Of Treating People Civilly, of Labels, and of White Foundation

Oh Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners didn’t mean to take such a long break. Alas, these things do happen. But the Lady of the Manners is not going to dwell upon that, and instead dive right into answering two different letters from readers. One letter with two separate questions, even!

The first letter, from a Miss Lolita, is about labeling oneself, and whether or not one should be polite to people who’ve done nothing to deserve such treatment:

Dear Lady of the Manners,I’ve had a question tugging at the corners of my mind for quite some time now. Actually two questions. The first question is: how do I answer when people ask me if I am a Goth? (A question that pops up nearly every day.)
I do dress in all black, but I’d hardly consider that a reason to refer to someone as a Goth. (If we go by those standards, nuns, priests, and business people would have some explaining to do.) I love most things associated with the subculture, and would probably dress in corsets and lacy skirts if I could afford it. But that’s not how it is at the moment. When I was younger and just discovering the world of buckle-boots and black eyeliner I started calling myself a Goth. I tried my best with the few resources I had to look like the lovely ladies I saw on Gothic clothing sites. It earned me ridicule and accusations of being a ‘poser’. So I strayed away from that label and went in search of something else. I’ve yet to find any other word, or group, or style that really suits me. I just don’t fit under any label. So how can I answer the question of “What are you?”

My other question has to do with being mannerly. Is it right to treat someone with manners, and respect, when they’ve done nothing but ridicule you? Should these people be treated civilly when they’ve done nothing to deserve it?

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.

Miss Lolita

The Lady of the Manners is going to answer Miss Lolita’s questions in reverse order, because her second question is one that is very near to the Lady of the Manners’ heart indeed. The short answer is yes, everyone should be treated in a civil fashion, even if they’ve done nothing to deserve it. But there is, of course, a longer, more detailed answer to that question.

It is entirely possible to be civil and polite to someone while making it perfectly clear that you do not respect (or approve) of their behavior or actions. How do you do that? By keeping your interactions with them as short as you possibly can, by choosing your words carefully, and by maintaining a politely neutral tone of voice. There’s no need to sound sarcastic or annoyed: a neutral tone conveys the message that you do not wish to be friends with them.

Remember Snarklings, being mannerly is NOT the same thing as being friendly (or respectful, or “nice”). In fact, it is even more important to be polite to people you don’t necessarily respect or who have ridiculed you, because if you don’t make the effort to be mannerly in your interactions with them, that means you will be descending to their level.

As for your other query about how to answer questions of “What are you?”; well, what sort of label do you feel describes you best? You say that calling yourself a Goth earned you ridicule and accusations of being a ‘poser’, but were those comments being flung at you by people who might have been a touch uncertain about their own status as a member of the Goth subculture? Because that is one of the favorite tactics of the insecure: to tear down others so they themselves can feel superior. The Lady of the Manners, because she is amused by such things, is fond of responding to ridicule and accusations of poser-dom with a very sincere expression and questions such as “Really? Oh dear! What am I doing wrong? Please tell me, since you’re obviously such an expert …” Sarcastic? Oh yes, Snarklings . But if someone feels the need to start throwing the ‘poser’ label around, the Lady of the Manners feels that they should be given enough rope to hang themselves with.

Also remember that there is nothing stopping you from coming up with your own description for yourself. The Lady of the Manners has described herself as aPerkygoth, a NeoVictorian Goth, and is currently quite fond of the description of Cupcake Gothic. RomantiGoth, Steampunk, CyberGoth, batcave, deathrock : all these labels really are good for is to be a shorthand that encompasses a wide and varied range of ideas and interests. And while that shorthand is very useful indeed, the Lady of the Manners also thinks that people shouldn’t get too worked up about finding the Perfectly Perfect Label for themselves. (Contrariwise, the Lady of the Manners also feels that people who stamp their little stompy feet and raise a fuss about people applying labels to them or to their actions should, perhaps, find other things to get quite so worked up about. Again, labels are a useful shorthand. If you don’t agree with the label someone has tried to apply to you, throwing a hissy fit won’t stop them from applying labels to you; it will just make them add additional, possibly uncomplimentary descriptions.)

The second reader letter is from the fabulous and witty La BellaDonna, who wrote in with a question concerning cosmetics:

Dearest Madame:I have a question that has been perplexing me since I started reading your delightful website. It has reached the point where I can ignore it no longer, and must ask you: Why?

You have repeatedly instructed your readers to not, to never, don’t EVER !!!! wear Halloween makeup in the workaday world. Especially as the season is upon us once more, and there is every chance that the issue will rise yet again from its resting place, again I ask: Why? I know you have the best interests of your readers at heart, so I do understand that that is part of the instruction, but I have been unable to intuit the rest of your reasoning.

