I love makeup. I am unapologetic in my love for makeup. For me, it’s an extension of my personality. It’s another method of communication that I choose to utilize on a day to day basis. It’s a form of artistic expression, and my favorite artistic medium. Much like fashion and the use of accessories, I can tell you what kind of day I’m having, what’s on my mind, without a single word. I can tell you all of this about myself simply with what I choose to put on my face. Besides using makeup to express my personality, makeup is also finally earning its rightful recognition as a legitimate art form.
There’s a scene from the 2010 film “Burlesque” where Tess (played by the iconic Cher) applies makeup to newcomer Allie (played by powerhouse vocalist Christina Aguilera). Allie is unsure how to apply eyeliner with an eyeliner brush. Tess notices her struggling, and applies it for her. She explains that putting on makeup is like being an artist, but instead of a blank canvas on an easel, your face is your canvas.
A question I am often asked is how I can be so invested in feminism, yet still proudly declare this love I have for makeup. Who decided that the two are mutually exclusive? Why can’t we do both? Why can’t we kick ass in STEM and rock winged eyeliner? Why can’t we be take part in philanthropic endeavors and wear red lipstick? That’s what we do. Women are multi-taskers. We’ve been doing a million and one things since the beginning of time. I think these rules are simply yet another way to divide us by pitting us against each other. That the use or absence of makeup somehow makes one woman “better” than the other. I believe that misogyny (and internalized misogyny) is responsible for fueling yet another one of the many double standards women are held to.
“Be pretty, but not too pretty. You should want to look approachable, but not too approachable.”
“Be low maintenance, but put forth some effort. Just not too much.”
“Lady Problems” by AlexandraDal
Nobody seems surprised if a man is both an athlete and a painter. Nobody bats an eye if a man is a college professor and also lifts weights. It’s expected that a man would have many interests, and it’s accepted that he is allowed to unapologetically enjoy them without calling his sincerity into question. Neither hobby “cancels” out the other one for a man. Men are allowed to be multi-faceted, but women are often put into one of two ridiculous boxes:
- Girls who wear visible makeup “care too much” about what others think of them.
- Girls who wear very little or no makeup “don’t care enough”.
These assumptions are limiting and damaging to the wild notion that women are in fact complete human beings. And sadly, they are perpetuated by not only men—but also other women. I have known both men and women who asked me if I was “hiding something”, or why I’m “seeking attention”.
No, I’m not hiding anything. I’m not seeking attention. Women who enjoy makeup are not hiding from, nor seeking anything. I don’t understand how one could come to such an absurd and utterly self-serving conclusion. There is no other explanation, except blatant misogyny and internalized misogyny.
If a middle-aged man chooses to dye his graying hair, nobody boldly accuses him of trying to hide his advancing age. If a young man regularly lifts weights and wants to show off his progress from several days a week of weight training on his Facebook or Instagram, nobody accuses him of seeking attention. Nobody doubts his intelligence.
I just happen to like something, and dare to make it known. Wearing makeup is really no different than choosing to dye your hair, or wearing vintage-inspired dresses, or adorning your jacket with patches and enamel pins. These choices are a facet of what we like and how we choose to express ourselves. It’s simply an extension of who we are as women, but more importantly, as people. Complete and complex human beings, both flawed and perfect in our special way that is inherently and uniquely our own. We choose what we want to say to the world everyday without a single word, but with how we choose to dress, accessorize, and yes, even wear makeup—and underneath that makeup, we’re still people.
“Other Girls” by Rinacat.tumblr, shows how even women police women’s decisions about their bodies.
There are also the men (and women) who have sincerely believed that they were complimenting me by telling me that I “don’t need all that makeup” to be pretty. I’ve also been asked these same questions by women, or been on the receiving end of accusatory statements such as but not limited to “You must be really insecure.” How is the presence of black winged eyeliner and magenta lipstick magically going to restore security? Plot twist: It’s not. Makeup brushes are brushes, not magic wands. Again, no other explanation for this way of thinking seems to come to mind except misogyny (or internalized misogyny). These double standards are tiring!
In the social media age, memes are everywhere you look. Quotes by celebrities that may have once been considered witty now seem unnecessarily antagonistic or hostile. Another example of this effect on women are pages on Facebook and memes, one titled “I could remove 90% of your beauty with a tissue.” Where does this hostility come from?
It all comes back to the assumption that women use makeup to hide the truth and make themselves desirable for a male audience. That one cannot use makeup simply because it’s fun and they like it, and because they enjoy utilizing various shades and discovering new techniques, textures and tools to work with.
My choice to wear makeup doesn’t affect my sense of self, or my determination to fight for equity between the sexes, races, gender identities, and sexual orientations. In fact, I find inspiration in the history of makeup (specifically lipstick). Knowing that strong female leaders such as Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I donned a full face to lead, that Suffragettes wore red lipstick while they marched to gain the right to vote, that women working in weaponry factories during WWII wore shades of red to boost morale and simultaneously “stick it” to the enemy (who detested red lipstick) both inspires and enthralls me. Knowing that other women throughout history drew inspiration and empowerment from makeup (as women became bolder and misbehaved during the 1920’s) inspires me. They used makeup as their “war paint”, as they were warriors just as we are today—simply by living in a society that is systemically stacked against us.
To the men and women who claim that makeup is “false advertisement”, I say this: Last I checked, women are not products for consumption. Women are not goods to be procured. Women are not objects. Women are people.
Ashley Hesse is a 20-something writer/musician and women’s rights activist. She is a former beauty/special FX makeup artist who put down the makeup brushes and raised her fist in solidarity to help fight the social injustices against women all over the world. When she’s not crusading for social justice and defeating bigotry in all its forms, she also enjoys feeding her soul with musical theatre, red lipstick and Ghirardelli brownies.