Unrecognizable

What happens on a rainy Tuesday with nowhere to go when a writer is stalling on her edits? Why, reading Facebook, of course. That’s how I came across this article, linked by several friends. It’s photos of people—correction, women—without makeup and then made up so they are unrecognizable. I think most people found it amazing; I was a little disturbed.

The photos on the left in each set look to me like normal, everyday people. They seem like the people I might meet at church or in the grocery store. They are people who might be my friends. They look approachable, women I would talk to without feeling ashamed of the way I’m dressed or have my hair styled or how little/much makeup I’m wearing.

The second set, on the right, all intimidate me. They look unreal, unattainable. I’m quite sure if I had professionals do my hair and makeup I would look like that too. The question is, would I even want to?

No. No, I wouldn’t.

What I didn’t like was the way those women ceased to be themselves. They were made to look ideal, glossy, even photoshopped. The problem I have with that is that it’s the expectation for women. There is so much pressure, starting when girls haven’t even hit puberty, to look exactly right. Don’t be yourself, be someone else’s idea of beautiful. But that’s not the only thing wrong there.

We have those expectations for men, too. Be athletic. Be strong. Have a perfect physique. Be manly (whatever the hell that means; I think it’s probably something like “be the opposite of what we just told women to be”). Or, failing that, then be less manly, but do it in a culturally acceptable way. For example, be a skinny, pale guy in glasses, but make sure you’re into math, science, computers, gaming, comics, or some other pursuit we can mock you for but that’s still considered guy territory.

And heaven forbid a boy or a man wants to try out the same thing those women did in the photos.

I see so much these days about empowering women when it comes to things long considered men’s arenas. Everything from Girl Scout campaigns for girls in math and science to GoldieBlox to women in geek culture has us talking about how wide open the world is for women. Even here in my house, I’ve taken great pains to make sure my daughter knows she doesn’t have to restrict herself because she’s a girl.

Sadly, after seeing the extreme makeup photos, I tend to think we’re not even close as a society to women being more than pretty faces. We’re enthralled with the Ugly Duckling concept, the idea of taking women perceived as “plain” (or photographed in a way that makes them look plain) and turning them into swans. We don’t really have an interest in those women as people.

But what about our boys?

It is still a sign of rampant misogyny that boys who want to break free from social gender-norming are considered less than, weak, unmanly. That’s not about their hobbies or interests—it’s about being perceived as feminine and how terrible it is for a man to not be masculine enough. We don’t care about men as people either.

I would love for men to break that down. You know what? Go do it—go get made up like the women in the photos until you’re not recognizable. What an interesting experiment it would be to see the reactions. I’ll bet a small subset of us would be wowed by it (I personally think men look very nice made up). But the rest? I can only imagine the reactions. I doubt most people would refer to them as “stunning” or “amazing.” I wouldn’t be able to bear the comments on such an article; I’d have to stop at the first violent threat.

How long is it going to be before women and men alike will be allowed to do what we want without the threat of violence hanging over us because we couldn’t complete the Real Man/Real Woman checklists? How long until a woman’s value isn’t tied to her appearance? How long until being a woman is considered to be such a good thing that no one is mocked or threatened for enjoying “feminine” pursuits? How long until no one dies for making her outside match her inside and presenting as a woman?

Lord, I hope it’s not long. I’m desperate for that change.

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