I Am a Feminist, But I Don’t Hate Makeup
by Kimberly Roe
This article is part of a new column series called, "I Am a Feminist, but...," which features stories about the various ways in which women (and men!) can and do embrace feminism.
I wouldn’t say I have a love-hate relationship with makeup, but I can say that from my perspective makeup is a complicated subject. Growing up, I was taught that makeup is a fundamental part of the passage from girlhood to womanhood. It would make you look better, feel better, be better. Makeup was always a common element between the girls I watched as they transitioned to maturity and the women who ran the world around me. It seemed like they couldn’t step out of the house without. And not because they loved it that much...because it was a requirement.
I wasn’t ever as excited as my mother wanted me to be about makeup. I would play around with the various color eyeshadows every once in a while in middle school, but that’s about it. I wasn’t making a feminist statement by not being interested in makeup (I didn’t even know that feminism was a thing at that time). I just genuinely didn’t care for it.
When I -- finally, everyone said -- decided to explore the world of cosmetics in my later years of high school, it was as if a switch flipped. Suddenly a day without at least an attempt at wearing makeup meant that I had a rough morning. My mother would not accept me as looking put together enough for religious service without at least lipstick. I needed foundation to make my blemishes go away, at least for a short time, because that’s what it means to look nice. And finally I understood. The vague sense of obligation I’d felt when observing makeup as a child clicked in my head. Suddenly, for me, wearing makeup was compulsory.
By that time I’d been a self-identified feminist for a year or two. I hadn’t really had the chance to truly investigate opinions about makeup, but I knew one thing was for sure: makeup was pretty bad. I didn’t judge others who wore makeup because a) I, as a very embarrassing high school student did not have grounds to try to judge anyone; b) I didn’t hate makeup users just because I hated makeup; and c) Everyone else in my classes who wore makeup wore it so well that I was too busy being in awe of their skill to try to pass any sort of judgement. But I hated the fact that my female classmates and I were appraised for our “good looks” (or, more appropriately, whether we had strong enough foundation to hide our teenage pimples) and scorned for our “lack of” (our untouched faces).
I didn’t like the fact that my mom encouraged me to wear makeup as much as possible because it made me look better, to the point of expressing extreme disappointment whenever I chose not to. I noticed that it wasn’t just me who had felt this pressure, so I decided to villainize makeup. I ended up seeing a lot of feminists with a similar view to mine which helped solidify my thought process for a while. Eventually, I developed a small but real bitterness towards makeup, which was fueled by the obvious support of the patriarchy many cosmetic company advertisements perpetuated as well as the unreal expectation of women to alter their faces daily with makeup in order to be loved or respected.
Nowadays, though I still critique cosmetic companies that advertise makeup as a way to be better or more beautiful, I have a healthy respect for makeup for better or for worse. It is not a crime to like wearing makeup, even if you like it because you feel insecure without it. It is not a crime if someone feels better with a full face of makeup before going out to the grocery store. Yes, a lot of these insecurities have been products of a society enforcing constant rules created to keep women striving to improve their physical appearances for the benefit of the public (i.e. the male gaze); and we should absolutely address this issue and strive to reverse the damage it’s done. But antagonizing women who wear makeup -- or anyone who wears makeup, for that matter -- is not the answer to any of our problems.
I’ve seen people use makeup to enhance what they already love about themselves. I’ve seen people create actual works of art with colors so vivid beautifully unnatural one couldn’t help but express awe. Individuals are wearing makeup for themselves and themselves alone, which is a stark contrast to the “you must wear makeup so the world will think you’re beautiful” mentality I once had. As I’ve watched the feminist movement develop before and around me, I’ve seen a shift in appreciation for makeup. What once was seen exclusively as a way to hide your natural face is now a way to create and delve into a new definition of beauty. This concept does not replace the natural beauty we have worked so hard to love and appreciate. Rather, it coexists alongside it. Women, men, and people of all gender expression or lack of are allowed to move fluidly between these notions of beauty, which is something my old view of makeup would never have allowed.
So while I still am not the best at makeup, especially when it comes to applying it, I can say that as a feminist I don’t hate makeup in the least. I actually appreciate it and what it does for myself and others. Go out and be your best and favorite self, be it with or without makeup.
Kimberly Roe is a freelance writer and social media enthusiast. She is passionate about many topics, including intersectional feminism, accurate sex education, theatre, political discourse, and of course, generic millennial things. She is currently a social media intern for The Prospect, a contributing writer for Reflection Magazine, and a Her Culture blog writer. Find her online on Twitter (@wolfieyy) or Tumblr (enuribus.tumblr.com).