Let me start off by saying that I am a feminist and I love makeup. I wear makeup because I love it, I think it’s fun, and I like having different colors on my eyelids and lips every day. I don’t think I’m ugly, unattractive, or unworthy without it on, and I do not think that I’m better than anyone who doesn’t wear makeup. I don’t wear makeup because the patriarchy tells me to, but rather because I choose to. And I’m still a feminist because I’m choosing to wear it. Being feminine doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist.
But the other day, my partner’s 13 year old niece asked me to show her how to contour and fill in her eyebrows just after opening up to me about having low self esteem and insecurities. And I panicked. “You don’t need to do any of that” was my response. But I filled her eyebrows in with powder anyway, because that’s what she wanted me to do. She didn’t want to hear my self love mumbo jumbo. No one does at 13.
How do you assure a young girl that she doesn’t need to wear makeup, but still allow her to choose to wear makeup if she wants to? Is it hypocritical of me to tell her she doesn’t need to wear makeup when I am talking to her whilst wearing a full face of makeup? The problem is figuring out what exactly her intentions are with makeup – what her reasoning is for pursuing an interest in makeup. When I was 13, I sure wasn’t making some feminist decision to wear it — I was wearing it because I hated myself.
And I know for damn sure that I didn’t care when adults told me “you’re beautiful just the way you are,” because I didn’t feel beautiful — no matter what anyone said or did.
I always thought of myself as a good role model for promoting the idea that women should have a choice in how they live their lives rather than succumbing to the oppression and control of the patriarchy – they should be able to choose whether or not to have sex, they should be able to choose whether or not to dress modestly/provocatively, they should be able to choose whether or not they shave their legs, they should be able to choose whether or not they want plastic surgery, they should be able to choose whether or not they want to wear makeup, etc. That concept of “choice” was always the most feminist thing for me.
But am I a bad role model for wearing a full face of makeup in front of a 13 year old girl who may not yet understand that the decision to wear makeup must not be out of self hatred? Am I unintentionally promoting the patriarchal suggestion that women need to wear makeup to be beautiful or worthy? When a 13 year old girl asks you to teach her how to contour her cheekbones, do you do what she wants, or do you tell her she’s beautiful just the way she is – the exact words she needs to hear, but probably doesn’t want to? Do you teach her it’s okay to choose to wear makeup, or do you teach her it’s okay to not wear makeup? How exactly do you teach her both things at the same time?
When I walk around wearing my full face of makeup, what am I teaching the young girls who look at me? Am I the woman who made me feel like shit about myself when I was a kid? Am I the woman who made me feel like I had to wear makeup as a kid? Can I just wear a tee shirt at all times that reads “It’s okay to choose to wear makeup! It’s okay to choose to not wear makeup! You’re great either way, as long as you’re doing what makes you happy!” — is it even possible to convey that message?
Makeup should be something fun, a hobby or interest that brings joy to one’s life. It’s an art form, a way to express yourself, a way to play with color and lines. It shouldn’t be something you resort to out of self hatred, and it sure as hell shouldn’t be an expectation for women — we shouldn’t have to wear makeup to be seen as attractive or worthy.
When mothers post videos of their young daughters putting makeup on with them — is it okay? Can we teach young girls that makeup is just for fun, just a hobby to play with, without suggesting that they should be wearing makeup? How do we do this without imprinting the wrong idea into young girls’ heads? I started thinking about myself a lot. I flat iron my curly hair because I like the way it looks and it’s easier for me to manage – but I don’t dislike curly hair; I don’t even dislike my curly hair. But when my partner’s 13 year old niece, who has curly hair, discovers this – am I unintentionally telling her she should flat iron her hair, too? That she should be changing her natural appearance? What kind of example am I setting?
