I’ve had a lot of thoughts on this topic for quite some time. I graduated with a Women’s Studies minor, so feminism is really important to me. I also started using makeup more heavily and creatively in college, so I’ve been in constant conflict with my desire to do my makeup and to support a feminist lifestyle.
I know that plenty of women have popularized the idea that “makeup makes me feel empowered so makeup is feminist”. While I like the sound of that idea, there are definitely complexities we have to consider. Makeup is implicitly tied to capitalism and cooperations. Makeup companies want to sell their product to consumers. This is often done by reminding people that imperfections are unacceptable or that there is always another product that they don’t have and need.
Makeup as empowerment is also flawed because it ignores intersectional concerns of feminist theory. Options for women of color have greatly expanded in the past few years, but there are still far fewer choices for them. People of color can’t necessarily explore makeup artistically the same way that a white woman like myself can, and that leads to unfairness. There are also wealth disparities between those who can afford every new Sephora product and those who save a few weeks for one item from the drugstore.
All of this is leading up to my personal opinion on makeup and feminism. This is my opinion of course, so it is neither right nor wrong. It’s just what I think. But I wanted to point out the multiple points of view of this issue before I dived in.
I’ve had a complicated journey with makeup. I wore no makeup at all until I was a freshman in college. I occasionally wore it for dance recitals, but otherwise I was disgusted by the use of makeup. I knew I didn’t need to cover anything up and I judged other girls who were “vain” enough to wear makeup in high school.
In college I started to wear eyeliner and mascara. In my junior year things evolved with bold lipsticks and a bit of shadow. Now I’m in a place where I have many palettes and lipsticks and love to create looks. It’s quite a reversal from my judgmental high school days.
I think my attitude in high school was wrong in many ways. I was a little bit of a female misogynist (I’m better than “regular” girls), so I was comfortable judging other girls when they were simply responding to our society’s training that their faces weren’t good enough. I was also ignoring the artistry of makeup. I truly believe that makeup can be used independently from a cover-up as something artistic. My main motivation for using makeup today is that it soothes me in the morning to do something creative just for myself. It is exciting to pick out what colors I will use that day and enhance my favorite features.
In some ways makeup helped me to embrace the femininity I always feared. I always thought I wasn’t girly enough or couldn’t be pretty. Makeup gave me my superpower. When I wear makeup and certain clothes I can make myself “visible”. I used to be completely invisible. I could sit a certain way, wear my hair a certain way, or exude an energy that made me unseen. With makeup I suddenly had the power to switch from an invisible person to a visible one at will. And it was a fascinating study in self- confidence.
I consistently try to go out without makeup to reassure myself that I don’t “need” it. But I still don’t go to work without a full face and would never attend a first date without it. Because makeup still has some control over me as it does for many people. I still look at my eyelashes and hope they could look like they have mascara on all the time. I have many friends who would rather have a quick routine with no makeup, but know they can’t do so professionally. So we have a long way to go with normalizing makeup as an art independent from female insecurity.
But I don’t see makeup as a flaw in my feminism. Because feminism is about women making the choices they want to without people imposing societal constraints on them. In some ways women don’t have a choice about wearing makeup because we are expected to have it on. This is why many women are told we look “sick” or “tired” when we don’t wear makeup. But judging someone for enjoying makeup and judging someone for wearing none are both incompatible with feminism in some way.
What we need to understand is that there is no perfect form of feminism. Maybe you feel troubled because you like a partner to open the door for you or enjoy being dolled up every day. But what is most important is that we learn about the complexities of societal pressure and try to dismantle them without putting too much pressure on ourselves. Being happy is important too. So put on that red lipstick if it makes you feel good. Support companies that are ethical. And cheer on artists that post no-makeup photos and normalize natural faces like Alicia Keys. As for me, I’m going to keep taking selfies of my makeup skills while ranting about female superhero movies on twitter.