Makeup is relevant
Yes and no. It’s true that things like the rape culture or horrible exploitation of women around the world look obviously more dire and disgusting than the American beauty double standard. It’s also true that they ultimately result in more death and abject misery.
But this sort of brush-off of the beauty double standard entirely misses the point: sexism is pervasive and maintained by things as meaningless as grooming regimens. The reason women are required to wear makeup, and men are not, and the reason why women own less than 1% of the world’s wealth while working two-thirds of the world’s working hours—paid and unpaid—are exactly the same. That reason is patriarchy, sexism, bigotry, and chauvinism. Whatever the name, it’s all just hatred of women.
Talking about make-up is a big no-no among the liberal feminist crowd. Even those that are not adherents of “SexyFun Feminism” ask those man-hating radical dykes to lay off their precious powders lest they be painted with the same brush as those disgusting radical feminists or lesbian separatists.
I’ll be honest here: talking about make-up and plucking my eye brows seems completely and totally irrelevant and superficial. I catch myself making that assumption based on a sort of “common sense”. Well this common sense might be common, but it’s certainly not sensible.
The mechanics of how and why the beauty and fashion industries operate the way they do—here and elsewhere—all return back to the fact that the natural state of a woman is something that is vile, disgusting, and dirty in this world. Like Dworkin postulates in Pornography, women are regarded as nothing more than “cunt”. By cunt, she means an object whose entire nature is encompassed by a sexuality that is sinful and wrong and an object which is hurt because it wants it, and must be hurt because the aggressor has no choice… being manipulated by the object the way that he is.
Women are naturally cunts, or so the dominate social doctrine goes. Our bodies are shameful. All of are parts may be dissected and separated from our individuality, because they all—in sum or in parts—have the mysterious power of sexual arousal in the male viewer. We cover our breasts, the center of substance production for infants, because their purpose has been usurped by the unwanted reaction of the male gaze to that which they deem dirty. We carefully groom our body hair into pleasing shapes, or remove it all together, because of its socially-defined connection to filth, to smell, to age, to masculinity—all things a woman cannot possess. We cover our acne, painfully groom our eyebrows, lengthen our lashes, and paint our lips with a cocktail of chemicals considered, by some, too toxic to even test on animals.
All this because the natural form of the woman is unclean, is filthy, is wrong.
An anticipated objection is that some men find body hair acceptable, and a lack of makeup refreshing. But this too takes place in the realm of male sexual arousal, and does not reflect the cultural norms. Still, the acceptability of a woman’s appearance is tied to whether or not there is some man—any man—that could produce a boner.
It is entirely legal, and I would bet extremely common, to fire or refuse to hire a woman for not following beauty ideals. It has been upheld in a higher court of law: a woman does not have the right to seek employment where her required grooming regime is equal to a man’s, financially and otherwise. You will be endlessly punished and harassed by local law-enforcement and justice systems for daring to shed your top in the hot sun like men have been allowed to do for millennia. If we fall outside the restrictive and, for most, impossible standards of thinness, our wages suffer while men’s do not. Street harassment is the punch-line of everyone’s joke.
Do any of these things have anything to do with makeup? Of course they do. Makeup is related to rape, to genocide, to death, to abuse, and to income gaps. Makeup is just another way that the patriarchy asserts its dominance over our images and bodies and punishes us for failing to meet the grade. Since the grade is always changing and usually impossible, we all fail in some way, and all women are punished.
Today is the two-month anniversary of the day I stopped wearing makeup. I haven’t worn any, not even mascara, once. Even when I broke out, I never bothered to find my powder. It was fairly easy, you see. I travel quite a lot, and one day, I just forgot to unpack my makeup. It sat in the corner of my closet, behind a bunch of other junk I didn’t feel like moving at the time, so I just went about my day without it. Before long, it had been a week. Today, it has been two months.
