March 9th, 2012

During freshman year in high school, while I could have spent time learning the fundamentals of astronomy and algebra, I instead passed my time shoplifting. I would sit cross-legged in the town commons with the alpha friend who taught me how to remove sensors, and we would sort our loot. Among the hot piles, make-up was always the mode. Blush, concealer, liquid eyeliner. I applied the stolen make-up, and kept my fingernails filed and painted just as 1990 dictated. But, perhaps out of guilt, I never really learned how to make the make-up look good.

In my twenties I had trouble with ambiguity. I was conflicted by my feminist belief that women should not have to paint their faces, and my desire to have even skin tones. So on top of the layers of identity confusion, I inexpertly painted layers of base. Often I retained a natural face, and was jealous of the smoky eyes and glossy lips of less conflicted and more integrated young women. I also admired the women who did not wear make-up, looked beautiful and confident, and didn’t appear to struggle with themselves at all. I still feel a mild sense of panic when I apply make-up. It’s in my muscle memory- the deceit, the confusion, the conflicted feelings about femininity. I swipe eye-shadow across my lids with my finger like I’m stealing frosting off of someone’s birthday cake. There’s no reason for this now. I’m comfortable with myself and with the concept of wearing make-up. I’m ready to learn how to apply it well.

In 1983, as I was watching my mother expertly apply Clinique, educators Pearson and Gallagher were busy developing an instructional model called “the gradual release of responsibility.” The model involves the teacher transitioning from assuming the responsibilities of a task to students assuming all of the responsibility. Also called “I do, We do, You do”, this process begins with the teacher modeling the activity while the student listens and observes (I do). Next, guided instruction occurs as the student begins the task and the teacher prompts, questions, facilitates (we do). Collaborative learning may occur, as students consolidate their understandings by working with peers. Finally, students transfer their learning, solidify their understandings, and complete the task independently (you do). Educators Fisher and Frey further developed this model, and it is widely used by teachers today. I decided to employ it in order to learn to do make-up.


My teacher was Reese, a talented make-up artist and aspiring English teacher.

“I love what I do, and I believe it can help people. Sometimes it can even be life changing. And it’s not as different from teaching as people think. But I hope that if I can get to people early [as a teacher], I can do some work on the inside, and prevent some of the need to repair the outside.”

Activating her teaching skills, Reese “gradually released” me to do my own make-up. She helped me stretch my budget to purchase versatile tools for reasonable cost, maximum impact, and ease of use. She made the art of make-up playful yet strategic, always assuring me that we could achieve any desired effect if we applied our tools correctly. She used the words “fun” and “work” interchangeably.  



Play with a Stick and a Sponge
Get a Play Stick and an antibacterial sponge. Use a cream to powder foundation. It’s versatile and easy. You simply put it where you want it, and smooth it out with the sponge. You can keep the sponge until it grosses you out, something I’ve strangely come to peace with since the failed sponge experiment. It’s called a “PLAY” stick, so have the fun with it you used to have with a magic marker. Draw until you like it, no fear.

Try the Snake-Oil
I never used to buy eye cream because it is extremely expensive and I was suspicious that it was snake-oil. What makes eye cream different from regular cream? Supposedly, eye creams address eye ailments without harming the eye. They are meant to sooth inflammation, restore the skin, and strengthen the eye area which has very thin skin and lacks support structure. I tried some, and I do think it has reduced the dark circles under my eyes. Snake-oil or not, I enjoy putting it around my eyes morning and night. Even more important than eye cream: sleep.

We Do Smoky Eyes
In this video, Reese teaches me (and you) to create a smoky eye.


You’re Life Size, Not Larger
I used to expect that make-up would morph me to the point of appearing like a totally different person. It’s not that I dislike my looks, but like many people I crave the experience of total transformation. On Halloween, I am often surprised that despite my efforts to be a robot bunny, murderous tooth fairy, or Santa Claus, I’m still recognizably me. I look at myself in the mirror from across the room and am confounded that I’m the same old size. Shouldn’t my inflated character make me larger than life? It doesn’t- never to the degree that I expect. So part of feeling efficacious at make-up application is accepting that I can’t completely transform myself, nor do I truly want to. I’m not lacking that one dramatic tool or technique that will shape shift me. I’m lacking a reasonable expectation of what make-up can do.

Live in Shades of Gray
Do you ever ask yourself these questions: Why am I covering my face? Why am I trying to hide my flaws? Why am I succumbing to marketing ploys? Why am I doing something men don’t (generally) do?

Many of us could grapple with these questions, yet still enjoy wearing make-up. Let’s call this living in the shades of gray. A ten year old recently taught me how to live in the gray by drawing a line. Her bedroom door has a list of criteria for those are are “Allowed” and “Not Allowed”. Those who are not allowed include “People who care more about what they wear than other more important things in life.” Above that declaration is a drawing of a girl in a super cute outfit and a smaller sign that says “The Designer Is In”. She knows how to love fashion and design, but how to draw a line. There are more important things.

Part of living maturely in the gray is saying “This is as far as I’ll go.” It’s also about determining purpose. The art of make-up involves self-expression and exploration; it need not be used as a self-edit or to delete flaws. There are some rare individuals who live outside the gray, choosing consciously each day.  What they eat/don’t eat, buy/don’t buy, do/don’t do is carefully aligned with their views. While I really admire these people, I notice that in order for them to maintain fidelity, their lives have to be subtractive. My desire to taste, try, add on, and say yes, trumps my desire to walk all of my talk. For me, living in the gray involves setting parameters and purpose, and making pledges like the one Mariela posted on her bedroom door.

Parameters= wear make-up that enhances not masks.
Purpose = self-expression, not concealment.
Pledge = to be creative and have fun.


5 comments to “Make-up”

  1. This was expertly written instruction on the art of applying makeup and yet I still look like a little kid playing in my mother’s makeup whenever I try to wear it. Some people will never be glambots (me)

  2. I absolutely loved reading this post. It was really enjoyable to see you come to the same conclusion I’ve had regarding make up.

    With anything you wear (clothing, makeup, accessories), it’s all in the intention. Are you wearing this for yourself? Do you feel as though you’re having fun when wearing these items? If the intention is ever to please others and as though you’re fulfilling a role, then clothing/make up are definitely oppressing tools. But when you’re happy with yourself and just enjoy the chance to present yourself as you wish that day, then it’s fun and honestly, one of the reasons I enjoy being a woman. Masculinity is so incredibly static; one of the strengths of femininity in our culture is the ability to have room to play with our identity. So, continue to enjoy it. And I’ll have to try that snake oil…

  3. Ladies: never ever E V E R rub your eyes like that as shown in the video by my daughter. When you get older the skin will just go slack and you will need eye surgery to recover. Also you are setting yourselves up for grave infections in your eyes. Katie: I am very disappointed to read that you shop lifted as a child. Had I known earlier you would have paid for that one way or another….since this seems to be an open forum here. Mother (the one who begot you- I am now ready to admit there may be two HA!)

  4. PS.
    Pat or smooth your eye lids gently instead of rubbing to apply makeup or clean it off . I also use one of those soft sponges to remove eyemakeup when I have the hell of a nerve to wear it now-to avoid pulling on the skin. Be gentle it will pay off later. Honest!

  5. nice piece, katie.

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