Upland hunting is often looked upon as a genteel activity. In the days of old, hunters were seen wearing tweed jackets and tailored brush pants. They shot fine double-barrel shotguns and worked over well-trained and groomed pointing dogs. This upland hunter paid close attention to appearance whether he had money to spend, as he often did, or not. But recently a discussion amongst upland hunters on whether or not an attractive female hunter should wear makeup on a grouse hunt revealed a compelling divide over representations of women hunters in the field. What does a woman upland hunter look like? Does she wear makeup? Why and why not?
The aesthetic difference between a well-groomed, outfitted, and physically fit hunter and one who has dirty nails, well-worn gear, and a face spent in the mountain sun has little to do with the solace such a hunter finds in the field. While fashion, style, and beauty involve personal preference, they are disconcerting when they move into the realm of frivolity, vanity, or pressure for a woman to “look” a particular way. The wearing of makeup is as old as archeological evidence of hunting, but that has little to do with what happens in front of the mirror for today’s female hunter.
“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”
~ Rene Magritte
Elaina Spraker leads the Kenai Peninsula Women on Target and Teens on Target firearm education clinics in Alaska, and harvesting wild food has always been a part of her life. For Elaina, makeup is a way of enhancing her appearance, and she wears it at the range as well as in the field. “Being part of wild, beautiful, scenic places makes me feel obliged to enhance my appearance.” She hunts with her husband and has enjoyed the look on his face when he discovered she had brought her makeup along on a sheep hunt. “The look on his face is priceless,” Elaina said, “and even more priceless, when he finds out that he carried a nice bottle of merlot up the mountain.”
Becca Moffat, who hunts avidly and has been filmed for national television, doesn’t wear makeup hunting, and made the conscious decision not to wear makeup just because a specific hunt was being filmed. When she appears on Alaska Outdoors Television, she is often on un-guided hunts for weeks without a shower and in difficult country. Although she wears makeup in her daily non-hunting life, she doesn’t see the need to wear it hunting and feels strongly that wearing it on film or in photos while hunting sends the wrong message to other women or young girls who may be interested in the sport. “I feel like the photos I take in the field should reflect the difficult and very physical work that often goes into hunting.”
The fact that photographs or video have become a growing part of hunting has caused many women to base the decision on whether or not to wear makeup solely on whether or not they are likely to be the subject of a photo or film. Some women dye their lashes to avoid the need for mascara, pack a small kit to apply makeup in the field (should a photographic opportunity arise), while others bring along a pair of sunglasses. Still others find the field itself offers a chance to enhance beauty. Ladies in Camo Director Diane Baxter Hassinger jokes that her “rosy cheeks are from the cold” and her tousled hairstyle is “from briars ripping my hair from my pony tail.”
While most agree that Vogue-sque makeup has no place in the woods, Sarah Fromenthal, who was raised hunting small game and fishing the swamps and brackish marshes of the Louisiana coast, acknowledges that for many women, makeup is such a part of a daily ritual that going completely without it would be unnatural. She follows the makeup-middle-road, realizing that a morning routine makes her feel more alert in the field “versus just rolling out of bed.” Sarah uses a basic tinted moisturizer that has SPF in it for the dual function of providing a barrier from the sun as well as any camouflage she may apply in the blind or stand.
Tracy Harden, co-founder of EvoOutdoors, knows that hunting is not only about being with nature but about the internal confidence hunting requires. Although she does not personally wear makeup on a hunt, she believes the outdoors is about being yourself (whether made-up or sans makeup), getting away from it all, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the hunt. Her focus is more on skin-care, “You can change your hunting gear every season but you only get one skin to live in.” On eight-to-ten-day hunts in the backcountry, Tracy packs cotton rounds, witch hazel, nightly moisturizer, daily SPF, and mascara as a “guilty pleasure.”
Professional outdoor photographer Chip Laughton of Days Afield Photography offers some practical reasons why a woman hunter might wear makeup. When creating professional images, he makes every effort to take as flattering a picture as possible. While he admits to not knowing “the ins and outs of makeup,” it is something that makes his job easier. “The camera is going to show every wrinkle or blemish on your face. Makeup saves me time – shiny spots are eliminated, and it hides the skin imperfections that everyone has. Any minor blemish really sticks out.” In the same way that it helps if his subjects wear a completed hunting outfit, from a photographer’s perspective, makeup “helps the photographer make you look the best you can.”
Whether makeup is an enhancement of femininity, a comfort in the field, or an opportunity to “put your best face forward,” it is a personal preference that not all women share to the same degree. Sometimes the feel of the sun and wind on bare skin is too irresistible, the appeal of the simple life, or the realities of the day make the same woman who wore makeup one day pass up on it the next. The aesthetic difference between a woman in makeup and a woman without it is best overcome by what is going on behind the image. More women are taking to the field, regardless of their “make up” and they’re doing it with passion, reverence, and skill.