I wear makeup almost every day. When I was in middle school, makeup was a way for me to express myself. Frequently, I would experiment with weird eyeshadow colors and graphic eyeliner. It was fun to me. Now, I tend to default to more neutral, understated colors.
I hate to say it, but applying and wearing makeup has become boring to me. I respect those who work with more avant garde styles and regard their makeup as an art, but for me, it has started to feel more like a bare requirement to make myself presentable than a fun way to manipulate my aesthetic and experiment with color. I hate that it has come to this.
Adorning the face with pigments is a practice that dates back thousands of years, and the use of cosmetics can be found in some extent in almost every culture. This desire to temporarily alter our physical selves with paints, powders, and emulsions seems to be inherent. Humans like to have control over our appearances. It is more important to note that this desire originally had nothing to do with gender.
It is only over the course of the past few centuries that makeup in the Western world has been associated primarily with women. Makeup is marketed towards women, by companies largely owned by male CEO’s who make massive amounts of money. If you look at some of the ways many popular brands of cosmetics are advertised, it is clear that companies rely on creating a sense of insecurity in women to create a demand for miracle cures to perceived flaws.
When looking critically at the beauty industry, it becomes obvious that it is an industry that relies heavily on exploiting women’s fears about their appearances. Many self-identified feminists condemn the practice of wearing makeup and would consider it oppressive. There are other women, however, who genuinely enjoy applying makeup, and consider it empowering and even a feminist statement. So is someone’s status as a feminist really determined by whether or not they choose to wear makeup?
I have been on both sides of the argument. There was a time when I would vehemently defend my red lipstick and winged eyeliner, citing personal empowerment and the sense of confidence it gave me as reasons for why it was most definitely a feminist statement. Others, of course, were free to choose not to wear makeup, but for me, making the choice for myself gave me a sense of autonomy, and that was definitely feminist, right?
As I started to feel more and more worn out by constantly plucking, painting, lining, curling, and powdering my face on a daily basis, I started to reconsider my stance. I was tired of waking up early to apply a full face and spending my entire day worrying about touching it up, afraid to sweat or crease or smudge anything. Abandoning my makeup kit for about a month was a really interesting experiment, but it also made me realize just how much my self-worth depended on wearing makeup. In my natural skin, I felt more insecure than ever. Rather than go back to my full-coverage foundation, however, I started to feel angry that I ever relied on it in the first place. All these years I told myself that makeup empowered me had led me to feel completely powerless without it, and the fact that so much of my identity relied on something so ridiculous and time-consuming made me feel like I had been cheated.
I put a lot of thought into the politics behind my personal grooming. I experimented some more, going alternating weeks with varying levels of primping to see how it affected me. It was a very personal process, and one that might not be convenient for many people, but it did help open my eyes to certain truths.
Wearing makeup is not inherently feminist, but neither is not wearing makeup, necessarily. Women are conditioned their entire lives to feel self conscious of their natural, unadulterated selves, so to imply that a woman who wears makeup is weak or a “bad feminist” is counterproductive. Patriarchal beauty standards are oppressive, but conforming to them out of necessity does not make women weak, or mean that they are by default enabling these standards.
Whether or not you choose to wear makeup, being critical of something as powerful and lucrative as the beauty industry should be an important part of feminism. As with all large industries, it is nearly impossible to avoid supporting it entirely (especially when many women often have to wear makeup to avoid being discriminated against and attacked for their appearances), but there are many independent, women-owned brands available.