Made Up

“Oh, a clown?! You must wear a lot of makeup to work!”

I was on my way in my first week of being a receptionist, and told my Lyft driver, who was a dude, that I was transitioning from work as a circus teacher and a clown to being in an office. He of course asked more questions about what being a clown entailed, and about makeup.

I literally had spent half an hour putting on makeup and an outfit for my front desk job that morning. I’m supposed to look put-together all day while wearing uncomfortable clothing, and walk around in shoes (I’m often barefoot when I teach or rehearse so this is new). I put on a thick layer of foundation and powder to hide my under eye circles and acne. I put blush on top of that to look feminine and also thinner with contouring. I have an eye-brightening eyeshadow base, which I have worn almost daily since I was 15. On top of that, I put a barely thin line of eyeliner with thick dollops of mascara, and fix any mistakes with make-up remover. Then, I choose a neutral color of lipstick and apply it with lip primer so that it stays on longer. I pick just enough jewelry and make sure I have covered my arms and legs with fabric. I brush my hair and set it with gel.

All this, and yet this is about the same amount or LESS makeup that I put on as a clown.

“Sometimes I don’t even wear makeup to be a clown,” I told him. That’s when I feel the most vulnerable. I’m teaching how to be a clown for kids, with no props or gadgets or costumes. Kids, who are natural clowns, and I have to show them how fun it is to make fun of yourself. And yet, it’s the most frightening thing to be yourself in front of children, the harshest critics because of their immediacy, and to lead them in a class about your chosen art form. And tell them how clown is fun but serious work, but don’t yet tell them that the feeling they’re already feeling in performing for the class, is extreme vulnerability.

I think many people are drawn to experiment with clown performance because they see the mask of joy. They see how they can put on an outfit and fancy makeup and use it as an art project where they hide themselves behind. And yes, those masks have the power to transform us. But sometimes, you see someone in a mask and they don’t live, they don’t pull you in, and instead fall flat even with all the accessories. Inauthentic even with the right “look.” The counter mask of joy is sadness and profound grief, and needs to exist in tandem with joy.

“Sometimes, I don’t even wear makeup as a clown.”

I like to wear makeup most times, and have fun with it for parties. And yet, I wear so much makeup to be taken seriously as a “woman in the workplace.” I know the bias that happens when a woman doesn’t wear makeup, and that people will look and talk to me more when I do have it on. It’s funny how much my makeup routine is a performance of my gender, and I get feedback on it as though I have succeeded, as a woman, because of my ability to put it on.

“Oh, a clown?! You must wear a lot of makeup to work!”

You have no idea, dude. No idea at all, how much more effort it is to perform as a woman every day. And how open I am to being vulnerable, as I perform woman, than most times that I am onstage or treated with respect by my students, as I perform clown.

Written by Sabrina Wenske. Originally posted on facebook, reposted here with permission.


Posted in Lady Things