Sunday, March 13, 2016

Gilding the Lily

With very few exceptions, I have chosen not to wear make-up most of my adult life. Make up was for special occasions only. It was a very conscious choice; I knew that if I got into the habit, I would start to feel ugly without it. I did not want, what I felt, was an unhealthy, confidence-draining dependence. I was proud to explain my decision if I was ever asked about it. Granted--and I do NOT take this lightly--I've had it easy, blessed with qualities mainstream society considers beautiful: white, thin, tall, blond hair, blue-eyes, clear skin. Had this not been the case, I'm sure I would have made different decisions...but as it was, I didn't feel the need to and that choice was easy to make. Here's a picture of me in graduate school:

When I was hit with a chronic illness a few years ago, this began to change. My face began to be nothing short of ugly most of the time. My palor sickly greenish, my lips lost all color, the circles under my eyes dark and pronounced like bruises. Here's a picture of me in the midst of my illness:

Because of this, I now wear makeup on a daily basis, often not leaving the house without it. As I expected in younger days, I feel ugly without it. I also take great care to dress myself very fashionably. I have a list of outfits on a ring by my bed, so that when I get up for work I can be sure to be best dressed in the office. I don't work without make-up on. Here's a picture of me at work:

I've learned that this costuming, one could call it, is very common for those of us with chronic illness. We want so badly to hide our illness, to be seen as more than our illness, to be seen as capable, that we spend a great deal of our most precious and most limited resource (energy) on least many women with chronic illness do.

I have no idea if men perform similar rituals with the limited beautification supplies available to them. I would hazard a guess, however, that they do not simply because men are not judged by their appearance as harshly, and with as many consequences as women are.

So, while I am grateful for my make-up each day as I apply it, I also feel a tinge of remorse, regret, guilt? I'm not sure what it is, but part of me knows I'm doing something that doesn't quite align with my own sense of something. Part of me feels like a phony.

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