“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political equality of the sexes” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
This quote, used by Beyoncé, seems simple. So why is feminism such a contested term? And how does a person who believes in this ideology go about living it? It’s no secret that women have been, for most of history, and still are, valued primarily for their appearance. The entire beauty industry, which caters almost exclusively to women, enforces this idea that women exist to look pretty, to be objects. So, if women are under a massive societal pressure to conform to a standard of beauty, is using makeup really a choice, or is it something ingrained into us? So if I actually like using makeup, am I buying into a system that works against me and my gender?
I don’t think so. Femininity has been seen as weaker and non-threatening since the time of ancient Greece. But I think that can change. In radical feminist circles, this is known as something called “weaponized femininity,” and is seen as something negative. Because how can you take something that was made to be toxic towards you and turn it into a tool against someone else? You can, and it’s been done before, but not with something physical: with words. Many minority groups have begun to take back slurs against them. I think that the same thing can be done with makeup and femininity in general.
I am not saying that I want to return to the days where the only power a woman has is her beauty and her sexuality (that she should present physically, but never act on—which is another issue entirely). I also don’t want to give the impression that to be feminist, every woman should wear makeup. No, instead I want to spread the idea that looking feminine or not is a choice that each woman should be free to make, though to make that choice and ignoring the societal pressure to use makeup a certain way or at all is difficult.
I have always been a typical “girly girl,” but I also went to a Catholic school, where we couldn’t wear makeup that was obvious and had dress codes that, looking back, were unfairly sexist. I didn’t feel comfortable wearing what I wanted in any way because in a culture obsessed with the image of a submissive, pure woman, I couldn’t. Thank god the world is not high school, because that restrictive environment made me realize exactly how much I hate that image. I am a painter, and art made me realize that an image is something created.
To me, makeup is simply another art form. It creates a message, an image that is as individual as the person wearing it. The media is full of stories about how men hate specific kinds of eyeshadow, or that dark lipstick scares them away. But now, as an adult, if a man finds my red lipstick intimidating, I feel mildly pleased with myself. Because he should be intimidated. I deserve to be taken seriously. And if wearing makeup allows that to happen, I will wear it gladly.
At one point in history, lipstick was illegal, considered a kind of witchcraft that would seduce men into marriage. Obviously, that’s not why I wear makeup, but such a law does say that makeup has power. And while I do wear it for myself—because it’s fun and I’m an artist who likes to paint my face as much as canvas—I also wear it, to a certain extent, for men.
As a fairly small statured woman with a young looking face, I am often dismissed. And the unfortunate reality is that I often need people to actually look at my face before they will hear my voice. So yes, I am playing into the system that inherently favors men. But I am doing it in a way that takes back my power rather than giving it away. Because makeup gives me control over my own appearance, which is power.
Studies have shown that women who wear makeup are more successful. This is inherently disturbing, and that I have to cater to the male gaze by looking attractive to be successful makes me angry. But makeup can be a tool to subvert that. Makeup makes me feel powerful, because when I wear it I am noticed—and I don’t want the attention to be on my appearance alone, but the fact is that every person, even women use appearance as a first impression.
I do not use makeup to fix myself. I think that women who do should seriously consider why they feel the need to do so because I truly believe that everyone is beautiful with or without makeup. But do not shame me for not looking like how you think a “natural” woman should. I look like me, deliberately. My makeup shows that I am not afraid to experiment, to look intimidating. It takes confidence to wear bold makeup. It takes confidence to wear no makeup. I choose to wear makeup for attention, but not because I am vain or feel inadequate without it. Makeup makes me feel powerful, like my own personal work of art. I understand that other women may see makeup as something that traps them, but for me, it is empowering. And once my face has your attention, maybe my mind will capture it as well. And because I use it to subvert its original intentions and to reclaim my femininity for myself, makeup is, in my experience, feminist.