It is a common sentiment that ‘women should be able to wear whatever, and however, much makeup they want’. I argue, however, that for many women, makeup is actually not a choice. It is fascinating to think about the ‘choices’ that we make within a system which directly influences what we feel and desire – a system that dictates whether or not our choices are a true “fuck you” to society.
Throughout my teenage years, I possessed a lot of internalised misogyny and so I solidly rejected femininity. Girls were vapid, shallow, superficial, catty and skanky. I wore baggy shirts, cargo shorts and sneakers. I abhorred dresses and makeup.
In hindsight I now see that I was performing for society, and in a way, for myself. ‘I am better than normal girls’ I would think to myself, while inside, I was deeply envious of how pretty other girls were, and of the attention they would get. It was very easy to blame my envy and insecurities on them.
I started wearing makeup for two main reasons. The first was that I had discovered third wave feminism, preaching the celebration of femininity as being powerful – because girls are powerful. The second was that I was regaining control over my appearance from a heavily conservative, possessive and controlling boyfriend. He did not approve of clothing he deemed “too revealing”, he liked a “natural look”, and he did not like how “extreme” my monolid eyes looked in winged eyeliner. Makeup was a liberating and empowering thing for me, and I started wearing thick winged eyeliner, lip product, concealer and BB cream every day.
I was showcasing my femininity loud and clear. I was rejecting the men who had tried to control me. “I am a girl and I am powerful – I choose to be powerful,” I would think to myself.
But what is powerful about worrying how dark and tired my under-eyes look? Worrying whether my outfit is cute enough to impress friends and potential partners? It may be a different sort of performance, but it was the same societal audience dictating how I looked.
After I ended that relationship, the break up and post-abuse depression led me back to wearing slacks and going out tired and barefaced – but I found people were still attracted to me. I’m still feminine, even though I don’t wear makeup every day anymore. I still have people pursue me and tell me how beautiful I am. My past insecurities about my appearance and likability have largely subsided, but I think it’s easier being comfortable in your own skin when you are conventionally attractive.
After all of this time, the basis for my decisions still boils down to a societal expectation that I should desire, want and value physical beauty. I used to be a defiant and misogynist cargo wearing teenager, then I became a conforming makeup wearing feminist, and now I gain self-confidence because of the random combination of genes and DNA my parents made me with.
At the time I thought I was making my own choices, but which one was my choice? When do we stop performing?
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.