine how long I will use them.  That's a personal matter.

If you want to know about my life, don't study my wrinkles.  Talk to me.  Read what I've written.  Look at what I've drawn.

Cosmetics can both conceal and express, and I defend them.

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11 responses to “A Defence Of Cosmetics

  1. If you want to know about my life, don't study my wrinkles. Talk to me. Read what I've written. Look at what I've drawn.
    Cosmetics can both conceal and express, and I defend them.

  2. My make-up routine has remained virtually unchanged since I was a teenager, when I first discovered liquid black eye-liner. Apart from defining my eyes, I used to wear it to stop myself from crying – no-one wants to look like Alice Cooper and vanity will out.

  3. I love my make up and it makes me happy, even if I do end up looking like Diana Vreeland when I'm old.

  4. Wonderful! Your [cosmetics] case is well made.

  5. Aw, Aubrey. Shame on Max. Oh well, can't stay mad at him for long though.
    Make up is fantastic stuff. You didn't use it to glorify?
    I use lots of black soft pencil liner and a gold one and lots of brown mascara, even before the Pirates movies. That pic of me for the recent Vox "show us your eyes" was hastily taken after working all day and my eye make-up was old. I would love to see your dramatic cosmetic eyes!

  6. This is so enjoyable to read!It's so interesting to me, because I started out life with the rebellion against make-up….telling myself that the use of it was "hiding behind something" and that "natural" was best. That's why I love your line …"A naked face is no more honest than a painted one."Because, with maturity, I have come to realize that. AND, now from this perspective, I realize that my rebellion against makeup was probably simply a fear of not knowing what to do with it! Lol. I am so much more comfy in my skin as a 50plus year old than I was as a teenager!I enjoy my makeup, now! A foundation to smooth away blotches. A bit of blush to pinken up my cheeks. (ha, love the non-word "pinken"), and eyeliner to accent my eyes. Yep, all my smile wrinkles and deep in thought concentration lines are still there, but…the makeup is fun, too!

  7. I enjoyed reading this. I wear makeup when I want to be dramatic and sexy. I used to paint on eyeliner like kohl. I can't wear rouge because I've always had red cheeks, but I like to play with my eyes. Mascara is fun. The bottle in the middle of your makeup tray looks like a torpedo. I love that. I like how their are so many healthful, skin-friendly makeup options today. I hate the thought that some brands of makeup test on animals.

  8. i love you no matter how red your lips are… and i adore bright eyeshadows…the jem way of things…


  9. Foxsy – I fumbled about a bit with this post, but those lines spoke strongest to me.
    Jando – A young Jando crying? I won't have it! My ex-sister-in law would place a drop of liner in her eye…the liquid would flow to every curve of her eye, and produce a perfect line. It was deeply wrong, but the line was miraculous.
    Kate – Nothing wrong with being anything like Diana V. And yes – make-up is most happy-making.
    Riss – A most compact argument?
    pyrit – One can never be angry with Max; his cleverness was just too adorable. I love the combination of black and gold; and have you ever used liquid liner as opposed to the pencil? Explain. Discuss.
    Lauri – Join us…join us…
    Lucy – That torpedo of coloring goodness is my Urban Decay Lip Stain. They have a motto: "We DON'T do animal testing. How could anyone?" They even have a few vegan products.
    Renee – What is it about the college years that makes one want to go all pale? In addition, I wore long dresses, fringed shawls and big hats.
    Candy – They are very red! I'm wondering if I should investigate eye shadow again; I used to blend brown to gold to white – such fun!

  10. Mmm, cosmetics. We've got the same foundation. 🙂 I use the 'classic ivory' or 'ivory', whatever name the lightest shade goes by. Eye shadow and liquid liner – who would have thought those two simple items would bring forth an alter ego?

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