Women in the Message of the Hour are not allowed to wear makeup. They are taught two standards of beauty: “worldly” beauty, which allegedly sends men packing into a boxcar bound for hell, and “godly” beauty. Roughly translated, “godly” beauty means being a skinny natural blonde with clear skin who manages to make her frumpy jumper look elegant and alluring because she has no unsightly lumps or bumps underneath it. For all that Message believers claim that godly beauty is on the inside, they will also frequently brag about how much more beautiful their girls are than worldly girls with their short shorts and eyeliner. Don’t be fooled: it totally is a competition.
Branham’s reasoning was that the only woman in the Bible to wear makeup was Jezebel. Therefore, women who wear makeup today have a “Jezebel spirit” and only do it to tempt men. Never mind that Jezebel actually applied makeup in order to assert her status as queen and face her death nobly. Branham, horribly misunderstanding the story, taught that since Jezebel was eaten by dogs, women who wore makeup were also “dog meat.” Branham even had a vision of hell in which he saw 1960s women wearing eyeshadow. (If only he’d seen Adam Lambert!) If I could have lunch with Branham today, I’d ask him why he didn’t preach about the evils of cars and electric stoves: after all, there were no women in the Bible who drove or cooked without a fire.
Props to that Bible Believers site, by the way, for the use of the phrase “grotesque use of makeup.” Its unintentional hilarity made my day. When I think of grotesque makeup, what usually comes to mind is this rather than this.
Garden variety misogyny gets wrapped up in this spiritualization of makeup and women’s appearances. I knew a number of Message boys who liked to joke about how they knew which girls were really beautiful, because we didn’t wear makeup. Those poor fools out in the world didn’t know what they were in for: after their wedding night, they could wake up next to some hideous creature whose makeup had worn off. My own best friend was obsessed with the song, “Ugly Mrs. Fen,” which is all about a drunk guy accidentally marrying an overweight woman and dying of shock and horror. The song catalogues her faults in great detail. The song may be tongue in cheek, but its premise is inhumane and sexist to the core. As I used to protest when my friend would bring up the song, we know nothing of her heart or character and it doesn’t matter – the punchline of the song is her shape. This is a sickening, indefensible attitude that emulates the very worst of human superficiality “in the world.” It proves that those who claim to be “set apart” are actually taking their cues from the ones they think they’re set apart from: judging women by their looks. I’d rather deal with an openly lecherous sex addict any day compared to the sanctimonious judgment of evangelical Christian boys who not only think they’re entitled to marry a supermodel, but one who is naturally a supermodel.
So, unless your Message conversion took you out of the running for a lucrative career as a supermodel, what’s a good girl to do in the face of this harsh criticism and pressure to be perfect? With her makeup arsenal stripped away, she appears to be defenseless against the onslaught of physical appraisals.
Except almost nobody actually lives this way. You might think the girls around you are all just naturally beautiful. I’ve got news for you: desperate times breed desperate measures. They’re not. They’re faking it. During my last year in the Message, I learned how to fake it, too.
Step 1: Concealer. Ever wonder why none of the other Message girls have zits? Yeah, concealer is the reason. Really hardcore white girls who can’t bear to admit they’re using a cosmetic product will actually rub dry soap on the zit to color it paler. I don’t recommend this. You’re trying to conceal a zit, not gunk up your pores even more. It probably won’t work if you’re not a pale Caucasian, either. Besides, does it really matter that you do exactly the same thing with a product that doesn’t have a cosmetic barcode? It doesn’t change your motives, and all anybody’s going to notice when you use real concealer is that you don’t seem to have as many zits as you used to.
Step 2: Eyebrow plucking and penciling. When I was 14, I asked my mother how to pluck my eyebrows. She almost forbade it, but then gave in (the same thing happened with regard to shaving my legs). Shaping your eyebrows can go a long way towards that neat, meticulous, hyperfeminine look that screams, “I read my Bible so much, my eyebrows shape themselves!” And if your eyebrows are naturally sparse, there’s a pencil for that. I began by picking the lightest visible shade and filling in only the gaps. Nobody noticed.
Step 3: Foundation. Message girls use it in thin layers, but they use it everyday if there’s a church camp or a suitor to impress. Especially the powdered mineral kind, which is impossible to notice unless you’ve really caked it on. Trust me, those even skin tones aren’t all real.
Step 4: Mascara. Gasp! This is one of the enemy’s special tools! Except you’ll seldom meet a blonde girl who hasn’t applied brown mascara to make her lashes more noticeable. Especially in the South.
Step 5: Split end cleanup. My last year in the Message, I began reading at the Long Hair Community. It’s a wacky place filled with ideas like, “Trim your hair at the waning of the moon and it will grow faster.” There I learned the technique of “dusting” or “search and destroy,” which basically means folding the ends of your hair over your palm and cutting off the ends of all the individual split hairs that stick out. The overall length isn’t affected, and the result is a smoother, shinier mane. You can overdo it, though, so be careful. The Long Hair Community is also great for helping you figure out how to concoct conditioning mixtures out of bulk kitchen products.
There you have it, folks. My hard-won arsenal of tricks that let me blend in with other Message girls and survive the devastating critique launched at us constantly by Message boys. I guarantee that at least half of all Message girls have done at least one of these things. Know why? Because as soon as I started, I got a deluge of compliments on my “natural beauty” and how I didn’t “need makeup” like those ugly whores out there “in the world.” I inwardly chafed at being praised for something that didn’t exist, but I had to do what I had to do. It was that or have people assume that because I was plagued by acne and sparse brows, my soul was somehow deficient. It was that or be the ugly, unpopular girl against whom the boys measure their intended spouses. It was that or continue to starve myself as my only beauty effort, which was only “vain” if somebody noticed.
There’s an alternative to this game, of course, which is recognizing that the Message prohibition of makeup is just one more way to control women by making them conspicuous and self-conscious. When every decision you make about your appearance reflects on the state of your soul, there is no “offstage” time for you to stop and think about whether or not you believe Branham’s words. You are always being asked, “Why do you only wear skirts?” or “Why don’t you wear makeup?” and every time you are forced to respond, “I am obeying God,” you’re convincing yourself again that what you’re doing is right. Constant performance by appearance is a mechanism of control: it strips you of your privacy and anonymity and keeps you always on the defensive. If you’re constantly defending yourself, how can you ever figure out what you really think?