Friday, 30 July 2010

Does wearing make up make you any less of a feminist?

I've just read this post by comedian and writer Mark Watson, whose thoughts on women wearing make up got me thinking. My relationship with my appearance has been an ongoing conversation over the last 15 years. In that time I've had 47 different hair colours and styles (just approximately), been at least 5 different dress sizes and have gone for periods of time where I wear make up every day and other times where I don't wear any for months.

I have an ex-boyfriend who argues that all make up is deception and you can't trust a woman who wears it because you're essentially being presented with a lie. We disagreed on this. Massively. At the moment I'm pretty happy with my appearance, not massive amounts of make up but it's there just the same. Am I giving people a false impression of who I am as a person, a professional, a friend or a girlfriend, because I'm wearing eyeliner and mascara?

When I was at school, we had very strict rules about the make up that could be worn (ie none) and the girls who did plaster it on were referred to as 'cake girls', because it looked like they'd caked it on with a shovel. I judged them for it then, much in the same way that I still today am exasperated by the women who plaster it on. It upsets me the amount of time and money women spend on their appearance. The one line I particularly liked from Mark Watson's piece was this: If all the women who spend half an hour "making up" every morning did something else with that half-hour, the results would be startling. In a society where 24 hours is not enough to fit everything in, does this time spent on our appearances have greater knock-on effects? If women spent half an hour reading the papers everyday, or a book, or talking with their families, or whatever, would we be closer to equality?

I have younger twin cousins, one of whom was suspended from school for wearing too much make up on a regular basis. I spoke to her then about how beautiful she is, and how she doesn't need to wear it every day. During these discussions she asked me how I could be a feminist and wear make up? She was under the impression that this would leave me in massive conflict, which leads me to today's topic of discussion: does wearing make up make you any less of a feminist?

At the moment, I choose to wear make up on a regular basis. It makes me feel more confident (I hate the word empower, but I suppose that is what it does), and means that my appearance is something I don't have to worry about. Maybe because I don't wear a lot of it, I don't obsess over it, but I do question why I feel the need to wear it, or why it makes me more confident. Does it change my views on fighting for equality? Not in the slightest.


  1. Well, there are two kinds really. You have makeup as expressive, and make up as something that's there to cover up stuff you don't like about yourself. I don't think either is anti-feminist, but it's clear that there is a paradigm shift when one crosses over to men, who tend not to wear it unless they're, like, in the Damned or something.

    One could say the same of skirts, of course.

    But that wouldn't mean they were wrong...

    And also the Damned don't really do skirts, but clearly I'm off topic now.

  2. I don't wear make-up unless I'm going out - I don't see the need for it as I would rather have the extra 10-15 minutes in bed every morning than spend time putting it on. Plus in my job I am judged on what I say and how I interact with others and not on my appearance so it doesn't fuss me what I look like when I get there - I have more important things to fuss about.

  3. Also, it's not really my main blog, but can I interest you in joining ?

    I'm too lazy to do it all myself.

  4. But do you think you look better for it really or do you think you are conforming to the way society wants you to look by wearing it? I used to think I was repulsive without make-up and I absolutely caked it on every day to mask my insecurities but now I'm a lot happier in my own skin and I don't feel I have to wear make-up whereas before I felt this huge pressure to do so to make myself feel good and look good. Now, I'm much more focused within myself and proud of who I am as a person and as a professional so the make-up has gone out of the window pretty much. I would rather people took me as who I am rather than what I look like.

    I agree we should have the choice of what we do with ourselves and it would be authoritarian and prescriptive to say that no women should wear make-up as that sort of rigid control over women's lives is what we are trying to escape from. However, I have to say that I do believe that society psychologically indoctrinates women into wearing make-up to adhere to a masculine standard of beauty which hasn't really moved past the image of Barbie.

  5. Make up as expression is something that I didn't really touch on in the blog, I think when I was writing it I was focusing on people who use make up as a shield.

    A large part of me thinks that the make up I choose to wear is part of how I present myself to the world, along with my clothes, my hair, whatever. You could also argue that once I have that 'look' going, it makes me secure in how I'm presenting myself, and so I am using it as some sort of shield.

    This whole discussion fascinates me. I don't have an answer yet. Let's keep chatting about this one!

  6. "A large part of me thinks that the make up I choose to wear is part of how I present myself to the world, along with my clothes, my hair, whatever"

    I tihnk that's true, but not just restricted to visuals, I think it's all part of a wider issue of how we present ourselves to the world. I think physical appearances in general, and specifically make-up, are jsut a more female focussed part of that. Men don't have to contend with it but there are other issues we have tio which women don't, financial affluence being the obvious example.

    So, to get away from what-about-the-menz-ing...if I'm honest, the thing with make-up is that it does make girls look better, if applied skillfully of course, and I think most men would agree. Of course many girls decide they don't give a shit about this factor, and fair play to them, I suppose for some NOT wearing makeup is a way of testing whether men are interested for the right reasons. But then I don't hold anything against a girl who uses make-up and her appearance to improve her chances in "the dating game" (there must be a less nauseating term than that but I cant think of it....) either. In short, your choice, but I think you look better with.

    Anonymous - Barbie is overrated as a sex symbol anyay. Maybe if they did a black barbie...although I think they might have done, they call her Beyonce...


  7. I don't think it makes you any less of a feminist. But it is harder to tell women to be confident as they are, and that beauty comes from the inside etc, when you are wearing make-up.

    Wearing make-up to make yourself look better is a sign that you're not happy with how you are naturally/not comfortable in your own skin. But why shouldn't women be allowed to make themselves seem prettier, and so more confident?

    Personally, I would be distraught if anyone ever saw me without mascara. I look awful without. Does this mean I am a crushed woman? I doubt it.