I cut myself shaving. A little bit of blood slides down my upper lip into my mouth. I curse under my breath and run water over my old, rarely used razor as if the wet will somehow sharpen the blade. I drag the steel under my nose, splash water onto my face, and look in the mirror. My chin looks like a butt. I hate shaving. But I have to do it because I’ve promised two of my co-workers I will wear makeup for one whole work week.
I like to consider myself a person who is down for anything. I have 13 tattoos, I constantly change my hairstyle, and I foolishly rocked piercings and blonde tips deep into my college years. The only thing that’s stayed consistent about my appearance is how I dress, in a uniform of boots, jeans, and button-up shirts. I generally feel confident no matter how I look, so when the beauty editors of BuzzFeed’s Life team approached me about this makeup experiment, I had no reservations. The experiment would be simple: Wear makeup all week, Monday through Friday, with more makeup being added each day. How hard could it be?
And then came day one.
First thing in the morning on Monday, my co-worker (and defacto makeup artist for the week) Augusta leans over and runs what feels like a broom through my eyelashes. “This’ll really make your eyes stand out,” she says. Day one is all about keeping it simple. A few swipes of Benefit’s They’re Real mascara and a little Fake Up concealer under the eyes. Nothing fancy.
Augusta finishes elongating my eyelashes, a photographer snaps a few pictures, and I walk out into the office.
The first person I see is my boss. I put out my hand for a handshake and he takes it, saying, “Now I know what you looked like in kindergarten.” If he notices anything other than my lack of beard, he doesn’t say a word. This happens all day. Meetings. Sitting at my desk. Going to the kitchen for froyo. Multiple people comment on my lack of facial hair, “Can you please tell your dad to come to work?” quips one co-worker. But not a single person mentions my eye makeup.
WHICH IS INSANE! Halfway through the day I go into the men’s room and look at my face. How does nobody notice this? My eyelashes look like black thorns sprouting from my eyelids; the contrast makes my irises glow an unfamiliar bright green. The area around my eyes seems smooth and featureless — weirdly, all I can think is that I look like an American Girl doll. My office is a diverse one, populated by folks with all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs and interests. I figured my wearing makeup would be accepted pretty quickly, and I definitely assumed people would notice the difference from the get-go.
I don’t know if I like my makeup or not, but I sure as hell notice it. How does nobody else?
“Why did you shave?”
I didn’t tell my girlfriend that I would be wearing makeup for the week. So when I come home after work, she only grills me about being baby-smooth.
“Notice anything else?” I ask. She doesn’t, until I start batting my eyelashes.
“You don’t need makeup” is something I’d foolishly told my girlfriend early on in our relationship. I thought that was the right thing to say. Her face is so beautiful. Why put paint on it? “You look better without makeup!” Actually, it was a dumb sentiment, rooted in the fallacy that women only wore makeup for male attention, as if only the opinions of men mattered. I thought that my saying this essentially let her off of the makeup hook; she could now sigh in relief, throw her Stila eyeliners in the trash, and make out with me. And also there’s that whole “natural is the only kind of beautiful that counts because society is a horrific dystopian treadmill” thing. I’ll admit: Without knowing it, I had fallen prey to all that. But we’ve been together for more than two years now and one of the (many) things I’ve learned is that she likes wearing makeup, and it has nothing to do with me. Plus she’s fucking good at it.
So I was betting on my girlfriend being the biggest supporter of this experiment. Instead, she’s a little edgy. She keeps looking at me like I’m the mayor of the uncanny valley.
Before bed, she asks, “Can I teach you how to wash it off?”
Sitting in the chair as Augusta applies eyeliner reminds me of getting a tattoo. You don’t want to move because you’re scared the person holding the sharp object might fuck up.
Tattoos, earrings, hair dye. It’s all normal for men. But not makeup. Makeup is ladies only. Drag queens. A man should go out into the world with his blotchy skin and the dark bags under his eyes. It’s expected.
Today I’m getting MAC Cosmetics Fluidline eye pencil, Benefit They’re Real mascara, Fake Up concealer, and MAC Pro Longwear compact foundation. The latter is applied all over my face and down onto my neck. I immediately go into the men’s room and look at myself. I look awake. Refreshed. As if I had spent the last month getting eight hours of sleep every night in a bed made of silk.
“You look like a corpse,” one co-worker says as he walks by my desk.
Today people notice. Once folks realize that I’m wearing makeup for an article, they feel free to share their opinions about how I look. This isn’t surprising to me. What is surprising is my reaction. Sure, my color is a little off. I look a tad pale. (I later learned the foundation we used that day was a shade too light for my skin.) But my feelings are genuinely hurt when people point it out. Makeup isn’t a silly hat or an ill-chosen shirt… it’s your face.
“Are you wearing makeup?” My regular bartender, Hugh, looks at me incredulously as he hands over a beer and a shot.
“Yeah, what do you think?” I throw back the whiskey.
“I think the whole world is more and more upside-down every damn day,” Hugh says. We shake hands, and Hugh turns away.
“Your eyelashes look flawless,” a waitress says as she drops her glassware on the bar mat.
Hugh turns back to me. “That’s what I meant to say,” he says. “Your eyelashes look flawless.” He smiles. Nobody at the bar mentions my makeup again, but people do look.
When I get home, my girlfriend greets me by saying, “You look like a German Expressionist film!” I feel tired and bummed out, drained by the mere act of walking around all day with a subtle face of makeup. What I thought was going to be a fun experiment is beginning to take a real toll on my confidence.
