beauty · Book Reviews · fashion

Beauty, barbells, and blush for the gym: Sam has some complicated thoughts

I read this article, Make Up is the New Work Out Gear, with a sad feeling. Really? Really? Can’t there be some places (like the gym) where we are free from beauty’s demands and from normative femininity?

I knew it was on the horizon thanks to the Clinique counter. I was there recently because of my own vexed relationship with make up. I’m all in favour of the fun stuff (pink lips and sparkly eyes!) but I’m not such a big fan of foundation and cover up and blending (whatever that means). I like my artifice to look like artifice. I like my hair best when it’s bright blonde or pastel pink. I never colour my undercut so you can always see the grey and silver. So it’s not about looking like I’m young, or in the case of make up, tanned and well-rested. But I just don’t want people asking me every winter if I’m sick. “No, I’m just pale. This is what white women without make up look like in January!” That’s what I want to scream.

Back to the Clinique counter where they were outfitting with me foundation and blush etc which, when I remember, I sometimes wear to work, grudgingly. They’re also selling “CliniqueFit”–a line of make up just for working out with the slogan “Life is a marathon. Look good running it.” As usual, there’s a lot of it. There’s pre-workout this, post-workout that, not to mention the stuff you wear while actually working out. And it’s sold as an essential, not an optional thing, “essentials for your highly active life.”

I get it. Who doesn’t want to look good?

See our fellow former fitness blogger Caitlin. She writes Athletic women want cute clothes and shoes too!

And my musings on looking good while working out,

And, of course, I also think, hey, you do you. I’ll be over here in my ratty workout t-shirt, unbrushed hair, and gym relegated leggings wearing definitely zero make-up. You can wear your pricey matching Lululemon workout outfits with your bared midriff and your smokey eyes. It’s a big tent. Let many flowers bloom.

Yet, it’s also not simply a matter of personal choice. Feminists know this. We don’t choose alone. We choose in a context. That doesn’t make the bottom line any different. I’m still a strong supporter of not judging others and of individual women picking their own way through this minefield. My sense, as I watch young women get ready to work out in the university change room, is that in these days of Instagram and fitness influencers, it’s getting harder to make the choice to not care.

I’m writing this blog post on holidays in Florida, where I am I here to ride my bike. But since there are only so many hours a day you can ride, I’ve brought some fun work along. I’m reviewing the book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal by philosopher Heather Widdows. The Irish Times ran an article about her work: Why are beauty standards becoming more onerous.

Ironically, she says, the beauty demands are greatest in cultures where freedom is highly valued. Thus she provides today’s idea: “As beauty norms get harder to attain, we all have less choice rather than more choice.”

So I am trying very hard here not to be a grumpy old ‘get off my lawn’ feminist. But I worry we’re all upping the ante and making it harder and harder to not look in the mirror and judge everything we do by appearance. I know for me too once I start doing a thing, it can be hard to stop. I laughed at Mina’s naked yoga toes story but it also rang true. I had my first ever pedicure in 2017 as a treat before the bike rally. I liked my pink toes. But when it came off, I wanted more. Now in the fall when I stop wearing toe nail polish my toenails look all worn and mangy to me. When a thing stops feeling optional, it starts feeling more like a duty and less like fun to me.

So what makes the ‘wearing make up to work out’ choice complicated isn’t just its effect on other women. That’s the issue of collectively raising the bar and making it more difficult for other women to opt out. But it’s also the effect on our own individual, future choices. Think carefully before you allow beauty into a realm where it wasn’t before. If you’re like me you’ll have a hard time in the future chasing it back out.

How about you? Do you wear making up while working out? Do you wear special make up for that purpose? How do you feel about your choice? (Let’s stay away from the choices that others make.)

12 thoughts on “Beauty, barbells, and blush for the gym: Sam has some complicated thoughts

  1. Ah, no and no.
    I generally practice yoga in a studio. I normally shower before I go (to help loosen up stiff muscles), and I wear zero makeup, if I go in the morning. On days I go after work all I expect there’s nothing left of my sparse work makeup.

    Maybe I’m just old. I do not want attention at they gym. I want to do my thing and leave.

