Not too long ago, the principal of Friends School Kaimosi made headlines after she banned her female staff members from wearing lipstick and other make-up. According to her memo, wearing lipstick was a bad example to the students in the school and by banning its use, the students would be more disciplined and the teachers would then have the authority to punish students who smuggled lipstick into the school. Baffling, isn’t it? And if you went to a secondary school in western Kenya like I did then you know that if you were ever found with make-up in school, whatever befell you was biblical. In some schools, hair was considered make-up so keeping short hair was a requirement. But I digress.
Then, about two days ago, I was hanging out with some guys and a smartly dressed lady wearing make-up passed close to where we were and one of the guys I was with commented in a way that showed; when a girl dresses up well, it is all for the guys.
“Hiyo make up inamtambulisha kweli,” the guys said.
In passing I said,
“However she dresses, it is none of your business.” I mean, for me this was pretty obvious. When did another person’s hairstyle for example begin to bother me?
You can therefore imagine my shock when these guys agreed that in fact, women dress up in order to get noticed by men.
“Kwani mkivaa miniskirt halafu mpake lipstick mnakuanga mmevalia nani?” one of the guys said and for the first time in my life, I understood why some men feel that they have the right to undress a woman in public because ‘her dressing doesn’t fit their taste’.
For me, the fact that my decision to wear make-up has nothing to do with men was pretty obvious. Honestly, when I am sifting through piles of lipstick and eyeshadow, the things that concern me normally are: whether I can afford it, which of my lipstick colours is running out and needs replacement, what colour don’t I have and I need, what dress I intend to wear it with… A guy is never part of my plans when I am buying makeup. Or clothes. And this is nothing to do with feminism and independence. I simply do not buy make-up because of men. It has never occurred to me that I should throw away my purple eyeliner because men might not like it.
So where am I going with these fragmented stories? It is simple. The role of makeup. When is make-up ever wrong? Is makeup a danger to discipline as the implied case for Kaimosi Girls High School? Do women always wear make-up to impress men or are we grossly misunderstood?
As you will see, the reasons different women use make-up are as diverse as the cultures/ages of women as well as the geographical locations of these women. And for your information, a lot of men use make-up too but maybe I should just stick with women.
A little history: Makeup has been used across centuries and religions to signify rituals, enhance beauty and promote good health. Make-up was also used as protection from the sun and class systems. So you can see, my saying that the role of make-up goes beyond impressing men is not a creation of my mind. You can read this article for more illumination on the history of makeup.
Confidence and maturity
For many young women, the onset of the use of make-up is a sort of ‘big break’. It is one of our markers of transitioning to adulthood. Even when children sneak into their mummy’s drawers to steal make-up, all they really want to do is look grown up. Make-up also increases the confidence levels of some women and quite a number will actually admit to not being able to step out of the house without make-up on.
Experimenting with various looks
Ever gone to a make-up shop where they sell everything including stick-on tattoos? You feel that you are in the middle of so many exciting things and you just want to see how you will look in the various items – older, different, official, casual, bridal-ish…Makeup can be very transformative. When you want to move from a shy 20-year-old to a corporate 20-year-old, make-up is one of the ways to do this. Seen how they use make-up in movies and in a blink of an eye someone can move from being a girl next door to being a pop star? Ask make-up artists. They know these things.
To cover one or two blemishes on our faces
Sometimes these things just sprout – you know, acne and pimples. And sometimes we are not in the mood to entertain them. You want your face smooth and proper especially if you are the kind of person that is a little overzealous about the details of their skin. Therefore, a good layer of foundation can work awesomely to camouflage this and bring back colour on our cheeks.
To switch between moods
Something as simple as lipstick can shift one’s mood. Feeling good of course begins from the inside and then trickles to the outside but sometimes, you need a quick fix. When you start from the outside, then you are probably going to start with your dress, hair, make-up and handbag. That is why there is a way people dress for weddings that is different from the way they dress for the office (ideally). This is all a function of makeup.
To look attractive.
There you have it. Women use make-up to look good and happy. But as the saying goes, you cannot accentuate what is not there. What this means is that, if she looks great in make-up, then she is a beautiful woman. Please remember that beauty is a concept.
Here is an exception: if she wears make-up very excellently, wears her lovely black short dress with gold stripes and carries an awesome clutch, and she is your girlfriend meeting you for a pre-planned date, then chances are, she made an effort to look good just for you. And herself.
So there you have it. Maybe you know other reasons why women wear make-up? Add them to this list. And remember that, like other things in life, make-up is a choice and whether one chooses to wear make-up or not, it is really none of your business.
I do not know if the memo in Kaimosi Girls actually worked…
I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.