Can You Find Pretty In A Lipstick Tube?

by Nathalie O'Neill

"Pretty isn't about how my face happens to look due to my genetic makeup. Pretty is about what I do with that."

So writes Emily Armstrong on the Huffington Post in "Pretty Is a Set of Skills." She goes on to describe the other aspects of her appearance that required her to learn a set of skills: make-up, hair, clothing.

Armstrong has a very valid point. Just think back to what you looked like when you were 13 — odds are, it was frizzy hair and too-tight pants galore. In our culture today, there is a significant part of our idea of beauty, or "pretty," that involves modifying what God gave us. I, like Armstrong, spent years wishing I had straight hair, until I realized my naturally curly hair was better suited to my round face shape. But wait — when I say naturally, I mean almost-natural-except-for-a-curling-iron. And, guess what? I get way more compliments on my "naturally" curly hair when I've tamed it at least a little. Some of you might be reminded of this little experiment from a Reddit user:

"Pretty is artifice. Pretty is a construct, and a social construct at that."

So if the desirability of wearing makeup is a social construct, are bare-faced ladies revolutionaries? Well, actually, they sort of are, since they're ushering in a new definition of what beauty can be. Few women would go to a job interview without at least a coat of mascara on. It's not because long lashes means you're better at crunching numbers, or whatever it is you're applying for. It means you're conventional, which is still a pretty desirable — even required — trait in many settings.

"Pretty is like good design. It is a skill, or rather, a set of skills."

I've often fantasized about staging a sort of social experiment where I could be in a room with all the other women I know. In this experiment, we would all be completely bare-faced, buck naked, and have our hair tightly wound up in a slicked-back bun. With no clothes, makeup, or hair to flatter, would the tables be turned? Would the girl everyone envies be revealed as just a regular, real person, who just happens to be really skilled with a mascara brush and a straightening iron?

If I have a good hair day and sport a brand new outfit, I feel pretty confident about my looks. Unfortunately, frumpy me with old wrinkled clothes, frizzy hair, and a few pimples on my bare face doesn't quite cut it the same way. This is pretty bad, since I know it's all in my head. But recently, I've stopped wearing makeup and started sporting practical buns and more comfy clothing. Basically, I'm slowly unlearning what I thought I had to learn as a teenager.

Although Armstrong's piece isn't exactly ground-breaking news, it serves as a nice reminder that what we tend to pine for, what makes us insecure about our looks, is often just something that comes in a lipstick tube. Or with a pair of designer jeans. And if you're still having trouble putting things in perspective, just keep this no makeup Barbie in mind:

Underneath it all, we're just real women who spent way too much time learning to fit in.

Image: Greta Ceresini on Flickr