A few days ago Cartoonist Kate Beaton put a link to  a website,  101 Men/101 Women in her twitter feed with the comment

“[T]his website will teach you that all the faces you draw look the same and you need to work on that”

It is a remarkable experience to scroll through the images and see just how much variation there is in the human face. Even though there is quite a bit about the people pictured that is similar, (they are all clearly caucasian, and I would venture a guess that they are all from the same country, probably even the same part of the same country and likely the same socio-economic class as well) they are all quite clearly very different people.

In discussions about make up (I have a long illustrious history of handwringing about make-up & beauty) one idea that I’ve heard brought up more than a few times is the idea that make-up and other beauty routines are a way to express one’s individuality. This idea doesn’t make much sense to me. Much of the make-up and fashion advice out there doesn’t teach you how to make yourself look different than other people, it shows you how to make your face closer to the mythical ‘ideal’ face, or the ‘ideal’ body type.

The advice tells you how to cut & style your hair to make your face look more oval, instead of the round, heart, diamond, or square shaped head that you actually have.  It tells you what clothes to wear so that you look like you have a long lean hourglass shape (or as close as you can get to it) instead of the pear, apple, or rectangle shaped body you actually have. It tells you how to make your thin lips look plump, or your too plump lips look thinner. It tells you how to make your close set eyes look farther apart, or your wide set eyes look closer together. Draw attention away from the ways you are different, and highlight the ways you look similar.

Even the various sorts of countercultural fashions that widen the differences between groups ultimately serve to compress the variation between individuals of the same group. So yes, the [member of group A] looks very different than the [member of group B], but the [member of group A]  looks like every other [member of group A]  and the [member of group B] looks like every other [member of group B].

So in short, I don’t think that ‘expressing individualilty’ is really an accurate description of why most people wear makeup, or engage in other sorts of popular fashion and grooming. Which isn’t to say that I think there is no good reason to wear makeup or whatnot, just that individuality isn’t it.

If you want to be an individual, it is worth considering the fact that you already are.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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5 Responses

  1. Libby says:

    If makeup is supposed to help us express our individuality, why is it so hard to find green lipstick? Or neon yellow blush?

  2. alex w. says:

    Individuality is one of those things that I have a hard time figuring out. I know what the definition is and I know how it’s supposed to work in theory, but the actual application of individuality seems to break down. Like with makeup and fashion. You’re probably going to look like someone, so…don’t pretend you’re being an individual in your appearance? I dunno. It’s just something that I’ve never been able to really grasp although I think it’s interesting.

    On another note, I spent much of yesterday reading Hark, A Vagrant because of this post. 🙂

  3. Caroline says:

    Great points, Starfoxy. I tend to wear makeup every day, and it’s good for me to think about why I do this. I agree that individuality is not the reason most do it — though I suppose if one wears super extreme makeup, then that could make a person stand out among the wider population (though fit in more with whatever subgroup the person belongs to.)

  4. Miri says:

    I love this post a lot. It’s amazing how obvious some of these points are, and yet I’ve never actually thought them myself. Cultural brainwashing is seriously powerful.

    I also loved the article you linked, and I agree that a world in which we all tried to emphasize our differences would be such a fun world to live in. Sometimes I can’t believe how silly we all are for thinking that one body shape is better than another, and for trying to look like we have a different body shape than we actually do.

    I’m with you on the handwringing, too. When I think about what makeup is–I mean our cultural expectation that women wear makeup, not physical makeup items themselves–I can find no justification for it in my head. It’s either hyper-insecurity or just silly vanity. But have I thrown out my makeup bag? Nope, and I probably never will.

  5. Annie B. says:

    I don’t really think of makeup in terms of expressing my individuality, unless I’m getting ready for a hula hooping performance or something, then I get a little more artistic with glitter and colors, which is fun. In my experience the focus of beauty mags has been more how to compliment what you have. At least that’s what i’ve taken from them. I think this might go much deeper than our own societal idea of beauty. Not all communities in the world have the same idea of beauty, but I think all have some kind of cultural beauty that they value and aspire to. And then when cultures cross, the ideas of beauty cross too, like some asian women strive for a more caucasian eye, or some caucasian women strive for the lithe frame and exotic facial features of asian women. Much like personalities, if we envy someone else’s strengths we might totally miss out on our own. And I totally agree that we are too complex to be represented simply by what we wear or look like, but it is also a part of us and there is no shame in enjoying that. I grew up in a household where anything to do with appearances was frowned upon/mocked. I’m a very visual person, so that sucked. As an adult i’ve loved making my house look cozy and bright inside. I think of my every day makeup kind of the same way. Sometimes life happens and appearances should not be first priority. I think though that if I were living in a hut I’d still probably try and make it look nice, like line rocks up to make a front walk or something like that.

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