Enhancing Appearances


For most of my young life, I washed my face with Dial soap and walked out the door with nary a swipe of cosmetics. I’ve made a lot of changes since then. I don’t do much, but I like my face better with BB cream, blush, lip color, and defined brows. I feel like I look healthier, more polished, like an enhanced version of my regular self. But occasionally I come across diagrams like the one above – showing techniques for visually contouring the face using makeup of various colors and shades – and I realize that I’m only hitting the tip of the face-defining iceberg.

I wear padded bras. As I’ve mentioned more times than I ever expected to on a public website, I have perpetually erect nipples. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m ashamed of this, but I acknowledge that it can be a distraction. So I pad. And I will admit to liking how a little bit of extra volume in my bust balances my figure. But in my bra shopping excursions, I always avoid  the super enhanced, gel insert, push-the-girls-sky-high models. The phrase “false advertising” floats through my head, unbidden and unwelcome.

I own shape wear. If I’m going out in a fitted dress and want a little jiggle-mitigation, I’ll slip it on. I have never believed nor seen evidence that shape wear can make anyone look five pounds lighter, but I know that wearing these undergarments changes how I look to the observing eye.

So much of what we do when we dress and groom is meant to amplify or enhance what we already have. Some of what we do is meant to alter how our natural figures and faces are seen and perceived. And what fascinates me is how each person, as an individual, feels about levels of enhancement and amplification. Some people would consider dying their hair to be an act of deception, and some would feel perfectly comfortable undergoing surgery to transform their body’s essential shape and consider it to be a welcome enhancement. It’s personal, variable, and totally fascinating.

I’d love to hear about the choices you make to enhance or subtly alter your appearance and how you landed upon them. Do you do padded bras? Contour your face with cosmetics? Wear shape wear? Color your hair? Have you had elective body-altering surgery? Have your experiences with these techniques and garments changed how you feel about your appearance overall? If so, how?


  • If you feel strongly about this issue, express your views respectfully and civilly or they will not be published. I’m happy to participate in a discussion that includes contrary opinions, but will not tolerate cruelty.
  • Be courteous and kind to each other when responding to remarks from other readers.

Image via Batalash

This post and discussion have been refreshed and revived from the archive.

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16 Responses to “Enhancing Appearances”

  1. Leslie Le

    In the past two years, I’ve started to fill in the ends of my brows, because they’re a bit sparse in photos. I also wear v-neck shirts to lengthen my neck. And long dangly earrings to do the same. But that’s about it.

  2. crtfly

    I think whatever alterations and enhancements people want to do is fine. It’s their body, their business. I would hope that folks would make sure all health and safety practices are followed. However all the research in the world can’t provide a 100% guarantee.

    What makes me so angry is how cruelly the media goes after celebrities, female and and male. “One’s too fat, another needs a neck lift.” Then if the targets diet and have plastic surgery, there will be endless discussions about that. I know celebrities are in the public eye and can expect public attention. But how the media constantly hounds them about their looks is way, way overboard.


    • Marlen

      It also irks me when you see mean comments about celebrities that had plastic surgery. I’m sure one of the main reasons they had it is because they feel so insecure being in the public eye, and here we are ripping them down some more. It’s a weird “between a rock and a hard place” to be in and I always feel sympathetic that they had to go that far to feel better about themselves.

  3. Karen K.

    Let’s see…Fill in sparse/light eyebrows, V-neck or scoop neck for DD chest, spanx under dresses, foundation to cover some rosacea, hair color, laser hair removal for underarms & bikini area. Most choices I make are because I feel more confident socially doing them than not. Also, I photograph a little better doing some of these things.

  4. Not quite anonymous

    I keep seeing contouring mentioned as an example of using large amounts of makeup, which baffles me. When I was experimenting with mineral foundation to even my skin tone, my face looked unnatural. A friend told me I needed contouring to fix that. I slap on some mineral foundation that’s one shade darker along the outer edges of my nose, along my hairline, and in the hollows of my cheeks. Then I look normal rather than oddly flat. It’s very sloppy and only takes a few seconds, far less time than trying to do anything to my eyes or lips. I assumed my friend was teaching me a standard approach that everyone uses, but this seems not to be the case.

    Normally, I don’t do much to enhance my appearance because I’m lazy and don’t care that much. I color my gray hair and dress in a way that makes my high waist and wide hips look more normally proportioned. I don’t bother with makeup, since that takes time and upsets my skin.

  5. Laney S.

    I bleach my upper lip. I feel much more confident when I know the ol’ moustache is hidden (or at least less obvious).

    I also do the BB cream (just in the winter), but I think that’s it. I’ve never really worn makeup, and every time I try it I feel like a little girl playing with her mom’s stuff!

