I am not a fan of make-up. (Except when I’m onstage, then I love the ritual of it.) I don’t wear it everyday and will often catch myself getting all judgy of women who wear a lot of it. However, this criticism of Hamlet’s rankles me a bit. Because if Ophelia’s wearing make-up, odds are good that she’s wearing it for you, Hamlet. Because her only value is her “fairness,” her beauty. Having been prized solely for our beauty for centuries it seems particularly cruel to give us a hard time about attempting to highlight that beauty, to hedge our bets, to do whatever we can to up our assets.
In some circles, even now, wearing make-up is not a real choice. To refrain from wearing it would be a clear rejection of the culture a woman might be in.
I grew up surrounded by women who only wore make-up when they felt like it – so it was easy for me to make the same choice. But I recognize that that is not so for everyone. I read an article about shaving legs and all of the complicated feelings it can generate. The author points out that as long as the dominant culture makes it clear that anyone who doesn’t shave her legs is deviant, than whether or not to do it is never a Real choice.
So it is with make-up sometimes. And I try to read it culturally rather than personally. And wear it when I want to. No matter what Hamlet says about it.