Some people are of the school of thought that feminists shouldn’t wear makeup or care about fashion because it somehow opposes the belief that men and women should be equal. I’ve been faced with this argument many times and I used to think “fair enough that seems a little contradictory” but after stewing over this one for a few years I’ve come to see that the two are really not linked at all. Once again I feel the need to remind you that men can and do wear makeup themselves so it isn’t solely a women’s issue. First of all, each person’s style and overall look is totally subjective to that individual so it’s not as though we all conform to one united ideal of beauty as it is. Second, we are a product of our environment. Meaning that if our individual cultural and societal norms deemed wearing an Elizabethan ruff as the acceptable thing to do – we would naturally be inclined to do so. Now my final point is that just because we might feel inclined to dress a certain way or do our makeup and hair one way or another – does this mean that we should fight that inclination? I say no, not really. If you WANT to plaster your face with makeup and walk around in a catsuit, you should be able to do so without your beliefs being compromised, the main difference between looking how you want to look versus being a victim of mass media sexualisation is enlightenment.
If you are enlightened and know exactly why you want to wear that dress or that shade of lipstick and that it’s for you and you alone – great. If you are just doing it in a knee-jerk, “monkey see monkey do” sort of way because you think that boys will like you more or because it’s what Kylie Jenner is doing at the moment then I think that’s a different kettle of fish. There is a fine line between dressing for yourself and crumbling under the societal pressure to be the perfect woman. What’s more, you can choose to conform to the beauty ideals of today, or you could use makeup, clothing and hair to make other statements. We have the power to choose how we are perceived using the magic of makeup and fashion or making the choice NOT to use those things. Neither is more feminist than the other.
Some feminists believe that anything that creates a distinct difference between men and women – i.e makeup marks the woman as a woman so she can be treated differently- is oppressive. I think that is a separate issue altogether, personally, I believe this is an issue of androgyny and denying our anatomical differences which to me seems counterproductive. There’s no denying that we feel sexier and more empowered in certain clothing or styles because of the way that look is perceived by the public, an element of that involves wanting to be seen as attractive or standing out. I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing though. Why, as feminists, are we not supposed to feel attractive – to each other and the opposite sex?
I don’t think we’re ever going to shake the scepticism of being a modern day feminist in a low cut dress, lipstick and false eyelashes, to the layman this seems like contradictory behaviour and I can see why. Basically it boils down to having a strong sense of self and a good understanding of why you choose to adorn yourself the way you do and what would happen if you just stopped doing those things – would you feel bad about yourself? Would your love interest lose interest? Would you be scorned and poked fun at? If the answer is no then great, it really holds no significance to you other than because it’s something you want to do, it makes you feel good, it makes a statement and it’s a free country. If you feel like your self-worth and success in life hangs in the balance based on the way you look then you might want to re-evaluate why it means so much to you – imprisonment vs empowerment. Makeup is creative, fun and is considered an art form but we shouldn’t use it to erase our flaws – and in turn- ourselves.
If all makeup and all looks were created equal and a “uniform” that, as women, we had to wear and had no choice then it would be oppressive. I think the beauty of our aesthetic today is that we can choose to utilise it, to abandon it, to make a statement or to blend in and that is a choice that we should be proud of. Putting thought into your appearance doesn’t mean submission, it means power.