Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reason #20 to Love Taiwan

Makeup-free and in New York just before our honeymoon in September 2010

The fact that not wearing makeup is socially acceptable.

Don't get me wrong, I've always been a bit ornery about doing up my appearance to the point that it is generally expected of women (I don't mean I'm gross or unclean - I'm talking about things like hair, makeup, diet for the sake of being thin and adherence to fashion trends). It's just that in Taipei, I feel as though people simply don't notice that I'm not wearing makeup and didn't bother much with my hair...or if they do notice - maybe they do, and they're just too polite to let it show - I get a "pass" because there are plenty of women here who similarly can't be bothered.

I also should admit here that there are two semi-related reasons why I don't wear makeup often, and when I do it's because I want to: the first is purely comfort and health. Makeup, even the light-as-air mineral makeup, feels cakey after an hour or so if you have skin as oily as mine. Blotters don't help. In Taipei and DC, two cities renowned for their humidity, the effect is magnified. I can't do anything, like splash water on my face or rub my eyes, without messing up my makeup. I can't eat or drink anything without messing up lipstick and having to re-apply (even if it's the "long lasting" stuff, which totally does not work.) It just feels uncomfortable. The second is a feminist reason - nobody cares if a man has a zit showing, so why the brouhaha if I do? "Because women are judged more on their looks" is true, but not an acceptable reason. I don't feel the need to conform to a social expectation that I highlight my most feminine features - my eyes and lips - disguise imperfections that the male gender openly displays and generally make myself uncomfortable. I feel women should be treated equally to men, and this should also be true where makeup is concerned. I don't mean makeup should be banished, but rather that it should not be expected (by the way, I do know men who wear makeup and no, it doesn't bother me).

It's this idea that all women wear makeup, or that makeup is required to look professional - why only for women, then? Are our natural faces not acceptable professionally? Why? - or the feeling that because makeup is so common that not wearing it is making a statement...that bothers me back home, and I love that in Taipei it's not really an issue.

It's true that you'll see a lot of fashion-conscious primpage in Xinyi and even Ximending (and to a lesser extent in Gongguan and Shida) and plenty of girls in tight jeans, fake lashes and highlighted bangs on the MRT, but after attending GWU and living in Washington, DC, this subset of done-up women in Taipei seems like just that - a subset, not the basis for a full-on expectation.

I know a lot of people will say "but DC isn't fashionable! All those lobbyists, politicians and policy wonks are hopelessly dorky!" and that is quite true...but that wasn't my circle (I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing). Think young office drones swathed in MAC and Banana Republic - no hate on MAC, I love their stuff even if I rarely wear it - staffing the political offices as well-connected twentysomethings, working in law firms or driving out to the 'burbs to work in the high tech firms in northern Virginia - the ones who rented condos in Ballston and swarmed DC on Saturday nights. They were done up and I was...not. It wasn't the same kind of done up - no whitening cream or fake eyelashes to be found - but it was still a sparkly powdered, eyelined palace of feminine peacockery (the men all dressed the same).

Here, I hop on the bus or MRT and sure, there'll be the Super Fashion Girl with her toffee hair and stiltlike heels, but I can always spot another woman, even one my age (although I admit I'm totally an obasan-in-training) wearing comfortable flats, minimal or no makeup and neatly brushed but not overly styled hair.

So I could lay my social pass to not wear makeup at the feet of being foreign - "she's foreign, they're weird anyway so it's OK" - but I won't, because plenty of local women follow the same path.

I didn't wear makeup daily even when everyone else around me did, and I was fine with it, but I have to admit I enjoy being able to go out with a freshly scrubbed face and not be the only one.


Pierre said...

Waaaah really?!

I've never seen so many fake eyelashes in my life than since I moved in Taipei. A friend of mine says "girls put their fake eyelashes just to go to 7-Eleven"!

By the way, is that photo taken in a pizzeria near the Brooklyn bridge (on the Brooklyn side)?

Jenna said...

Yes, that photo was taken at Grimaldi's Pizza ner the Brooklyn Bridge!

It's true that there are more fake eyelashes in Taiwan, simply because in the West they're quite rare (but making a comeback in bridal makeup, sadly)...I guess my point is that overall I see more women who don't wear makeup in Taiwan than I saw in DC. The ones who do are pretty evenly split between the glitterball-faced women (which is great if you like it but I find it overdone) and the women wearing light, office-friendly makeup (which is fine - as long as the woman wearing it wants to wear it, and she's not putting it on because she feels like she has to).

But in DC, EVERYONE did. I couldn't talk about 28-year-olds on the Metro who were makeup free because there weren't any. Here there are a few...they just get cancelled out by the fake eyelashes on the other women!

catherine_sr. said...

I think a lot of the women in Taipei you see wearing a ton of makeup even in daytime during the summer are required to do so by their employers (usually in retail or food service), especially if they work in a trendy area like the East District or Ximending.

I'm not sure about corporate jobs, but employers in the service industry in Taiwan seem to have a lot more leeway in terms of dictating their workers' appearance down to uniformity in details like eyeliner, false eyelashes and hairdo. Shudder. All I can think is, if you are going to force your female employees to wear that much product during the summer, you'd better also be willing to pay a shitload in air conditioning bills, otherwise there are going to be little puddles of flesh colored pigment and glitter everywhere.

Jenna said...

In the corporate world that's not true. They do come right out and say whether or not you have to wear makeup in some offices but not others, but nobody will tell you how you have to do your hair or what kind/how much makeup you are expected to wear. Generally they'll say "light, professional makeup and professional hair" and leave it at that. If anything tons of makeup, glitter and fake eyelashes are frowned upon.

I still think it's not OK to tell women they have to wear makeup at work at all - that should be a personal choice, like what style of glasses to wear or what fabrics you prefer. That said, while it's not openly said in the USA, it's still "expected". Just because I ignored the expectation doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

In the USA you can't generally dictate to women to wear makeup at all, although most women pick up whether they should be doing so by watching their peers (we're observant like that - well, I never was, or rather, I noticed but didn't care).

莎莎 said...

I remember that on the first day I was in Taiwan, I automatically wanted to put make-up on because here in my country I did it almost every day. My boyfriend (he is Taiwanese) was just like "Why are you putting on makeup? You don't need it!". At first I was a little insecure because we were supposed to go eat with his family. But no one bothered about it. And during my 5 month stay in Taiwan I actually never used make-up except once (for a wedding haha). I felt so much more comfortable not having to wear make-up everyday.

(P.S.: Love your blog btw ^^)