The joy of having a bare face: How ditching makeup set me free

This is what happened when I stopped trying to be aesthetically pleasing at all times

(Image credit: Courtesy image)

I first learned to build my armor at my grandmother's vanity. I was in awe of how her lipsticks and blushes and her delicate pots of eyeliner turned an ordinary collection of features into a mask of rich, cat-eyed glamor, pastel delicacy, and haughty, high-cheekboned elegance. I wanted to be anything than what I was: a fat girl mocked for her loud, burdensome hips and the drab tent-dresses that couldn't conceal them. Even as a child, I knew that makeup wasn't just a set of potions and paints to make one look "pretty"; it was a very particular witchery, with the power to turn the fat girl into the girl with the bright green eyes, the pert, plump mouth. The girl with long eyelashes. The girl with "such a pretty face."

Every fat woman hears this phrase, from friends and loved ones, from doctors and teachers and, at least once, from some stranger in the canned goods aisle or the subway. They say it with exasperation, or as inspiration ("you have such a pretty face, you could really find a man, find a job, write that book, and achieve enlightenment, if you just lost the weight"). They say it to try and console you ("oh, honey, it's his loss for not asking you out or hiring you or inviting you on that spirit quest, because you have such a pretty face"). It's the platonic ideal of a backhanded compliment ("well, you're fat, which is terrible but at least part of you is a proper woman"). It's such a common refrain in a fat woman's life that sociologist Marica Millman, who wrote one of the first seminal studies of gender and size discrimination back in 1980, two years before I was born, titled that book, Such a Pretty Face: Being Fat in America. And in that book, she argued that fat bodies in and of themselves aren't problematic, it's the attitudes about fat bodies — that they are inherently lazy and unhealthy, laughably ugly, and unworthy of love — that anchor us, turning our happiest, most fulfilled selves into the phantoms of light that flicker across the water's surface.

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Laura Bogart

Laura Bogart is a featured writer for Salon and a regular contributor to DAME magazine. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, CityLab, The Guardian, SPIN, Complex, IndieWire, GOOD, and Refinery29, among other publications. Her first novel, Don't You Know That I Love You?, is forthcoming from Dzanc.