I am, you see, a Person of Pallor, or as some makeup sites put it, a Pale Porcelain Princess. If I use the lightest shade carried by makeup companies, I look as if I have unsuccessfully used “QT” or “Tan In A Can” rather than “Ivory.” Every few decades, Chanel or some other company will put out a White foundation, but it disappears after a season or two. I have been very happy – very, VERY happy – with Halloween makeups, as they actually *match* my skin tone. I wear, usually, a Bob Kelly white pancake in the summer, and a nameless professional white cream-in-a-tube (yes, the Halloween stuff sold on racks in Rite Aid) in the winter, to keep my skin from drying out. I first put my sunblock on (SolBar #50), carefully rubbing it into my skin; then I either apply the Pancake with a makeup sponge, using a circular motion; or, if I’m using a lightweight cream, I dot it on my face in the traditional fashion, and blend it in. I wait a few minutes, for the makeup to “set,” then I take a (clean!) paper towel, or a clean dry washcloth, and carefully buff my skin, so that I don’t have oddglibs or globs of makeup in my eyebrows, or my hairline, or the creases around my nose – or the ones that Nature has seen fit to provide me, alack. I then put on my blush (oh, yesindeedy, I wear blush); I put it on the apple of my cheeks and blend, blend, blend, extending outward; nothing tricksy like painting shadows on my nose or cheekbones for daywear! I then apply eyewear (VERY muted, but including black liner and eyebrow filler), and coverup where needed for Nature’s tiny imperceptible flaws and imperfections. My hair (black) is finished off in a French braid.

It is true that I do not look like everyone else, but even without any makeup at all, I still would not (see “Princess of Pallor”). What I look most like, in fact, are the women who modeled for Dior andFath and Bohan in the 1950s – or Boucher in the 1750s. It is a very professional look, and not unappealing, apparently; I have had (unsolicited) numerous favorable comments on my face from men and women, adults and small children.

What then, is the answer? What is the secret? What is the reasoning for not using my lovely Halloween foundation? It is very thrifty (i.e., cheap – a plus for students), it lasts well, it is hypoallergenic, as indeed most stage makeups are and have to be.

So I ask you, dear Madame, since I cannot reason it out for myself: why should I not use my Halloween foundation, and what do you recommend in its place? Gratefully,

La BellaDonna

Oh gracious. You see, dearest La BellaDonna, when the Lady of the Manners proclaimed that one should not use Halloween foundation as regular makeup, it was because the Lady of the Manners had seen FAR too many Spooky Types who had applied white Halloween makeup in a somewhat … sloppy manner, with no attention paid to blending it. Also, most of the Spooky Types that the Lady of the Manners saw indulging in this were not Princesses or Princes of Pallor trying to find a foundation that would blend with their skin tone, but people trying to mimic a delicately undead complexion. Considering these Spooky Types only applied the white makeup to their faces, their usual skin tone being visible on their necks and ears was a bit distracting, to say the least.

The Lady of the Manners is aware of how difficult it is to find truly pale makeup; the Lady of the Manners has lost track of the number of times
she has had to tell well-meaning clerks at cosmetics counters that no, bronzer is not what the Lady of the Manners is after. The companies the Lady of the Manners has seen with the largest range of shades for foundation are those companies that specialize in mineral cosmetics; brands such as Aromaleigh and Fyrinnae have shades named “Ghost” and “Moonstone”.

However, the Lady of the Manners would like to make sure that everyone is very aware that one does not have to have a ghostly pallor to be a Goth. Goth is not about a particular skin tone (or religion, or even a particular band), but is a subculture with a preferred aesthetic of beauty in decay. (The reason the Lady of the Manners feels that she needs to stress that Goth Is Not About Being Pale is because she already receives a trickle of reader mail from darker-complectedSnarklings who are worried that their skin tone means they are not Real Goths. Yes, Snarklings, you are Real Goths. Stop worrying.)

With the “Goth does not equal ghostly white” tangent out of the way, if you do want to apply white makeup, the Lady of the Manners has some advice for you.

Thing the First: go back and re-read La BellaDonna’s letter, and pay close attention to how she applies her makeup. Especially the part about blending it, and then making sure there aren’t anyglibs or globs lurking about. Blending is The Most Important Thing with white makeup.

Thing the Second: if you are applying white makeup to create a deathly pallor (instead of merely trying to match your natural skin tone), you should apply the makeup to all exposed skin. This means your ears, your entire neck (yes, including the nape), and any other skin that may show. Otherwise you run the risk of looking like a mime.

Thing the Third: Do not sleep in your makeup. No matter how tired you may be at the end of an evening, you should gently clean all the makeup off of your skin, and apply a gentle moisturizer. 3 A.M. is not a good excuse for sleeping in whiteface and eyeliner.

With that, the Lady of the Manners is going to wander off to brew a pot of tea, sew more buttons onto a velvet jacket, and peruse more reader mail. The next edition of Gothic Charm School will feature a letter from a reader who is part of the vampire subculture, and the Lady of the Manners will finally get around to talking about that whole sparkly skull accessories trend. (Thank you to the reader who wrote in to ask about this!) Does the Lady of the Manners need to remind all of you to write to Gothic Charm School? Or about the Gothic Charm School CafePress Store, a fabulous resource for all of your holiday gift shopping needs? No, the Lady of the Manners didn’t really think so, but likes to be thorough about these things.

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