The Goddess Speaks

By Nadine Kam

Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Can’t hide dark side
of cosmetics

MY boyfriend, bless his heart, has often told me, "You look fine without makeup." Sometimes, I actually believe him. What a mistake. That's when I leave the house with nothing on my face save a thread of brown eye liner for "security."

The last time I fell for the line was just before a run to Chinatown. Amid the mama- and papa-sans going about their weekend rounds I felt fine. No one was checkin' me out. I certainly wasn't checkin' them out.

Then it happened. Nearing the other end of town, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, and horrified, I rushed into Longs Drugs for damage control. I searched the shelves frantically for the tester products. There wasn't much, but it was enough for a light coating. Once again, it was OK to go out into the world.

Most women would not have been so trusting. Women I polled said the words, "Honey, you look fine" uttered in regard to their unmade-up faces is what men believe we want to hear. In writing today's story, I discovered what they really mean is: "Honey, you look fine but put something on if you feel you must, and be quick about it."

But I don't believe men comprehend the damning power of those words, "Honey, you look fine without makeup." Women are made to feel guilty if they actually like the stuff, and we're caught in the middle of a tug-of-war. On one side, there is the giant cosmetic industry telling us how much we need their products if we are to get the job, get the guy, and stave off aging lest some pretty young thang topples us from our comfy perches.

On the other hand, there is a Puritan sentiment in this country that tells us that desire for beauty is superficial, and to dwell on looks and cosmetics is the ultimate in vanity and wasted time.

GETTING made up generally starts out innocently as a fun, bonding type of adventure. Mom might put a dab of blush on your cheeks for an elementary school program. Pretty soon, you're raiding her stash of face paints because it seems so grown up. It gets to be a tiresome ritual after 15 or so years of practice, but women I spoke to would not easily give it up, even if all other women agreed not to wear makeup. The only time they would stop using makeup is if they were alone on an island. If there were even one person on the island, they would have to color their lips with berries or something.

I can understand men's distaste for cosmetics. For them it must compare to hiding all the fat under a layer of meat in a package of bacon. I have been shocked by the sight of models before the makeup goes on. Some have splotchy skin that is downright normal. The shock for a guy has to be much worse, for few get to see a female face in the buff.

But women are just as tough on other women. One friend said she views makeup as good manners, no different from dressing appropriately for work. "It's a courtesy," she said. "If someone's not wearing makeup, I don't want to see it. It's rude. Make the effort."

But make it look effortless. A typical cosmetics counter is outfitted with thousands of gels, pencils and glosses to help you hone your natural look. One must spend a lot of time sampling products before finding the few that not only match one's skin tone and accentuate good features while downplaying the bad, but also make a statement, such as "I am seriously moody and I'll boot you if you get in my way."

That's saying a lot for a little bit of color and cream most of us take for granted.

Nadine Kam is the Star-Bulletin's Features Editor.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
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