Until a few days ago I did not know how to put on makeup. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but at eighteen and already through my first semester of college I’m more than a little bit behind the curve. Most of my female friends started experimenting in middle school by rimming their eyes with heavy black lines. As time progressed they began to experiment with color, most eventually settling for what would be considered a natural, everyday look. Personally, I was just far too lazy to wakeup even a few minutes earlier to put makeup on and then stay up a few minutes later to properly remove it. However, now that I’ve been inculcated in the process I can’t help but wonder, why do women wear makeup?
Makeup isn’t new or exclusively Western. Ancient Egyptians used kohl as eyeliner. Japanese geishas wore lipstick. Women in Europe as far back as the Renaissance used face powder to achieve a paler and more aristocratic look. In early America, makeup was largely unpopular, mostly because it was considered immodest. Flappers in the 1920s began wearing dark eye makeup, red lipstick, and suntanned skin in order to protest the Puritanical standards of the day, hopping to draw attention to their sexuality and individuality. As movie stars began wearing makeup in the 1930s, it gradually became more acceptable and was soon widely adopted by most American women. By the 1950s every housewife did her dishes and vacuumed her floors with a fully made-up face. Second-wave feminist in the 1970s opposed makeup, claiming it contributed to the patriarchy’s view of women solely as sexual objects.
So, where does that leave the modern woman? Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive proclamation. Some women enjoy putting on makeup the way others enjoy wearing dresses; just because they are both characteristically “female” habits, is no reason to force women to stop either. Feminism should offer women more choices, not less. Some women wear makeup to enhance certain facial features. I can find no fault in this approach either. I wear things that best show off my assets, noses and eyes and lips should be no exceptions. It’s a form of body confidence to be able to say, “I don’t care that my lips don’t have a cupid’s bow, I like them anyways.” Some women even wear makeup to keep themselves healthy; all foundations contain at least some level of SPF.
Yet, some women wear makeup to hide their faces and this I cannot condone. If the only way a woman can feel “confident” about their face is under layers of artificial colors and anti-wrinkle serums, then there’s a problem, and it’s not with her. The problem lies in the constant media bombardment, which enforces ideas that allow women to believe there is only one definition of beauty and without makeup they’re not it.
But, I haven’t been fair. I’ve been pointing the finger at other women, when I started this post talking about me. Why did I learn to make myself up? The answer makes me want to cringe. I’ve been desperately applying for jobs and I figured I would look more hirable while wearing basic makeup. So where does that put me? In the last category. Like the women I was most anxious for, I too am seeking patriarchal approval.
However, in writing this post I’ve seen the hypocrisy and I promise myself, and you, in the future I will never wear makeup for anyone but myself. All I ask is that if you wear makeup you seriously consider why you do it.