“You look really different,” my girlfriend explains. “Think about it — you see me all the time with makeup but also without makeup. In your mind, that’s always me. But I’ve never seen you in makeup before. It doesn’t look like you. It doesn’t feel like you.”
I walk into the bathroom and start scrubbing off the foundation. Before this experiment, I never washed my face regularly. Maybe that’s not the most hygienic thing to admit, but up until this week my skin regimen was a splash of water. Now I wash my face with various dollops and dressings until I’m exhausted.
“Hey.” My girlfriend pulls me back from the sink. My foundation has been washed away, but my mascara and eyeliner have turned into messy circles around my eyes. “Now you look like you’re in a pop-punk band,” she says. “I can work with that.” I don’t know whether or not to be offended, until she pulls me in for a kiss, and then down the hallway.
“Your cheeks are popping!” Some of my co-workers seem to be getting on board. Whether it’s because the makeup took time to get used to, or because we switched foundation shades and added blush, I’m not sure. A manager lets me know that she has gotten numerous emails asking about why I’m wearing makeup, which makes sense. People don’t want to offend, but they are curious.
On the train I notice that older people glance at me, and their heads swivel as I walk by. Younger people don’t even look up. Eye makeup, foundation, concealer, and blush on a guy don’t cause much of a stir in New York City. That said, I find myself noticing other people’s makeup more and more. Cat eyes, contouring, lip gloss, blush, etc. I even notice which men could maybe benefit from a little makeup themselves. Even out that skin, son. Match your eye color to some eyeliner, man. Maybe fill in those patchy eyebrows, bro!
I wake up excited. I’ve been waiting for the dramatic piece of the experiment, and today I get color! I spend almost an hour in the chair, but I’m delighted. Today we’re going all out. (Tomorrow, even more.) But today all out means lipstick. All out means smoky eyes. When I was asked to do this experiment I said yes partly because I was jealous of a male friend who wore dark-blue eyeliner to a holiday party. If he can wear bold makeup, why can’t I?
Right after Augusta finishes putting on my face, I conduct a meeting where I’m the only man in the room. I’m impressed as the women critique and compliment all the techniques and products that went into my look. I leave feeling good, but as I walk through the office, I can’t help but notice that most men avoid my gaze. I’m used to walking around making eye contact, nodding, smiling, and receiving eye contact, nods, and smiles in return. But every man at work who I don’t know (it’s a big office) looks anywhere but at my face.
At lunch I attempt to eat noodles while not destroying my lipstick. I drop food into my mouth like my hand is a mama bird and I’m the baby. Then I give up. In the bathroom I wipe away the Sephora Luster Matte lip color (in the shade “Mulberry”) smeared around my mouth. Men walk in and out of stalls and glance at me from the corners of their eyes. I ask one familiar face how his holidays were and he fills me in on his New Year’s Eve without looking at me once.
It’s the last day and we go balls to the wall. Dark, dramatic colors — purple and gray and bruise-black, all overlaid with sparkle. I look like a teenage Lorde fan’s Tumblr. I’m not even sure what contouring is, but we do that too, and damn if I don’t look skinnier. (Contouring is legit witchcraft.) For the first time this week, I feel truly confident. Whether it’s due to my glamorously over-the-top look or the fact that I know it’s the last day of the experiment, I walk around feeling dazzling. Feeling the way I’d hoped to feel all week. I look people in the eye whether they look back at me or not. And most people do look back at me. They ogle. In the office a co-worker yells “You look like a goth princess” while high-fiving me. On the street people do double takes and hold their gaze. I meet with a friend of a friend at a bar after work and he greets me with, “You look fantastic!” We’ve never hugged before, but we hug now.
After drinks I head to the subway at Union Square. The station is crowded, and as I swipe into a turnstile a man coming in the other direction bangs into me.
“Watch it, faggot,” he says, shoving forward. Before I can respond, he bounces off me and disappears into the crowd. It’s a moment I had been half-expecting all week, but like all such moments, when it actually happens I’m unprepared. I have no response. I just stand there as the word bounces around in my skull, until the crowd pushes me into the station.
I’m not even sure if he saw my makeup.
On the train everyone stares. Young, old, it doesn’t matter. But people smile too. The women especially. The women with big, colorful lips look at me and smile the brightest. There’s a parade happening on my face! Fireworks! For the first time this week, I regret having to wash it off.
I know I won’t take to wearing makeup every day—I can’t even put it on myself, and I’ll be damned if I ever get into the habit of washing it off every night.
But I enjoyed how my eyes sat up to attention when ringed with mascara. I liked the way my lips glistened after they were covered in lipstick. (Foundation probably isn’t for me, but that might just be because I haven’t found my shade yet.) Most of all, I found wearing makeup to be an interesting experiment in self-presentation—something I don’t often get as a dude who’s been dressing the same way for years.
This week of makeup made me conspicuous in a way I wasn’t used to. Not only was it a continual shock to see my glossy and high-contrast face, I had to deal with how everyone felt about it. How I felt about it. How the makeup was at odds with the way the rest of me looked, how the makeup didn’t even have to be heavy to make people feel weird, how I felt weird and smothered and self-conscious despite myself.
For many, makeup is comfort. Makeup is fitting in, it’s feeling attractive, it’s standing out in ways you choose to stand out. On the last day, despite all the strange vibes and awkwardness of the week, I finally felt that too.
For now, I’ll be growing back my beard. A whole face of pretty doesn’t work for me. Still, I’ve learned a trick or two, gotten comfortable with certain creams and powders. Who says a beard can’t go with green mascara?
All MAC Cosmetics and Benefit Cosmetics products featured in this post were furnished to BuzzFeed.
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