The Make-up Myth: Cosmetics and Choice

Does saying “it’s my choice” make your decision inherently feminist? It must be appreciated that feminism is a complex issue; it is a response to deeply entrenched misogynistic social norms and expectations. The reality of these pressures is often used to argue that we are never really able to make a ‘free choice’, as our decisions are always going to be subconsciously influenced by our desire to conform to expectations of womanhood and femininity. I really don’t buy this, however, because in an ironic way I think it boosts the patriarchy’s wet dream that every decision women make is subconsciously driven by a desire to please them; especially when it comes to our appearance.

Very few people can say they don’t feel self-conscious about how they look around others, and I am certainly not one of those people; but when I make a decision to wear make up it is only my own self-confidence that comes into the equation. That’s not to say that our public image isn’t something that affects the decisions that we make when it comes to our appearance – that’s inevitable – but our appearance is also important to our personal confidence and self-love too.

It’s also okay to want to look good for other people, even men, and this is where we have to appreciate that feminism (like any other) is a flawed movement. We don’t always make ‘perfectly feminist’ decisions, sometimes we shape our decisions based on the way other people see us – but that’s a human thing, not just a female one. From one of my favourite ladies Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist: “We demand perfection from feminists because we are still fighting for so much… we go far beyond reasonable constructive criticism to dissecting any given women’s feminism, tearing it apart until there’s nothing left.” What this really means is that it is counterproductive to criticize women for not prioritizing their feminist ideology for every decision they make – that is an unrealistic expectation.

Attacking women as being preoccupied or superficial if they express interest in investing time in their appearance goes far beyond the reaches of reasonable constructive criticism. Instead, this forms cracks in a movement that relies so heavily on female solidarity. Meanwhile, the same criticism is almost never directed towards men, of whom there are certainly just as many with the same interest in appearance and presentation. Just because make-up is a predominately female oriented industry, it is seen as a negative investment of time and interest. On the contrary, the female led forums, websites and by-products of the industry are beautiful, powerful and supportive feminist collectives; havens for women to support each others decisions, share knowledge and come together in a silent solidarity.

Feminism, one of the largest social movements of our history, is ready to stand up and take on it’s critics. Even as ‘bad feminists’ we can use our own errors of judgement to adjust our behaviour, and use socially entrenched practices to support women, not to diminish them. Looking beyond make-up as a superficial preoccupation, we can acknowledge it as an important part of our power as women: to have complete autonomy over our own bodies and to represent and express our diverse and exciting selves to the world.