This morning I transcribed an amusing article for my education book. It’s about an edict presented to the girls of Durant High School in 1921 regarding their liberal use of cosmetics. “No more lipsticks, eyebrow pencils, rouge, heavy powder, paint or any extravagant use of beautifying cosmetics for high school girls…It is the purpose of the faculty to instruct the girls of the Durant High School in proper dress and manners,” Miss Goodman said, “and to cultivate a taste for natural and genuine beauty rather than to allow the girls to grow up with a distorted idea of these primary essentials.” I don’t imagine Miss Goodman was a very popular teacher that year. She also objected to shaved eyebrows and added “beauty spots”. She would no doubt have a stroke if she walked through a high school today!
It’s ironic that “painted faces” are so willingly, even enthusiastically accepted by women. After all, the basic concept of decoration and adornment is that the object underneath isn’t “good enough” by itself. I always wondered about the idea that “beautiful young virgins” were gathered for King Ahasuerus and yet they required “beauty preparations” before being presented to him. Then in the New Testament women are admonished that beauty should not be “that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel” but rather be the inner beauty of the heart.
My mother was the quintessential example of that conflict of ideals. She was kind and sincere and loving. She was also strong, motivated, and capable of doing almost anything she set her mind to…but she was reluctant to do it without makeup. When I was a small child I just accepted that Mom always “looked good”. Even if we were headed out to chop cotton she seldom left the house without at least a quick swipe of lipstick. And she never served breakfast without styling her hair first. As I got older I realized that she arose at least half an hour before the rest of the household so she could do her grooming.
My mother’s generation seldom went anywhere without a compact and a tube of lipstick. Every magazine and television ad told them to be beautiful and be prepared. Mom had an antique dresser with a huge mirror and dozens of beauty products. However, she never seemed vain or self-absorbed. I think she considered her grooming routine more of a responsibility than an enjoyable experience. And she was always careful about the money she spent on cosmetics. She loved the little samples given out by the Avon lady, but she also shopped at the local drugstore and once or twice we went to the big department store downtown for a sale.
I stopped wearing makeup many years ago because I found myself devoting far too much time to worrying about it. Mascara created problems for my eyes. Lipstick turned strange colors and ended up on my coffee cup. Foundation melted off in our hot, humid climate. I found myself glancing in the mirror about ten times a day to see if I looked like a clown. So one day I just washed my face and met the world with my natural beauty. Okay, that statement made me laugh too. Even when I was young and better looking I never thought of myself as a “beauty”. Young girls just naturally find fault with everything they see in the mirror…which is probably why they have the urge to cover up every perceived fault with makeup. The reality was that my transition to sans-makeup took at least a week. The first day I was certain that someone would make a rude comment or ask me if I was ill. By the end of the week I was so thrilled with my new-found freedom from the mirror that I didn’t care what anyone else thought or said.
Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, and each of us has to decide what we want to see in the mirror. I don’t think anyone should dictate our beauty choices once we reach adulthood. However, I think it’s important to guide our young women carefully and make sure they understand that cosmetics are optional and should be worn because of personal desire and enjoyment. I don’t want any young woman that I know to think that she can’t be beautiful without them.