Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Belated group blog post: Chilean women

Here's my belated contribution to last week's collective blog-a-thon on Chilean women. As before, you can find links to other participants' posts on Kyle's blog.

A few months back, I met a guy from the southern United States who had recently come to Chile to teach English. While describing his first impressions of the country, he mentioned that he hadn't found himself particularly attracted to Chilean women. I told him that I thought many Chilean women were beautiful and that I admired the fact that most of them--at least the ones I saw on the streets of Santiago every day--usually didn't seem to wear much makeup.

"That's the thing!" he exclaimed. "It's not that they're not pretty. I just wish they would make more of an effort to, you know, look cute." (Mental slap.)

Interestingly, I'm confident that many of the Chilean men I know would say just the opposite. Why? Because they have. "Why are you wearing makeup?" a male friend once asked me. "You look better without it."

I would dismiss these compliments as fumbling attempts at chivalry if I didn't know that Chileans tend to be (sometimes painfully) honest when it comes to appearance. Now, maybe I've just been lucky enough to meet guys who go for natural, low-maintenance women. Regardless of how Chilean males feel, however, I doubt that most of the Chilean women I see every day spend nearly as much time in front of the mirror as my college classmates did.

The fact that the "au natural" phenomenon was so striking to me when I first arrived in Chile as an exchange student was due in no small part to where I was coming from. I did not go to a college where everyone went to class in pajamas. I arrived at school expecting sweats and sneakers and instead found heels, hair straighteners and designer bags. And that was just in class. You can imagine what a big night out entailed.

Even though neither I nor the majority of my friends at college devoted extensive portions of our mornings to getting gussied up, the atmosphere must have rubbed off on me somehow: Sitting in my classes in Chile, I became uncomfortably aware of the fact that I was wearing more makeup than most of my female classmates.

Isabel Allende writes about barefaced chilenas in her book My Invented Country. I don't have the book on hand and can't remember what her explanation was...Can anyone enlighten me? One argument that seems to surface whenever someone starts analyzing Chileans is that the residents of this inhospitable, fault-line-straddling land of extremes are simple and austere by nature. I can't remember if Allende mentioned this or not and don't know what Chilean women would have to say on the matter.

In any case, I did what gringas do: I adapted. I started wearing less makeup and occasionally didn't wear any at all. It was incredibly liberating...and allowed me an extra 15 minutes of sleep in the morning.

Just when I thought I had it all figured out, a young Chilean woman asked me why gringas didn't wear very much makeup. She posed the question as she was sitting on her bed applying what must have been her tenth coat of mascara.

I didn't know what to reply, having always thought it had been the other way around. But here she was, straightening her hair and carefully outlining her eyes in black, and there I was, wearing facial moisturizer and very little else.

There are, of course, groups of young Chileans for which makeup -- even for guys -- is a central element of style. I'm talking about the pokemones, emos and goth kids who have become just as ubiquitous a presence on Chilean talk shows as on the streets of Santiago. As far as I knew, though, this woman did not belong to any of these groups.

More importantly, neither was she part of the university set I was used to being around. It occurred to me that I had been making generalizations based on the apparent preferences of a limited -- and frequently (comparatively) privileged -- demographic.

So, in the end, the question remains unanswered: What's the deal with Chilean women and makeup?

Remember to check out other people's posts on this topic! Oh, and if you're Minnesotan (and even if you're not), check out my last post and let me know what you think.


Mamacita Chilena said...

I think with makeup here there isn't much of a happy medium. You either go totally barefaced or over the top what gringas would consider to be more night time style eyeliner and bright lipstick to work. I have often thought that I would like to give the entire a country a lesson in concealer and mascara, which in my opinion are all you need unless it's some kind of a special occasion.

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valeria said...

hi im chilena but i live in canada and let me tell you i went through the same situation you are describing,but here in canada the first day i went to highschool here which was about 3 years a go, i saw all the girls wearing a lot of makeup and dressed up for me it was like they were going to a party or something.It was a little shocking at firs to see such a young girls worrying so much about their appearence and to me they look ugly and not natural.i remmember that in chile you could even get into a club in like running shoes or sandals but here you cant you have to go very well dressed up.I think is a matter of adaptation, i finally could adjust myself to the way things are here and i feel very happy about it because it is also important for a woman to take good care of her appearence.but all with limits.im pretty sure in chile you can find tuns of beautiful girls that are naturally beautiful the same as in here.