Last week I saw an advertisement for a permanent make-up company in Salt Lake, and I was going to write a post about it, but I got lazy and didn’t do it. This week I found a new catalyst in that the young women in my ward are having a presentation on make-up as part of their weekly activity night.

Before I get into the particulars of my catalysts, let me just explain why I have a problem with make-up. I know there’s a lot of potential issues with make-up or even with fashion in general, especially when you try to reconcile it with religion, but I think the thing that sets make-up apart from other fashions is how intertwined it becomes with a woman’s self-esteem. If it were treated the same way as picking a belt or a pair of shoes, then I don’t think I would care. But it’s not treated the same. It becomes such a part of a woman’s identity that she is convinced that she is not pretty without it, and she’s uncomfortable being seen in public until after she has her face painted.

Cultural traditions are complicated and I know there’s probably a lot of factors that have gone into making and keeping make-up so connected to self-esteem as it is. I don’t know what’s to blame for that, but I do see that the make-up companies realize this connection and that they prey on women because of it, taking advantage of self-esteem issues to sell their products. You could probably make an example out of any number of advertising campaigns, but one that is particularly obvious to me is Mary Kay. When they have their little make-up parties to sell the product in women’s homes, they actually vote on who is the “most improved” because of the new make-up.

I don’t really know what my ward’s agenda is with this activity for the young women or how they’re going to present it. I think it’s entirely possible that they’re going to have a very tasteful presentation and try to teach the girls to be moderate in how they wear their make-up. Even that, though, I think is potentially damaging to the young women.

I’ve seen those reality shows where they give a woman a make-over, which usually involves teaching her how to properly use her make-up. I haven’t seen a lot of these shows, but every one that I have seen tells the woman to be more moderate and more sparing in how she applies her make-up. That’s fine. The problem is that even this approach (or especially this approach?) teaches the woman that this is the way that her face is meant to be painted. The make-over teaches her what clothes are in style, and maybe what is flattering to her out of that style, but with the make-up it teaches her what matches her, as though it is something permanent that her face needs and not something that changes with the seasons and her moods like other fashions. It teaches her that this is the right look for her features and complexion. Even if the end result is that she wears less make-up than before, it still emphasizes the idea that there is a correct look for this particular woman and that it is only achievable through the application of make-up.

So regardless of the intent, I’d just be afraid that by teaching the young women to use make-up, you’re really just teaching them that they need make-up.

Maybe it’s an extension of that idea that there is a single correct look for a woman’s face and that make-up achieves it that has led our society to the idea of permanent make-up. Anything permanent and unchangeable makes me nervous and I think the fact that there are women who are willing to have their make-up permanently attached just emphasizes how much the industry has convinced them of their inadequacy without it.

There is an additional thing that bothers me about permanent make-up. I’m sure that Salt Lake has more ads for tattoo removal than for tattoo parlors, but permanent make-up has no problem fitting in with all of the other ads for permanently changing a person’s body to fit some arbitrary image of beauty. The part of this that really bothers me is that some of the same people who have religious reasons for thinking that tattoos are immoral can think that permanent make-up is just fine. You do realize that they are the same thing, right? The only difference is the shape of the tattoo that you’re getting, but it’s still a tattoo. I think the women who find themselves in favor of permanent make-up but against traditional tattoos have forgotten why they are against tattoos in the first place. It’s so easy to be swept up in a cultural stereotype, but before long we forget our values and just start thinking that the definition of our religion is the same as our niche in that culture.

I guess it makes sense that the cultural associations blur the lines between make-up and tattoos for some women. After all, it’s only because of cultural associations that permanent make-up could ever have an appeal in the first place. Women have been taught that they don’t look good without it, and that they should always wear it whenever they are visible to anyone else, so it seems like an inconsequential step to have it permanently attached. Societal pressures have already permanently inked the make-up to our identity, so why not to skin?