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Lining up in a heat with 11 other girls can be intimidating. Everyone has the same goal — to be the fastest — and they’re looking for something, anything, to give them a slight edge. So maybe it’s the preparation a competitor puts in beforehand that makes them feel like they have the upper hand. But maybe it’s that hint of glitter on their eyelid that makes them feel like they can outshine the rest of the pack.
On its face, sports and makeup don’t seem like they would mesh. Sweat tends to wipe away most, if not all face makeup, and girls who do wear makeup when they work out often receive flack for trying to look pretty or to garner someone’s attention. Most of the time though, they’re not wearing makeup for anyone else but themselves. They apply makeup for a confidence boost, at least that’s the case with a few female student-athletes at the University of Utah.
Look Good, Feel Good, Race Good
Wearing makeup is fairly common in cross country and track and field. Olympic sprinters often get their nails and hair done in addition to doing their makeup, and that thread of preparation is common at Utah.
“Look good, feel good, race good” — it’s a motto that the Utah cross country and track and field teams stand by. On race days, the girls — who are roomed with someone else on their team when they are competing on the road — blare music as they apply their makeup. It’s somewhat of a tradition, somewhat of a team bonding experience, but in the end, the amount of makeup worn is up to each individual, and there’s no judgment on how much or how little someone decides to wear. The only comment the girls say to each other goes something like, “Wow, you look ready to race.”
“If you look good, then you’re going to feel good and if you feel good then you’re going to race good,” said junior Sadie Wassum. “You look like you’re getting ready for some big old fancy thing, but in reality, you’re about to put on what amounts to like a bathing suit and you’re going to go run as fast as you can and it’s a lot of fun.”
In high school, Wassum didn’t care too much about what she was applying to her face, partially because the girls she was competing against weren’t taking the events too seriously, and partially because she had already secured her future in running collegiately.
Nowadays, Wassum wants to feel like she belongs in that heat with the 11 other girls, and makeup does the trick. Not that she cares what other people think of her, makeup just gives her a boost of confidence that makes her feel like she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. She also says it adds an “intimidation factor.”
“It … just makes the girls around you know that you’re competition and you deserve to be there,” Wassum said.
While the motivation isn’t always there to apply a lot of makeup when a race is early in the day, she always tries to look her best so she can perform her best. Wassum typically ups her makeup routine on the day of a race, because when the stakes are bigger, Wassum goes bigger with the makeup.
“The bigger the meet, the more makeup I wear,” Wassum said. “I have raced and [worn] more makeup on a race day than I wore at my senior prom. Sometimes you go more dramatic on your eye makeup and you have winged liner and lipstick and you’re full on done up, and you do your hair, too. I take more care on race day than I do for like a first date.”
To show some school pride, plenty of girls on the team like to apply a crimson red lipstick.
Sophomore Poppy Tank notes that sprinters typically wear more makeup than distance runners, but even then it’s more than just the “basic mascara and eyebrows.” Tank’s race day makeup consists of eyebrows, mascara, eyeliner, highlighter, blush and sometimes a touch of gloss. She doesn’t wear any foundation because she doesn’t want it to run down her face as she is competing. This differs from her everyday routine when she goes back to the basics of mascara and eyebrows, but her race day routine goes to show how much weight the team motto actually carries. When she’s applying her makeup with one of her teammates, it’s something she actually finds solace in.
“It’s a time to have something away from the running and just talk to each other and help calm each other down,” Tank said.
Not only does makeup give members of the cross country and track and field teams some added confidence and a bit of school spirit, it’s something that gives them peace of mind.
A Performance Sport
Makeup rarely seems to be an integral part of a sport, but gymnastics appears to be an exception to the rule.
Gymnastics co-head coach Megan Marsden doesn’t require the Red Rocks to wear a certain amount of makeup — she actually wouldn’t mind if someone decided against it because she wants her gymnasts to feel comfortable in their own skin. Gymnastics is more of a performance sport, comparable to that of ballet in terms of presentability, according to Marsden. Since meets are based on the score a judge awards a routine, makeup can help in that sense.
“If you can see their facial expressions on floor exercise and balance beam, sometimes makeup can help that,” Marsden said. “That’s just important if the judge decides she really likes the personality in your routine and stuff — it’s as much about that as about anything.”
So while not all the gymnasts take to applying the same amount of makeup for a meet, doing each other’s makeup is one thing the Red Rocks have that can somewhat qualify as a team activity. Kari Lee is the best at eye makeup, according to MyKayla Skinner. She works with eyeshadow, glitter and eyeliner, and Makenna Merrell-Giles often tops off the look with winged eyeliner — her specialty. After they finish their eye makeup, the girls will add lipstick and a block U face tattoo.
They do their own thing when it comes to face makeup, because at the end of the day, according to senior Tiffani Lewis, makeup is a personal preference.
“[Makeup can] add a little bit of beauty, especially in gymnastics when you’re out there performing and you know you’re going to be on television,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to add a little bit onto your face and onto your eyes just because a camera is going to be on you.”