  2. I love makeup and wear it most days. I would never consider wearing makeup to the gym and I find the whole idea really odd. In fact, I often take my makeup off before a workout because sweat + makeup = a very bad Marilyn Manson impersonation.

  3. I prefer working out without makeup too. Only if I’m going for a lunchtime run at work, I don’t remove it. Putting it back on would mean I’d have to lug it to work in the morning or keep a second set of everything at work. It would also take a while and our shower/changing room space at work is in high demand, so you need to be in and out REALLY fast. So I keep it on for practical reasons (although wearing makeup while running is kind of impractical) and try not to destroy it completely while sweating and showering. Moving through a work day without any makeup at all isn’t an option for me. I like wearing it during the day, it makes me feel great, and like Sam, I’m extremely pale without it, even in the summer.
    So when I recently read somewhere that there was a spray to make one’s makeup ‘workout proof’, I honestly got kind of excited. I haven’t tried it yet, but I very well might.
    I don’t like the pressure on women to “look good while working out” either. Honestly, society expects us to put way too much work in already. If I can, I prefer to opt out of makeup for sports and that’s going to stay that way.

  4. I was saddened when Esther Ledecka won a gold at the Olympics and wouldn’t take off her ski goggles, saying it was because she didn’t have any mascara on. But then, I hardly ever wear makeup (when I do, it’s mascara and lipstick, which feels fun), mostly because I’m lazy, but also because it feels weird. I agree with you, Sam, about all the complexity of setting standards for all women. Wearing makeup during a workout feels impossible to me–I sweat too much! All of that said, I have to admit that I’m compromised in these statements, because I tint my invisibly pale eyelashes and I got an eyebrow and eyeliner tattoo, so I would feel less unkempt on a daily basis … Sigh. As you say, it’s complicated!

    1. I sometimes think about eyeliner tattoo because I can’t wear much make up on my eyes because of my cornea condition.

      1. I have to admit it’s pretty great. Before I wore no makeup, but I wished I could be bothered. And now I don’t feel like I “have to”.

  5. I work out at our university fitness center during my lunch break. I wear spandex and a ponytail and I’m short, chunky and almost 60 years old. I hope when people watch me work out that I inspire them to forget how they look and concentrate on how their workout makes them feel. I sweat and it makes me happy.

  6. I often wear mascara when I work out because I wear it most of the time. Most days I wear regular with a layer of waterproof over top and unless I’m caught in the rain, in a hot yoga class, or swimming it holds up well and I like it.

  7. I’ve invested in some make-up for work that really does last all day, so if I’m going to the gym afterwards, I’m still made-up. However, on weekends, I don’t bother, and I’m glad not to. OTOH, I admit I check my hair about two dozen times to make sure I don’t have too many wispies between my glasses and my ears. . . makes me feel silly to see all those fly-aways! (Not sure why that’s the standard I hold myself to though, now I think on it!)

    And I can completely relate to the pedicure begets pedicure predicament! Once I get a manicure, I feel sort of weird not maintaining them every three weeks. I’ve gone through bouts of getting my nails done only to eventually convince myself I really don’t care and let them go again.

  8. Ok, I’m probably a severe outlier here: I went to a job interview this wk. (I was flown to another province, so they really did want to meet me in person…after Skype interview) and I didn’t wear any makeup at all. None.

    I don’t even wear mascara/eyeliner because 30 yrs. ago I tried, but my eyes felt tired. It was the makeup causing it. So I gave up.

    Wearing foundation while exercising sounds VERY unhealthy. Seriously. I wouldn’t do it. Keep in mind as a teenager, I had severe acne and did use topical prescription cream and took tetracycline pills I did see a dermatologist. So I seriously have a strong opinion, about the importance of allowing your facial skin to breathe while exercising.

    Wearing some light natural coloured lipstick might be helpful to prevent cracked cold lips, I guess. I get the mascara…but not really.

    I really don’t get women who bike fair distance and must wear makeup. Who cares? Who sees you longer than 10 sec. before you bike by? Would stopping for a drink, snack be so important with your sweat to still wear makeup.

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