When I was growing up, I was friends with a girl whose mom was an Avon lady. I remember trying out the makeup samples and coming home to have my mother tell me to wash my face — that I was beautiful just the way I was and didn’t need makeup. (Go, Mom!) She wore almost no makeup herself, so this lesson was an especially good one. But I saw images in magazines and on television of women in makeup and I wanted to paint my face and lips, too. I was absorbing the messages that makeup makes you more beautiful.
All these years later, I wear makeup (sparingly and unapologetically) and I also write about green beauty (because I don’t want my makeup to slowly poison me or you). I like the drama of a bright red lip color every now and then and I like the way the tinted moisturizer with SPF I use protects me from the sun’s rays while blending my skin tone. I wear makeup because I like the way it looks and also because it can be fun, in the same way it is for me to pick out what to wear each day.
But I got pretty fired up reading “Up the Career Ladder, Lipstick in Hand,” an article in the New York Times this week on a study that suggests women wearing makeup are perceived as more competent and more trustworthy. Certainly, we make impressions with what we wear — clothing or cosmetics. I happen to love fashion and enjoy choosing what to wear, but I know women who are disinterested in fashion — the difference is in personality. Yes, we show some of our personality with what we wear. But competence? Trustworthiness? Please, no!
The study involved showing photos of women with makeup and others without it, and respondents basically judged those with makeup as more capable. Maybe with a similar study on clothing, there would be an outcome like this as well. If you put a woman in a suit next to a woman in cut-offs and a tank top and asked a passerby to make a snap judgment on which woman seems more reliable or capable, the answer might be the woman in the suit. Or maybe not. Maybe the person taking the test would stop to ask, How the heck am I supposed to make that determination simply by looking at a person? I wonder if anyone asked that during this study on makeup.
I’m not even sure if comparing clothing to makeup in this scenario is fair, if only for the fact that our society requires that we wear clothing. Makeup? That’s personal. I wear makeup because I choose to, not because it’s expected of me or because it gives me an edge in the workplace. I hate to think that girls and women would feel that kind of pressure to wear makeup to make the right impression.
I have already phased out cosmetics and personal care products that contain harmful chemical toxins in favor of safer alternatives. Recently, my green beauty experiments have led me to the kitchen, to use pantry ingredients that are actually good enough to eat (see previous post on olive oil). For a facial exfoliator, I’ve begun to use baking soda weekly or as needed, simply blending about a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda with water and gently rubbing the paste on my face using a circular motion. It’s safe, easy, effective—and a lot less expensive than other facial washes and scrubs. I’ve also filled an empty shampoo bottle with distilled water (DIY distilled water: boil filtered water, let cool, use) and a tablespoon of baking soda and use it instead of traditional shampoo a few times a week.
(Public service footnote: Learn more about this from the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics and find out what’s in your products from the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website).
I read a report today that Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld loves chocolate but does not eat it. (This immediately brought to mind the story of Peter, AKA No Coffee Guy, whom I met during a weekend at Fire Island. Before going out one night, Peter’s housemate was brewing a pot of coffee and Peter commented about how good it smelled. But when I suggested he grab a cup, he replied that he didn’t drink it. He loved the smell, he said, but didn’t drink it. Then he added that he had never tried it. Loved the smell but had never tasted it? He could not provide a reason why and I was puzzled. Not trying crack? I get that. But coffee? That was the first sign that Peter was going to be a drip. Yes, pun definitely intended!) Back to Mr. Lagerfeld. He is quoted in W magazine as saying that the smell of chocolate is enough for him, that he can eat chocolate with his nose. Puzzled again. Barring a serious health issue, how bad can chocolate be when consumed in moderation? Mmmm, rich, dark chocolate. I consume some every day and savor every bite, even if it’s only one tiny piece. Lagerfeld finished by saying he would love a perfume based on chocolate. Someone should send him Cacao, the beautiful perfume already made by Aftelier Perfumes. As with all of her other amazing scents, Mandy Aftel uses only natural ingredients (no synthetics), and this one has a base of chocolate and vanilla with citrus and jasmine sambac top and middle notes—all to make it absolutely intoxicating and, well, delicious.
I thought of my grandmother when I picked up a new lipstick recently. “You could use a little lipstick” was how she often greeted me during my young adult years. She also told me often that I was sweet and smart and talented and, yes, beautiful. Like countless grandparents before and after her time, she would occasionally express befuddlement about the fashions worn by “kids these days,” and she had a habit of pushing my bangs to the side while telling me that these were the only eyes God was going to give me. But I never had any doubt that she loved me just the way I was, so I never felt bad about the lipstick line.
She was from a different era and believed that ladies ought to wear lipstick. I recall her pulling out her own tube of lipstick from her handbag and applying it—either a pinkish coral or red color—every time she left the house. She might be wearing a shapeless house dress or no-nonsense slacks with an elastic waistband and a button-down shirt, but she always finished the look with her diamonds and lipstick. My grandmother’s words sunk in and I credit her with making me the lipstick lover I am today. I don’t leave the house without a little something on my lips—tinted balm, gloss, or lipstick.
Over the years, I’ve used a lot of colors from more cosmetic lines than I can recall, but I became a wiser consumer and limited my choices upon learning about the damaging chemicals hiding inside most of those lipstick tubes. (If she were still alive, I would replace my grandmother’s lipstick with a safer version. If you’re not aware of what’s in your personal care products, please visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and EWG’s Skin Deep database, which evaluates products and ranks them for safety.) When I felt I could use a little pick-me-up a few weeks ago, treating myself to a new lipstick sounded like a good idea. I went with a shiny gold tube of Brett lip colour by Jane Iredale (pictured), one of the cosmetic lines I count on for making high-quality makeup without the harmful chemicals found in so many other brands. It’s creamy and the color works on me as an everyday shade. It feels like the perfect “you could use a little lipstick” choice.
My goddaughter Mary, 9, is a girl who likes to have fun with fashion, often putting together outfits that are unexpected and bold (and not just when she’s playing dress-up). For this look, her equally stylish mom braided her hair before bedtime to give her soft, natural waves and then added a few braids to her ponytail, using hairbands I sent her that have pieces of recycled fabric scraps tied to the band (leopard, grey fleece, camouflage).
The jasmine is blooming on the porch and I get to breathe in the rich and sweet blossoms before leaving for work in the morning and when coming home at the end of the day. I love the deep pink buds that hold the delicate white flowers. It’s like the pink of my don’t-leave-home-without-it lip gloss, Jane Iredale’s Cosmo PureGloss. So when I find myself having to refrain from gobbling up the flowers because they smell so good, I put on a little gloss and dab on some of Aftelier’s jasmine solid perfume, another makeup bag staple that comes with me wherever I go.