My Day Without Makeup

I carry my makeup with me everywhere these days.

One never knows when an all-nighter might present itself in the ROK (“Chicken and beer after work? Sure! Wait, how the hell is it light out already?”). I have the self-annoying habit of leaving my makeup to the last possible second before I have to catch the bus to work, and often commute near barefaced. Since the summer heat began, it’s been necessary to arrive at work and wait about fifteen minutes to stop sweating in order to apply makeup that won’t run right off my face.

Today I walked out the door, about two minutes late as usual, completely bare-faced. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth or hair. I’d taken the time to remove the makeup under my eyes, but my blonde eyelashes were showing without any mascara and making me appear slightly alien.

Unkempt and mostly invisible eyebrows…

An old woman appeared as soon as I walked out of my apartment, sitting on a bench with a cigarette, giving exactly no fucks that women don’t smoke in public in Korea. She saw me walking toward her, struggling to stuff my uncooperative wallet into my bag, and smiled. The brightness of her smile was blinding as she gestured that I looked pretty. My own mouth curled into an immediate and genuine smile in response.

After the short ride on the 7 through the neighborhoods and rice paddies that line the road to Yeongtong, I got out and waited to cross the street. A truck went by with the police in it, and one of them leaned out the back window of the Ford Explorer smiling and waving to me. That doesn’t happen on a normal Tuesday. Also, it appears that the police themselves are exempt from the laws regarding seat belts.

After that, I decided to make today a social experiment. In South Korea, a country famous for its pressure on women to look a certain way and the fact that it leads the world in cosmetic surgery (even 12-year-olds need to have eye surgery, apparently)…a day without makeup. And deodorant. And brushing my hair.

Shut up, I was in a rush after my writer’s block finally lifted this morning.

No makeup at all. The red on my lips is from soybean paste I ate with mandu for dinner.


Thus, frizzy-haired, barefaced, and smelling slightly more like a hippie than usual, I left my perfume and my makeup in my purse. All. Day. I have to admit that it wasn’t easy to keep myself positive about my appearance, especially when many women dress so nicely and apply makeup with precision every day here…and are coiffed without a hair out of place.

Amazingly, I got more compliments on my appearance today than I have most days in Korea. With the exception of when I dressed to the nines for some friends’ wedding, it was my most complimented day. What the hell?! Why do I (and millions of other women and men) spend so much time and money on aesthetics if being a dirty and natural hippie generates so many more compliments? And why is it that not having any makeup on creates a feedback loop of self-effacement in my head?

I was unable to answer any of those questions, but my experiment has been a successful one. I went the whole day without applying a single shred of makeup, and only barely plucked at my face in the mirror when I went to the restroom. By the time I got home, I was a shiny-faced frizzball. A happy, self-accepting shiny-faced frizzball. 

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