I have reclaimed so much. I don’t spend upwards of hundreds of dollars a year on shit I slather on my face to cover up breakouts that that shit caused in the first place. I sleep up to fifteen minutes longer in the morning. I get ten extra minutes for my lunch break because I don’t need to go to the bathroom to reapply my makeup. My contacts last longer because they’re not being contaminated by my eyeshadow, eye liner, or mascara. I rub my eyes when I’m tired without worrying about smudging something.
But that’s not to say it is easy. No, I have become hyper-aware of my appearance in a way that I haven’t been since I was a younger teen. Before I wore makeup, I was convinced that I was ugly. I began to wear makeup because everyone else did, and continued to wear makeup once my painted face became “normal” and my natural face “lazy”. I wonder if people wonder why I never wear makeup. I wonder if they think I’m a dyke or some sort of crazy hippie nut job. I know they at least see when I’m tired now, because I don’t cover up the bags.
This background noise, this static, is the endlessly cycling self-hatred of social indoctrination. I never set out to hate myself, but when all the women on the television and in real life look nothing like you (holy shit, I have pores and pimples like
humans men!), it’s not hard to recognize the fact that by not wearing makeup, I’m doing something that is instantly recognizable as deviant.
But I’m extremely lucky. I don’t fall too far from the “beauty ideal”. My lips are not naturally thin or pale, my eyes are not small, my cheeks are not waxen, my eyelashes are not stubby, and my eyebrows are not sparse. Facially, if not bodily, I fit far better within the beauty ideal than many do even with a little makeup. My job encourages this sort of rebellion, being that I work at a politically-charged independent bookstore. I don’t think two of my three supervisions—and yes, all three are odds-defyingly female—wear makeup or heels ever. My mother doesn’t pressure me to wear makeup, and tells me I’m pretty anyways. Even my insensitive brother compliments me. I’m surrounded by a set of circumstances and wonderful people that make a requirement for most women an opinion for me.
My circumstances are not typical. Most women are expected to wear makeup on the job. Most women have apply it daily in order to even approach the beauty standard, especially those who dare to do something as disgustingly natural as have birthdays. Most women continue to wear makeup because they like the routine, they feel less beautiful and confident without it, or because the act of putting paints on one’s face bestows a set of opportunities that the natural woman cannot have.
That is not to say that women that wear makeup are wrong, morally or otherwise. They operate within a culture, a family, a relationship, or a company that would seriously impact their finacial and emotional states if they decided that wearing makeup just wasn’t for them. What is a choice for me, really isn’t for many others.
That is what is wrong.
It is not wrong when a woman choses to wear makeup of her own free will. It is not wrong when a woman and any man who so wishes decides that she or he likes the statement of heavy eyeliner and purple lipstick. These things are healthy explorations of self-expression.
What is wrong is when this “choice” is forced one way or another by necessity. Francine wears makeup because otherwise she wouldn’t get tips at her waitressing job. George doesn’t wear makeup because his construction site supervisor would undoubtedly fire him, and all his coworkers would harass him. This retaliations against those that dare to break the social norm—women who refuse to conceal and alter their filthy and wrong natural states or men that remind other men of women or homosexuals—are wrong.
My unmade face is a statement, a commitment, a lifestyle. It is a bizarre image of the natural in a world where only the superficial is acceptable. It is something that I could not do, and probably would not do, if I was not lucky enough to have the circumstances and support I do.
Makeup is serious business. It is just another symbol of that which women must do to facilitate or prevent boners, to hide and conceal our bodies and minds, to accentuate only that which is artificially deemed acceptable, and to place undue physical, mental, emotional, and financial burden on the lower gender in order to assure that only the rare few of us will ever dare to and be able to defy the hierarchy.
When I talk about makeup, I’m not talking about the absolutely inconsequential and irrelevant notion that a woman is good or bad based on “choices” are that only illusions. I am talking about where one thing fits within a massive network of intersecting abuses, hierarchies, priviledges, norms, and bigotries. I am talking about the patriarchy, and how when the revolution comes, even something as “inconsequential” as makeup will cease to exist within the sort of context it now does.
When I talk about makeup, I am talking about the notion, passed down through history, that I am ugly and dirty and wrong because I am a woman.