1. If you wear makeup, why do you wear makeup and how often do you wear makeup?
I’ve worn make-up since my early teens and never feel fully ‘dressed’ without it. As I’ve got older, I find I wear less and less. I definitely enjoy wearing make-up and experimenting occasionally, but wish I didn’t feel naked without it.
2. What made you want to participate in this portrait series?
I have a two-year-old daughter (and another daughter on the way) and I’ve started thinking more and more about how the decisions I make affect them. I frequently find myself explaining ‘just because mummy wears make up/ shaves her legs/ wears dresses, doesn’t mean you have to! I really want them to be as free as possible from gender constraints, and can only really expect that to happen if I make an effort to free myself from them as well. I’ve also found that, during my pregnancy, my appearance has taken a bit of a bashing in terms of acne etc, and I’d like to feel a bit better about myself, and hoped this project would encourage a feeling of solidarity with other women.
3. Is being completely makeup free something that makes you feel in any way uncomfortable?
I have very pale skin, and dark shadows under my eyes, and on the odd occasion I don’t wear anything people often assume I’m ill, which isn’t very encouraging. I have had depression since my late teens and when I’m down, I rarely find the will to put on make-up or dress nicely. This means I associate being out and about without make-up with being depressed.
4. Are there specific factors (positive or negative) that have influenced how you feel about how you look?
I grew up feeling like everyone around me was a lot thinner than me, and more beautiful… and some people just are more beautiful than others. I turned 30 last year, and as time has gone on, I’ve felt like my appearance is a smaller and smaller component of what makes me me. So I suppose the process of growing and maturing hasn’t necessarily made me feel I look any better, I just care less.
Also, whenever I feel down about the way I look, I think of a lyric from a Regina Spektor song called ‘Folding Chair’ where she says “I've got a perfect body but sometimes I forget
I've got a perfect body 'cause my eyelashes catch my sweat”.
I have a functioning body which is healthy and currently growing a human life, so I try to remind myself how lucky I am.
5. If there was one piece of advice for the future you could give your younger self, what would it be?
You really aren’t fat… at all.
6. When have you felt most empowered in your life?
Giving birth to my daughter two years ago. It wasn’t what most people would term a ‘natural birth’ (don’t get me started on that phrase and the pressures that go along with it!) but I really felt like I was in a very special ‘zone’, where biology took over, and I didn’t have to be scared. I felt connected to women who have given birth through the ages and it made me feel very powerful.
7. Is there a woman fictional or real that you admire? Why?
I really like the poet Edna St Vincent Millay – her work really resonates with me, plus she was a feminist activist in a time when that was an even harder thing to be than it is today.
8. What quality do you most admire in yourself?
I am quite a creative person and I love making things – which gives me a great sense of wellbeing. I also like to think I’m quite principled (some might say opinionated!) and open.
9. Is there an achievement you are particularly proud of? Why?
I’ve done a lot of things that for most people are ordinary life events (such as going to university, moving house, having children, getting jobs) whilst suffering from depression. I feel proud of all the things that I’ve achieved whilst being held back by mental ill health.
10. In daily life what are the pressures you feel most exposed to specifically as a woman?
It’s impossible to quantify something so deeply ingrained in our society. A friend of mine recently pointed out that, even as toddlers, little boys tend to have short hair (which needs less maintenance) and girls have to stand still whilst their hair is dried, tied back etc. This is only a few extra seconds each time, but it can add up. Boys then have extra time to play and learn, that girls don’t. As time goes on, this only compounds – women are encouraged to wear high heels, which hurt their feet, and actually impede their ability to walk (which, when you think about it, is ridiculous!). We are encouraged to remove body hair, which on men is totally acceptable, but on women is seen as unsightly at best and unhygienic at worst.
The fact that I conform to these gender expectations despite the fact that I recognise their hypocrisy shows just how strong these pressures are.