Wearing make up has always been a complex issue for me, and it’s complexity has only increased over time. The more I think about it, the more I find that I do not wear it for the ‘right’ reasons and I’m not sure it’s all that justified within the framework of my values. For me, it represents an intersection between patriarchy and capitalism that I’m just not all that comfortable with.
Before continuing with such arguments, I would like to stress that these views are entirely personal, I do not think judgement should be passed on anyone for wearing make up and I am certainly not suggesting that people should stop wearing it. I am, however, trying to start a conversation on the topic and ask that people are open minded to that discussion.
Femininity is a construct that is difficult to sustain because it is so artificial. Nowhere else in nature do you find animals painting a mask onto their face to daily alter their appearance. There is almost nothing natural about ‘femininity’ as it is defined by the artificial: constructed beauty, elegance, grace, modesty, virginity… etc. Different cultures express femininity in multiple forms but never is femininity defined by what is natural to human beings. Therefore, in order to conform to this construction you must change yourself. You must shave your legs, paint your lips and confine your physical presence to a pleasant neatness. This cannot be done without the help of products and expenses to assist you.
Enter capitalism: A captive audience ready to consume products that will hopefully change them out of their natural humanity and into a state of constructed femininity. What’s worse is that femininity is always changing, the goal posts keep moving so you have to keep on buying. Femininity is so far removed from anything natural that it can never quite be reached, you will always fall a little short and need to buy a little more to be able to conform.
Therefore, make up feels like buying into our capitalist culture. I swear tights are designed to rip easily, mascara to go blotchy quickly and foundation seems always destined to be over priced. I will spare you my views on the prioritisation of ‘designer’ make up but seriously? Why are we all being so easily duped by slick advertising?
One of many problems though is that I think people have a perfect right to wear make up. Whilst I may choose not to wear it, I have no right to police anyone else’s body or determine their choices. In fact, I often still wear make up because I feel self conscious without it. Make up may bring a sense of security, confidence and ease to the person who wears it. Many women are expected to and it is much easier to fit in than rebel.
This brings me back to the patriarchy. Whilst I personally think it would be better for society if no one were to feel the need to pander to the ‘male gaze’, that does not provide easy wins for individuals. Hypothetically, if every person who did not really want to wear make up were to stop wearing it- we would soon see a shift in people’s expectations and values. However, this is very unlikely to happen due to numerous social pressures I do not have space to enumerate here. Therefore, although it may not benefit gender relations as a whole for women to continue to conform in ways that they may not be comfortable, it does benefit individual women.
Let me simplify this. If Lily doesn’t want to wear make up but feels obliged, her choice to wear make up may benefit her. Next to me (who does not wear make up) she may well appear more attractive. This may make it easier for her to form relationships, to be judged as likely to fit in and even more likely to be hired for a job, as my lack of make up may be judged as laziness while her choice makes her seem more neatly presented. Therefore, although wearing make up is not her first choice it is still benefiting her. Immediate gains are being prioritised over long terms successes. However, I believe in the daily power of small change. By not wearing make up and writing about that decision I may shift beauty standards and expectations very slightly.
However, I am sure that many of you have been crying out in frustration through the last few paragraphs at my seeming association of make up with femininity. Of course, the two are not inherently linked. This perspective has been that of the norms of society: many women are expected to wear make up, most men are judged for doing so. Here we hit another problem. I admire men who have the confidence to wear make up and undermine gender norms. This is perhaps strange as many of the same issues remain: animal testing products, capitalism, materialism etc. I am more willing to silence such concerns, than to seem to undermine someone’s gender identity.
To an extent this is as it should be. I have no right whatsoever to tell someone what to buy or wear. However, when these feelings go so far as to affect the way I interact with friends or to shape the opinions I am willing to be let known, the point has perhaps been carried too far. I think there are healthy reasons why all genders should question their usage of make up; just as I think that there are reasons why all genders have valid reasons for their choice to wear it. If that argument seems incoherent, it is because this is an inherently personal decision.
This is of course not an issue limited to cis gendered people or a gender binary and here I find complexities that I am not best qualified to write about. Therefore, I shall try and be brief, hope not to be offensive and stress that my only aim is to spark conversation. As I have already mentioned, femininity is a highly constructed concept. Therefore, it has been my experience that my trans female friends often choose to stress the femininity of their character in order to correct people’s mistaken assumptions. I hope it goes without saying that this is entirely valid. In such cases make up can be a wonderful tool in undermining body dysphoria and enhancing the image which they wish to present. All my wrath against femininity and make up of the first two paragraphs finds no place her.
I have not the space here to do justice to the multiple other concerns that arise from make up, so I have chosen to focus the bulk of this article on gender. However, allow to me to allude to a few other problems before I close: Firstly, the make up industry, both in presentation and production of products, is terrifyingly racist. Secondly, animal testing is still an enormous problem and entirely unnecessary, especially for such relatively trivial concerns. Thirdly, and finally for now, although make up may enhance self worth in the day to day, I do not believe in it’s power to make people truly happier and in fact think it often contributes to undermining people’s sense of self worth.
I understand that it is very poor journalism not to conclude with a single point and wrap my paragraphs up with a cohesive argument, but I have none. I ask only that you question your use, or lack thereof, of make up and consider some of the points that I have made above. For me, make up represents the intersection between patriarchy and capitalism. I hope to use it sparingly, in a targeted way when I do and soon to be as confident without make up as I ever was with it.