Should Men Wear Makeup, or Should We All Just Stop Pretending?

In Farhad Manjoo's final column for Slate, he decided to go big before going home by advocating that men should wear makeup (a light layer of foundation, to be specific). His argument? Humans have been adorning their faces for centuries, airbrush foundation is practically invisible, makeup makes you look younger/more attractive/more successful, and in a Photoshopped society, there's no reason why men shouldn't jump on the looking-perfect train.

His article made me feel vaguely disagreeable, but I couldn't pinpoint why. Everything he says is true. We Photoshop lots of things these days, including our faces, so what's the harm in a little gender-neutral airbrushing? As I smeared Manuka honey all over my makeup-free face, still mulling over the piece, I realized where Manjoo and I diverge: It's the worldview behind the article. It's the premise that wearing makeup is harmless, normal, positive. Manjoo sees near-invisible airbrush makeup as just another perk of our modern times; I see it as artifice, and I distrust artifice.

Listen, I'm kind of a utopian freak when it comes to makeup, so feel free to mentally box me in with your insane Aunt Lola and her bridge club. Though I may play with makeup and photograph makeup and smear my entire face in glitter when I'm going dancing, the entire premise behind makeup's illusion creeps me out.

Makeup is artifice, and we live in a world that has increasingly grown to dislike artifice — except when it comes to the female face. Manjoo says we live in a "Photoshop world," but let me qualify that: I believe we live in a society that is learning to mistrust Photoshop. We've seen enough freakishly-thin waists and bizarrely-jointed arms to know that Photoshop is merely an attractive gateway to the seriously, ridiculously deceptive. Social media lets us see models and celebrities in their actual bedhead and casual streetwear, but we still understand that selfies aren't "real"; they're indulgent little performances. We demand transparency from the things we consume — we want to know where our water is from, where our beef was raised. We demand honesty from the government (hi there, Wikileaks). We want to know who made our clothes. The last bastions of opacity are our own faux-perfect faces. (And maybe some big corporations. But that's an article for another day.)

As we scramble toward the real, or what we perceive as real, makeup has simply gotten better at disguising the fact that it's fake. Manjoo praises the flawless quality of airbrushed foundation over cheap drugstore stuff. Both are equally artificial, creating an illusion of perfect skin, but airbrush foundation looks like it's real; it's a fraud, but it's better at disguising that it's a fraud. Put it next to Revlon, and airbrush foundation looks almost... honest.

Blame this rant on my inner grumpy old man (I'll probably be screaming about Twitter from a rocking chair tomorrow), but the fundamental concept of an artificially enhanced face is creepy. Because although you might feel good in foundation, that's secondary. Its first purpose is to trick the viewer into thinking you're more competent, healthier, and more desirable — oh, and also that you have a great job and higher earning potential than your clean-faced neighbor. Anyone starting to hear a tinkling horror-movie piano?

The choice to wear makeup should tell you nothing about a person's work ethic, sexual prowess, or earning potential — all it really tells you is that this person cares about her (or his) appearance. But we take it to mean so much more; makeup tricks us into making judgment calls that we don't even realize we're making. Aren't we sick of fraudulence and artifice? Don't we want to know what's really going on?

Listen, y'all: I love makeup. Glitter eyeliner, come at me. Once I discovered that putting a dab of black shadow right beneath my eye looked good, and that evening my boyfriend told me, "You have huge eyes." Score one for the beauty of artifice, right? I'm not advocating that we don't wear makeup; I'm just saying we should keep a sharp eye on why we do. I'm wary of mindlessly equating invisible makeup with positive human evolution. If we were evolving right, my friends, we'd evolve right past makeup. We'd have naturally perfect skin and our eyelashes would be as thick and dark as the fur of our planet's no-longer-endangered bears. We'd be so healthy that our faces would glow without illuminating cream.

Come on, people, let's push for a world where we don't need airbrushed skin to convince ourselves that we're all better.