If you’re familiar with feminist discourse, you’ll probably know that makeup can be a bit of a
polarizing issue. Is it yet another oppressive mechanism or is it a woman’s free choice that should not be criticized?
Obviously I cannot answer that on my own, and for starters I think that every woman should feel free to think about what makeup means for them and how they feel about it. That being said, let’s dive into the discussion a bit further.
Putting stuff on your face to look different and/or more attractive goes back a very, very long time. It’s difficult to say who first started it, but I’m guessing a particularly crafty woman who decided to try something new with whatever pigmented stuff she had lying around. Maybe it was an ancient Egyptian man who said ‘you know what would be cool? If women would always use this black stuff to draw lines on their eyes!’, but I rather doubt it. No, the thing with makeup is that men don’t seem to care much for it. I think we all know the women’s magazines that interview guys and they’ll be like ‘nah, I like a more natural look!’, and I believe them, even though I think they may not always know exactly how much makeup went into a ‘natural look’. Whenever there’s some new trend, women seem to be trying it out way more for their own sake than for a man’s. So, why do we feel like makeup is, or can be, oppressing us if we are the ones that keep entire Instagram accounts filled with our sharp winged liner, transformative contouring and bold lips?
For one, we have to take different kinds of women into account. Sure, makeup bloggers who make their living with creating beautiful looks must feel empowered by it. For me and many other women, makeup is a normal thing to do and a fun way to experiment with your look. But there are also many women that do not feel comfortable wearing it, but feel like they have to anyway. Society doesn’t prescribe red lips and smokey eyes, but foundation, mascara and trimmed brows are mostly considered normal and professional, with some firms even requesting that their employees wear makeup. You might say that that’s a natural component to an alltogether professional look, but I understand why that makes a lot of women uncomfortable. I’ve seen a commenter somewhere on the internet sum it up pretty well: “I’ll find makeup empowering when I don’t feel forced to wear it.”
Another thing that makes makeup so difficult is that it is very closely related to beauty standards, and those are partially dictated from above, not only by women but also by men. They have a hand in creating trends and the product range, which makes makeup not entirely a free choice. With that in mind, we have to acknowledge that makeup isn’t just there to be fun and creative, but to ‘hide’ our physical flaws and to give us solutions to problems we didn’t even know we have. If I didn’t know lash curlers were a thing, would I ever have thought that my lashes weren’t curly enough? Probably not. But the thing is, now that we know our skin can look better and our eyes brighter, we want to make that happen. I’m not advocating for ditching all makeup, because I feel that it has become such a normal and also positive thing in many lives that it would be weird and hard to get rid of it. Maybe it’s inauthentic that we feel better with bright red lips, but we feel it all the same, so should we deny ourselves the fun of buying a new lipstick?
In conclusion, it’s not bad to not feel oppressed by makeup because we’re used to it and we can use it for our own enjoyment. But it’s also not bad to feel oppressed, because it is highly influenced by beauty standards and has become pretty normative. As women, we should support each other in whatever makeup related decision we make, and recognize each other’s perspectives. We should try to be conscious of the oppressive mechanisms that makeup can play into. And as for the makeup/fashion industry, I think it might help if campaigns would focus a lot less on ‘make yourself look better’ and a lot more on ‘have fun with colors!’, and if they maybe didn’t photoshop the shit out of everyone. Also, keep posting those no makeup selfies, because as much fun as it can be, it’s still only a silly human invention.