Monday, 25 January 2016

Feminism and Makeup - Friend or Foe?

Feminism and Makeup – Friends or Foe?

Vaj lips. 
It’s an oldie but a goodie: should Feminists wear makeup? If you’ve read this then or ever even seen a picture of me you’ll probably have an inkling of my opinion about this. But firstly let’s look at why are / were Feminists so anti makeup? Whilst the first wave of Feminism concerned itself with basic rights of Women in society such as getting the vote, second wave feminists of 60s and 70s began to call for women to reject anything that would subjugate them in the eyes of men. What I mean by this is that Second Wave feminists felt that one of the ways that men controlled women was by creating a society which treated them solely as sexual objects. Makeup is there purely to make a women look like she’s in the throes of wild sex! Black lined eyes= dilated (sexually aroused) pupils! Blusher=flushed sex cheeks, bright red lips= engorged labia. Yes, you are apparently trying to look like a vagina lips with that Mac Ruby Woo!

And men didn’t wear makeup, obsess over their weight, wax or shave their legs etc. but heaven forbid a woman broke free from these shackles! Militant! Ugly, man-hating lesbian! This woman is unlikely to succeed in a culture which rewards beauty (the male construct of beauty of course) and shuns ugliness! Who’s interested in the opinion of a bushy-haired, mono-browed, spotty harridan?! She doesn’t care about her appearance so we don’t care about her opinion, SHOOO ugly woman-beast!

But they’re fickle buggers, those men. Because coincidentally there was a fashion in the 70s for makeup to look “natural” …. With the ironic implication that natural beauty somehow gives you the superior edge to your heavily made up, less fortunate-of-face sisters. “I love my women to be makeup free and natural.” *Eye roll*.

Historically as most of us know, makeup has been around for thousands of years. It was used by both men and women in Ancient Egypt and played an important role in their adornment rituals. In the Georgian era makeup yet again became a tool in society to convey a message used by both men and women using a white powdered-face. This represented the face of the wealthier members of society because they weren’t so exposed to the elements. And they even had colourful patches drawn onto their skin in flower or star shapes to cover scars and pock marks (from the lead paint, no doubt!) So far, so equal. It wasn’t actually until the 20th Century that makeup became an almost exclusively female pursuit when women in the USA and Europe became influenced by the makeup worn by the visiting Russian ballet. And by 1920s Hollywood had commenced its inexhaustible glamourous influence with its kohl lined doe-eyed, silent film starlets. And of course they still hold a key role creating the look that people still try and emulate to this day.

Beauty and appearance are at the forefront of our society. Not many people want to alienate themselves from society in the manner of aforementioned woman-beast. You either really want to make a point and have the supreme self-confidence to back it up or you truly have no fucks to give. And that, I think, is super brave. Because judging people on how they look is so completely endemic that I don’t think we know we are doing it half the time. And it’s true regardless of gender, both men and women judge other men and women constantly.

The way we have been brought up to see each other (women, men, Trans community) is thoroughly entrenched in our psyche. I’ve talked before about the male gaze: men look at women, women think about being looked at. We cannot escape the influence of the society we are born into. And by society I mean, you, me, your mum, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mates, everyone on TV, the Queen, your neighbour, that ignorant tosser who cut you up in the street earlier, the person who sold your coffee this morning.... EVERYONE!

It is what it is. Whether we like it or not, the standards of beauty that are acceptable in our western culture have been decided before we’re squeezed out of the foof. As soon as we are aware of our place in the world, we become aware of what we look like. What we choose to do with that information however is totally up to us. We can fight against the individual components of the industry that the more conscientious of us object to, like stick thin cat walk models who portray an unattainable/unhealthy body image. E.g. the French government bringing in legislation to ban fashion houses using models with a BMI lower than 18. And no one is saying that there aren’t problematic areas in the Beauty industry which wholly do need to be addressed… unrealistic sizing goals or younger and younger girls being targeted by both in advertising and the products it sells… Frozen themed lip gloss and nail varnish pack for 2 year olds anyone? *shudder*

But lots of women feel empowered by taking care of their appearance. And by extension, wearing makeup makes me feel empowered. Why? Because it makes them feel better about themselves. Why? Because they want to feel like they are presenting the best version of themselves to the outside world. Some people are even brave enough to just come out and say it: because I want to feel attractive. Attractive to who? Men? But then aren’t you just objectifying yourself?! You’re reducing yourself to a mere sexual object to boost your own self esteem! SO WHAT?! I do it EVERY DAY!!!!

