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Kim and Kanye
courtesy of Instagram/@kimkardashian

Why I top up my make-up during sex

TextNatalie Corner

You’re probably thinking that sounds pretty normal, but what I’ve never told anyone is that as well as starting with a full face I also top it up during and after

My friends think I’m mad because I won’t go anywhere without make-up. Even to the gym, I’ll put on a (light) layer of foundation and concealer, though I know I’m going to sweat it off and look considerably worse than when I arrived. One of my other favourite sweaty activities to wear make-up for is sex. You’re thinking that sounds pretty normal, but what I’ve probably never told anyone is that as well as starting with a full face I also top it up during and after.

'Why?' I hear you cry. In my defence, it’s to feel more confident in my skin while being intimate with someone. Make-up for me has the power to make me feel better even when I don’t, a mask if you will. Despite the fact that experts have repeatedly told us not to sleep in our make-up or wear it to the gym because it can cause breakouts and clog up your pores, I cannot take their advice. When the bodily fluids start flowing and the make-up starts slipping, I will without fail – in the right moment of course – sneak out with a concealer stick to the bathroom and do a quick refresh.

I don’t even know when I started doing this. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t wear make-up to be with a man. I’m even one of those people who creep to the bathroom in the morning, just like Kristen Wiig’s character does in Bridesmaids, to put on a face before creeping back into bed and pretending to have just “woke up like this”. I'm aware that there are many people who will scream that this is wrong and that I should not bow down to the patriarchy, but I don't think that my need to wear make-up in front of a man necessarily makes me a bad feminist, although it might make me a victim of social conditioning. But I just want them to see me how I want to be seen.

It’s hard for me to admit, but I am just not comfortable being that vulnerable with my make-up-free-scarred-from-picking-spots-and-uneven-skin-tone-sunken-eye-bags-ashen-face taking the spotlight. You could argue that an impossible standard has been set by movies, porn and magazines telling us that women never seem to take their make-up off when it comes to bed. Check Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where she lifts up her eye mask to reveal her perfect smokey eye in the morning, or Anjelica Huston’s Morticia Addams arising from a sultry slumber in a full red lip. Eva Mendes’ character Sara in Hitch when she wakes up after being squashed in a couch cushion, face still in place. Or what about Princess Aurora in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. She’s animated but ready and waiting with her perma-pink lip, rosy cheeks and eyeliner wings for her true love to arrive and wake her from her cursed sleep. Celebrity make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury even confessed that she wears eyeliner and mascara to bed and never lets her husband see her without it because “it just makes me feel sexy… Make-up is happiness”, she told NY Mag in 2016.

“I honestly can’t think of anything worse than a man looking directly into my bare face and in some way knowing I’ve lied about who I am because that mask slipped.”

Deep, deep, deep down I know that the man I’m sharing a bed with shouldn't and probably doesn't care what my face looks like – especially by the end of said passionate cardio session – but I simply cannot think about staring in his face to enjoy post-coital bliss when I know I need to reapply. In fact, he offered a very pragmatic answer when I asked him what he thinks: “I actually don’t really care. Fair enough if it makes you feel better or sexy but honestly it doesn’t bother me much at all. If anything it’s more annoying because it ruins my bed sheets.”

But I honestly can’t think of anything worse than a man looking directly into my bare face and in some way knowing I’ve lied about who I am because that mask slipped. It’s worse when you hear your innermost fears spoken by the likes of Josh Denzel from Love Island, who boldly complained in the 2018 series in front of his stunningly beautiful (then) girlfriend Kaz Crossley about women taking their make-up off for bed. “They're getting into bed and you're lying there thinking  ‘I can’t wait for her to get into bed.’ And they’ve come in and they’ve got, like, your flipping T-shirt on, your old boxers, all the makeup’s off and you just think ‘Oh why couldn’t you have just kept that on?’" Josh came under immense fire for his comments and later apologised to Kaz saying she’d look fit in a bin bag, but the damage was done, women’s insecurities were laid, quite literally, bare.

I’ve spent time trawling Reddit threads and advice from beauty experts online about the best ways to preserve my face during sex, with the best tips often coming from porn stars. FYI primer and setting spray are top of the list. I do feel jealousy towards those who feel good enough and are comfortable facing the world (and their bed partner) exactly how they woke up, fresh-faced and pillow-creased. I’m even jealous of one person on the Reddit thread who boldly stated: “I just don’t give a fuck. I’m so much more than my make-up, if it comes off, I’m still me.”

“It’s why years ago I found that make-up free selfie trend so problematic, the more I saw people with beautiful flawless skin the more I felt shame that I did not have the same.” 

Summer is perhaps the only time I would ever consider a ‘make-up free’ look and that’s if we’ve been graced with enough sun to gently tan my Jamaican-Caucasian skin. But even then I absolutely must apply tinted moisturiser and my trusty concealer. It’s why years ago I found that make-up free selfie trend so problematic, the more I saw people with beautiful flawless skin the more I felt shame that I did not have the same. I’m all for women encouraging other women to stop reaching for those unrealistic beauty expectations. I think the #freethepimple Instagram movement that aims to help others be less ashamed of their skin insecurities and break the stigma of acne and “problem skin” is incredible. But as much as I can see the true positive in movements like these, a make-up free selfie will never be me. 

Psychotherapist Nick Davies shares his thoughts about the effects social media has on women: “‘Feeling' your 'best self' with the use of make-up will obviously affect your real 'self' ego-state as you will at some level believe you 'need' it to feel validated and this is how social media makes most women feel like this.” However, he clarifies: “Make-up is okay if you understand that it's something to enhance your features but you're perfectly acceptable without it.” 

I can’t avoid the way society makes me feel, as images are fed to me daily, across social media, magazines, and advertisements, telling me the picture-perfect ideal of what female beauty should be and how much value we should place on it. I can’t ignore that I’ve been conditioned to believe that I am not that ‘ideal’ and in some ways that has affected how I see myself, but ultimately wearing make-up doesn’t make me weak, it makes me feel good. I am happy to be in the skin I am in, it will just never be at 100 per cent, but I can still be a feminist, stand up for equality and ultimately choose to wear make-up while doing so. So I’ll be wearing make-up to the gym, to have sex, to go and sunbathe by the pool on holiday (with micro-bladed eyebrows and lash extensions to be extra). It’s not my way of striving to be society’s version of ‘perfect’, but rather the best version of myself and there ain’t no shame in that.

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