  6. Marlen

    I change my hair from straight to curled almost every day and it makes me feel radically different. I know I don’t *look* different but it’s like my safety blanket. It just makes me feel more confident and I get a bit of a Victoria-Secret-runway bounce to my step when it’s looking especially fine, haha. I’m trying to move slightly away from that though. I don’t mind curling it but I don’t like feeling dependent on it to feel pretty, so I’m trying to train myself to unthink that 🙂

    xo marlen
    Messages on a Napkin

  7. Sam

    Body enhancement/modification anecdotes:

    a) I have some ladies in
    my extended family who’ve had boob jobs. They’re such fabulous people,
    and so body-positive, they’ve totally changed the way I think about
    people who’ve undergone purely cosmetic surgery.

    b) Right now,
    I’m kicking myself for not getting into corsetry just post-partum, when
    my bones and ligaments were all loosey-goosey. My back would have felt
    much better — THEY ARE SO COMFORTABLE — and I might have regained my
    pre-baby hourglass figure. Now I’m an upside-down triangle, which I
    don’t mind on principle, but it completely changes my wardrobe options.

    +1 for eyebrows. Why oh why did it take me until last year to realize
    that I could fill them in? My face, I finally like it in photos, even
    when I’m not wearing any other makeup. Crazytimes.

  8. Emmy

    I recently started colouring my hair. I started going grey quite suddenly, after a severe illness. After I recovered I thought about just letting it go grey naturally, because after all, it’s going to go grey sometime. But every time I looked at my grey roots, I was just reminded of my illness. Colouring my hair allowed me to see myself as a healthy person again, which gave me a big psychological boost.

  9. Devon

    I only wear shapewear/girdle under dresses that have gotten a bit too snug for me or that show my belly “too much”. My girdle takes about an inch off my waist and pushes my belly in. I wear lightly padded bras for the erect nipple thing, although I am nearly a D cup and don’t need any enhancement. I have finally given up on underwire bras except for special occasion fancy ones.

    On my face, I use tinted moisturizer combined with a bit of a shimmer cream for that “youthful dewy” look. I almost always add blush and a bit of bronzing powder on the sides and hairline so that my face is not flat, but I don’t bother with precise or extreme face contouring. I am lucky to have found very flattering glasses that cover most of my thin eyebrows, so I don’t have to pencil them very often. I like to use medium to dark lipstick even during the day to balance the dark rim of the glasses and my dark hair, although I’m terrible about eating it off. Lip stains work much better for me.

  10. Stephanie Ganger

    I color my hair. I did it honestly to boost my self esteem. I was feeling rather down about myself after being rather sick for several years. My hair looked rather lackluster and not at all how I felt about my own appearance. Since I am so chemically sensitive it took a while to find something that worked well. Since I am a redhead I went with henna. I have been using that regularly for the last 5 years and it honestly not only enhances my appearance, it makes me feel more like myself.

  11. coffeeaddict

    The phrase that stuck was “Some people would consider dying their hair
    to be an act of deception” Isn’t the
    urge to shape ourselves to meet the expectations of society as well as
    to transform ourselves to the most dazzling version of ourselves the most basic instinct we all share? If
    dying our hair is deception then how do we define the act of using
    eloquent speech (learning lines from plays or memorable quotes) to
    impress and appear more worldly and/or knowledgeable? It’s the same as dying your hair or wearing shapewear.

  12. Nathalie Desrayaud

    Note: I hope HTML works here!

    What bothers me about this issue is the belief that any alteration, enhancement, or change is a lie or malevolent deception. Padded bras, makeup, cosmetic surgeries – they’re supposed lies. For example – this before/after image got tagged with “you liar”. Or this image of celebrities with and without makeup is posted as “a face of lies.”

    It’s not a lie to cover your pimples or outline your eyes. Just the way it’s not a lie to wear clothing that hides most of your body. I have my own personal limits for how much I am willing to enhance or adjust my appearance, but that in no way gives me a right to judge other people for their enhancements, nor does it make them manipulative, deceitful, or immoral.

    I’m glad to see that you curb your “false advertising” impulse; but where does it come from? Why do we somehow believe that if we don’t look the same at all times, in all places, that we are somehow liars. Humans are complex – we have multiple identities that we choose from at any given time, so expecting someone to be truly and always consistent seems cartoonish – like Doug Funny who wears the same outfit every day.

    My two cents? (Maybe $2 by now…) Enhance to your heart’s content, and don’t judge me when I do too.

  13. Victoria Young

    I had a bilateral breast reduction at quite a young age for health reasons, and being proportional has done a great deal for my self esteem. Clothes still don’t fit off the rack (5’0″ and 110 can be a curse), but my back doesn’t ache, and all I need to do is hem sleeves and trousers.

    I don’t wear much makeup, but I feel more “me” with pin curls and red lipstick, so I do it. Same with letting my greys grow out – they’re my family heritage and I love them. I’ve gotten quite a bit of grief for it (I’m only 35), but I like how they look. (Granted, I miss the RED i used to have, but my greys are gorgeous, and I figure I can always go back if I want).

  14. Tree

    I love makeup as artistic expression. I don’t think of it when I feel down thinking it will change my mood or so that others can see me in a totally different light.People may judge no matter what you look like. Its not that serious. It suppose to be fun. Not like you hate yourself or anything, just another way to connect to others in this big world.

  15. Kelly Everson

    Well frankly speaking, I do use shape wear and few other things which would avoid the jiggle look. With respect to face and makeup, I take help of Revivatone a Solvaderm Product. This cream helps me to keep my skin around neck and chest in a good tone. My younger sister is an expert in contouring. She has a round shape and try her best to give it a sharp look.