All I’ve ever wanted was to set the example that women should be able to choose to live however they want to live – but I’m over here choosing to live the exact way the patriarchy wants me to live: I’m wearing a full face of makeup and manipulating my natural hair, resulting in an appearance that fits society’s image of beauty. Am I a hypocrite? Am I not as big of a feminist as I thought I was? How do you look at a young girl and tell her she doesn’t need to fill in her eyebrows or contour her cheekbones – while your eyebrows are filled in and your cheekbones are contoured? How do you tell her that her natural hair is beautiful while your own hair is burnt to a crisp? The reasoning behind my decision may not be anti-feminist, but my reasoning isn’t written on my face. All young girls are seeing is another woman participating in the patriarchy’s image of beauty, further perpetuating it. I may be radical in my mind, but sadly I’m not appearing radical at all – unless of course we consider the fact that embracing femininity as strong is a radical, feminist act in and of itself. In a society that oppresses women and paints them as inferior to men, suggesting that femininity is inferior, a woman who embraces her femininity and still presents herself as strong and confident is a radical act itself.
“Being feminine is not harmful to women – the idea that femininity is synonymous with submissiveness, is, though. Asking whether women being themselves is harmful is perpetuating a problem instead of moving past it. As Caitlin Moran wrote, “the purpose of feminism isn’t to make a particular type of woman.” It’s all inclusive – the only thing you need to be is on board with feminist ideals, and the great thing about abstract ideas is that they lack aesthetic definition.”
Promoting the concept of “choice” is still relevant here. Choosing to wear makeup and embrace femininity doesn’t mean I can’t also promote self love – I just need to do it strategically, since wearing a full face of makeup can sadly give the wrong impression to young girls who are looking up at me and thinking a full face of makeup is the answer to their problems.
The only answer I can come up with is relentlessly and viciously promoting self love simultaneously. Even if that’s not what young girls want to hear when they’re suffering from the insecurities of preteen and teen years, I think it should be drilled into their brains anyway — especially when they’re thinking that makeup is the answer to their problems. Self love will cure them before makeup will. We just need to tell them: You are perfect just the way you are. You are beautiful just the way you are. And even if someone doesn’t think you’re beautiful, someone will — but regardless, your self worth doesn’t come from your beauty or appearance, anyway. You are smart, talented, strong, amazing, unique, wonderful… You are so much more than your appearance.
I think that if we can teach young girls to love themselves for who they are, even if they become interested in makeup, it will be safe: underneath the foundation on their skin will still be a foundation of self love (that was corny, I know) to keep them afloat, safe from the assumed self hatred people associate with makeup-wearers. So long as we teach them to love themselves first, makeup can be a fun, creative hobby they participate in because they love it, not because they hate themselves.
But we definitely need to pay attention to what exactly we are saying and promoting when we wear a full face of makeup, because even though we may be aware that makeup is our (feminist) choice, young girls may not see it that way due to the brainwashing of our patriarchal society. We may not associate our red lipstick with self hatred, but it can’t be denied that society makes that association. There have been too many times that people have assumed I wear makeup because I don’t like myself, and while I do still get insecure about myself sometimes (we all do!), that is not the reason I draw little black wings on my eyelids daily. I think wings are cool.
So, we should try to teach young girls to love themselves and wear makeup if they want to or not wear makeup if they don’t want to – but the self love is definitely the most important thing. We can’t suggest that the road to self love comes with wearing makeup, nor can we suggest that girls who wear makeup hate themselves. We also can’t let girls who don’t love themselves yet think that makeup will make them love themselves. (Although, not gonna lie, it might help sometimes, but that’s a tricky road to go down – it can’t be a safety net or the only way a girl feels comfortable in her own skin. However, if it helps a girl start the journey to self love and results in self love that isn’t dependent on makeup, then awesome – that was what happened to me!) Basically, I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to be able to stop associating makeup and/or [changing one’s] appearance with self worth.
Maybe I can sit down with my partner’s niece and give her the whole you should love yourself lecture that I received a million times as a kid. And then I can show her some highlighter so that she can play with makeup that makes her face glow rather than makeup that hollows it out. And maybe I should start telling her she’s beautiful all the time – when she’s not wearing makeup, when she is wearing makeup, when she’s got her hair in a ponytail, when her hair is down, when she’s in a dress, and when she’s in sweatpants.
I mean, I’m not a mother, but I’d like to figure out how exactly to present myself and my ideas before I am a mother- because I’d like to teach my future daughter that she’s beautiful just the way she is, but if she wants to do x, y, or z, that’s okay too. As long as she’s happy and healthy both physically and mentally. And this all starts with me: how I present myself and how I react when a 13 year old girl asks me to show her how to contour.
Some articles exploring femininity and feminism: