Face Off


This week I didn’t wear any makeup. I never don’t wear makeup. It’s been a bit of a challenge. It wasn’t a choice. It was a directive. I had a small skin cancer taken off my eyelid and part of the recovery post-surgery required bare face. I have worn makeup ever since I was 16.

It’s weird looking at my face every day completely unmade-up. My eyes look too small and even more squinty without mascara. My skin tone is a bit uneven here and there. I look tired. Even when I’m not. To me, I don’t look like me, which is stupid, because this is actually me. But it’s not the me I particularly like. It’s the me without the mask. I feel like a turtle without a shell. All squidgy and vulnerable. It’s like going out in the nude. It’s unnerving, because people get to see who I really am. Or at least what I actually look like. Somehow the two things seem intertwined. I realised in a way I have been using makeup as a kind of burqua. I feel safe behind it. I am a feminist, so I guess I should have been critiquing makeup as a time-wasting form of oppression. But I don’t because I think it makes me look better so I decide it’s acceptable, even though men aren’t expected to wear it. It’s pretty clear to me that lady-paint is up there with foot binding and clit removal. Less physically harmful, obviously, but part of the same ‘there is something innately wrong with you, woman’ body-modification indoctrination. I decide to stay home. But that doesn’t last. I need coffee.

So I guess I’ll have to go nude face. Every day I put on a ‘face’ before I go out. The ‘face’ I put on is the one I decide that people can see, not the one I really have. It’s a shield against the world. Red lips, pink lips, natural lips. Blue eyeliner, black eyeliner. Eye pencil. Sometimes shadow. Always concealer. At 49 I have a lot to conceal. I start under my eyes and then work my way down to my arse. Then foundation. I am currently a woman with no foundation. Unhidden. People look at me this week a little longer than they should. It could be the black eye. I know what they’re thinking. Some actually say it. ‘Did your husband…?’ They say it half joking, because women with bruised eyes are unsettling. The bruise tells the secrets of what happens behind closed doors. I joke ‘you should see him’. It’s a stupid joke. People laugh not because it’s funny, but because it’s a relief. Relief that the man who is my husband, whom they have grown to love, isn’t a wife beater, even though he wears the signature blue singlet.

I’m surprised how many jokes I have to contend with about domestic violence. I have been a victim of domestic violence in my twenties, so I don’t find those jokes very funny. I wonder how people would react if they asked in jest if I’ve been punched by my husband and I say ‘Yes’. I wonder what they would say next. I’m tempted but I don’t because the flicker of shame still resides in me. I don’t want people to think I’m one of ‘those’ types of women. Even though I have been. And I know there isn’t actually a ‘type’. And it would be a bit unfair on John. To make him one of those ‘types’ of men. It is a small town, and that kind of insinuation sticks. So I find myself feeling a bit embarrassed about my black eye. Just like I used to when it was from my partner. I volunteer the story of my skin cancer removal to strangers in shops who don’t care or haven’t even noticed I have a black eye. Or perhaps they’re used to seeing women like that. I seem to be very concerned that people know that this isn’t a domestic-violence black eye; this is just a cancer eye. (It’s not even proper cancer. It’s a startup. Kind of a trainee cancer for when I get older.) I know what the expression now means ‘keeping face’.

The black eye has faded and now when people see me they say ‘are you okay? Are you unwell?’ No I’m not unwell. This is what I actually look like. A bit sick, apparently. A vision-impaired friend sitting a long way from me tells me I look better without makeup. That’s kind. Almost as kind as the woman who saw me naked and told me I look better with my clothes off. Watch out. This could be my new look.

3 responses to “Face Off”

  1. serena ballerina says:

    Oh boy, that’s going to be me next month! Same thing, on the eyelid.
    This is the age we’re at now, nipping & tucking, more like snipping & burning off bits of us as a result of our love affair with the sun. What we didn’t know then.
    (My sun-lover English red-haired mum’s “suntan oil” was oil & vinegar! Made us smell like fish’n’chips, lol! We were well basted Poms out in the Aussie sun!)

  2. John Bertacco says:

    I think the genuine naturists have the right idea!

  3. Kathleen says:

    I know precisely what you mean about the black eye. You can feel and see, others discomfort. And conclusions. If you didnt feel uncomfortable enough before, its difficult to not be overtaken by peoples judgements. I was told by a woman, when i dared to venture out with a black eye (courtesy of an assault) that id never get over it! As if the occurrence wasnt bad enough, why are sisters so unsupportive. Cruel even. She was a complete stranger.

    Youre so used to wearing makeup for so long, you would get to love your beautiful unmadeuo face – youre just not used to seeing it.

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