Makeup Use Across Other Sports
Gymnastics, cross country and track and field showcase a higher use of makeup than other teams at the U, but that doesn’t mean other teams swear off makeup altogether.
Volleyball outside hitter Kenzie Koerber typically wears mascara when she’s on the court, though she tries to be as natural as possible. However, she has noticed more girls applying makeup before games, and she thinks it has something to do with increased media attention athletes receive when they make that transition from high school to college.
“I think now being in college and being on TV, they don’t tell us to wear makeup, but they make sure we’re being appropriate on the court, not using foul language, so that plays over into looking presentable,” Koerber said. “It’s a thing where you want to look good on TV.”
Tilar Clark of the women’s basketball team thinks differently.
Clark wore more makeup for high school games than she does for games now, but that’s due to the fact that she would wear makeup for school and leave it on. Nowadays, she uses little to no makeup, and the most she ever wears for a game is mascara and something to fill in her eyebrows.
Clark’s makeup routine is her own and doesn’t define all basketball players. Most don’t apply anything, some apply just mascara, and some even wear a full face. Earlier this season, Clark recalled an opponent who wore a full face of makeup and even had her nails done. Some of that player’s foundation ended up rubbing off on one of her teammate’s arms.
Overall, she thinks makeup use is dependent on the athlete, and the fact that their games are more highly publicized doesn’t really affect that.
“It just depends on who you are as a person, and I don’t think it matters on the media coverage because a lot of us aren’t really thinking about that,” Clark said. “We’re thinking about playing the game and getting the win.”
Even then, makeup can help make winning seem more attainable.
Brianna Doehrmann, libero and defensive specialist for the volleyball team, thinks more along the same lines of Koerber. Since she has eyelash extensions, Doehrmann doesn’t worry about adding any additional eye makeup, but she does apply some foundation for games. Doehrmann is aware of that heightened media attention, and because of it, she does pay more attention to how she presents herself and how that ends up reflecting the way she feels about herself.
“Well the pictures end up coming out a little better, and also it helps me feel more confident,” Doehrmann said with a laugh. “I think [makeup] has a huge impact on the whole confidence thing. When you go out in public with it on, you already feel more confident and it adds to your performance in your sport as well.”
That boost of confidence is one of the many reasons why female student-athletes turn to makeup.
Highlighting the Reasons Why
While it may be a little more obvious within cross country and track and field how girls use makeup to put themselves on par with their competitors, Doehrmann’s comments mirror the reasoning several student-athletes gave as to why they use makeup — for a confidence booster.
Wassum wears makeup not only as a pick-me-up but because she wants others to realize she cares about herself — that she takes time for herself. When it comes to race day, makeup helps her feel capable of accomplishing anything. So while the gym isn’t ever going to be “some big old beauty pageant” in Wassum’s eyes, she thinks girls shouldn’t feel any shame for wearing makeup when they work out.
“I think girls are faced with a lot more body image issues … and if [makeup is] a way for a girl to feel confident, then, by all means, wear as much as you want,” Wassum said. “You look great and power to you. If that makes you feel strong and capable and want to work out, then absolutely you should do it.”
So just as makeup provides a confidence boost to help girls take a few more reps or run a bit farther or faster, it can also help someone’s self-perception, as it does with Tank.
“I feel a little bit prettier if I wear it sometimes — I guess it makes you feel more feminine in a way,” Tank said.
Other times, makeup is just fun to use.
Clark likes the way mascara makes her eyes pop. She often finds herself watching YouTube makeup tutorials, and it’s not really to learn any new tricks. She claims she’s “not very good” at applying makeup, it’s to see how others play around with varying eyeshadows and more. Makeup is universal according to Clark, and it’s something everyone can get on board with.
“I think it’s an art and I think it’s beautiful and something everyone can appreciate,” Clark said.
Beauty Comes from Within
While makeup is certainly a surface level attribute, one that can make someone stand out at a first glance, it can be rather fleeting. Most definitions of beauty focus on the physical aspect, on someone’s looks, but Wassum, Tank, Koerber, Doehrmann, Clark, Skinner and Lewis beg to differ.
Clark often looks to someone’s energy to discover true beauty.
“I think energy is beautiful — positive energy,” Clark said. “I notice anyone with good energy is who people tend to flock to. If you have good energy about you, then everyone is going to find you beautiful no matter what. Energy is infectious.”
Wassum’s opinions on beauty echo those of Clark.
For Wassum, someone’s personality speaks volumes, and she actually bases a lot of her thoughts about beauty from her relationships. The most genuine people in her life tend to be the ones who are optimistic about life, the ones who often carry a smile on their face and the ones who are ready to conquer life.
“I know a ton of people and they are the most beautiful to me and it’s not because they can walk around as a Victoria’s Secret supermodel,” Wassum said. “It’s because I know them and I know how beautiful their personalities are.”
To her, those relationships and those people are “more beautiful … than anything physical.”
So while makeup can help some female student-athletes feel like they have a better shot at coming out on top, it’s not the only thing they hold on to, because that confidence they seek and that true beauty they spoke to all stems from who they are, not what they look like. That hint of glitter on their eyelid can help that beauty and confidence shine just a little bit brighter.