When you break it down “wearing makeup for yourself” is still wearing makeup that makes you look as close as you can to your society’s perception of beauty. Unless your version of makeup is akin to Pennywise from It. And if it is, all props to ya and good luck! But it doesn’t matter. Wanting to “fit in” and feel “attractive” is not wrong. It’s a perfectly human response.

Sometimes there are deeper reasons why we want to wear makeup too. Perhaps there are scars which represent some trauma or birth marks or loss of facial hair from treatment. Nobody could accuse a chemo patient of wanting to wear false eye lashes as being vain, could they?!

When I go out in makeup I definitely feel different to when I don’t. I feel like I get treated differently too. This could be one of two things. I could be less confident, I am not comfortable with the way my face looks without makeup. I have skin problems and I am acutely aware that my eyes are too small and close together.... which is enhanced when I am packing weight because those little piggy eyes just get closer together as the fat swells up around them. Hence the massive blobs of black kohl you see splattered on the outer corners of my eyes in every made-up photo...desperately trying to elongate my eyes to the far edges of my large face just to balance out my piggy-eyed “flaw”!

Or it could be that people do actually treat people better depending on how they look. I think it's probably a mix of both. 

What about facial hair? I am extremely hirsute. I have side burns that reach my jaw line, soft but thick downy hair all over my face and bright red, thick hairs that grace my chin and top lip. I shave my face every 4-6 weeks. I have done for years and contrary to popular belief, I have not started getting a 5 o’clock shadow and the hair is as thick as it ever was and no worse. I’ve had several different “permanent” treatments: a course of EPL which luckily I had for free years ago but that should have cost me hundreds. Very lucky in that it did nothing because it works on pigment and my thickest hairs are red...the hardest colour to treat....hooray! I had electrolysis and chemical electrolysis over a period of about a year...again nothing doing. Currently I epilate every few weeks, pluck stray strays every day and spend most evenings picking at my chin. Which is why I have scars and pock marks all over my jawline and a constant acne presence there.... did I mention the rosacea? I’m lush.
4 weeks growth: It took me guts-a-mondo to go out looking like this! Is it cos I is vain?!

But this concern with my appearance, is it vanity or is it lack of confidence? Have I put this pressure on myself after adolescent experiences of rejection and humiliation unfairly blamed on my appearance (and not my loud mouth and sarcastic, caustic tongue?!). Or do I want to look as good as possible because I am manically competitive and must be the most attractive person in the world, the greatest beauty that ever LIVED? Given my fight with weight my whole entire life, I am obviously not THAT competitive.

I do regularly have days where I don’t wear makeup. I didn’t wear makeup for my entire first pregnancy and before that would usually spend my whole week at work with nothing but a smudge of Vaseline on my cracked lips. It actually changed for me after the birth of my first baby. After 9 months of feeling like hell, I wanted to present the very best of myself to the world. And by that, I mean feel pretty. Look good (well, better at least!). I don’t know what the definitive response is. Maybe it’s a bit vanity and a bit confidence. Maybe it’s partly creativity, I have an art degree after all!

I do love makeup though. I gorge on the stuff. I love the way I can change how I look instantly. I am not remotely ashamed. I even considered retraining as a makeup artist. I don’t think it’s silly and vacuous. I know it doesn’t have the slightest baring on my intellect. And with that in mind, I absolutely love this quote about having an interest in makeup from Sali Hughes, brainiac feminist AND beauty editor:

“Nobody looks at men’s hobbies ever and defines men by those hobbies. No one says ‘Paintballing? I bet you don’t know what’s going on in Syria’”.

My conclusion very much is, you can be a feminist and wear makeup. I think it’s helpful to be aware of the origins and significance of makeup in your society but it’s very definitely OK to show your painted mug to the world. I’ll leave you with the very funny Amy Schumer brilliant parody. Laters gators! 

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