The Stigma of Makeup

“She’s too young for makeup.”

“You don’t need makeup, you’re beautiful.”

“I like a girl with natural beauty.”

I think every woman ever has heard some variation of these phrases. Hell, some of us have probably said them ourselves. The purpose of this blog isn’t to chastise people who share these common mentalities surrounding makeup. Instead, I want to reframe how we conceive of makeup and it’s purpose.

First off, I am going to primarily discuss makeup and its relationship to womanhood and femininity in this blog post. However, I by no means want to dismiss men and non-binary folks who also wear makeup. I see you!

Regarding women and makeup, there is a deeply entrenched societal narrative that women wear makeup for others. Like many other women, I have reacted to comments that imply as much by saying “I wear makeup for myself!” I do wear makeup for myself, but that’s not to say that I don’t care about what others think of me and my makeup. I think about it all the time. I’m an extremely self conscious person. Does that make me a bad feminist?

I think many of us do, to some degree, think of makeup as a means to cover our flaws. We wear concealer to hide our dark circles and foundation to cover acne scars. We talk about our lips being too thin, our faces being too round, or whatever else. If we think of makeup in these terms, it’s easy to fall into that mindset that makeup is inherently anti-feminist. After all, if I am expected to wear makeup to cover “flaws” that are, in reality, just parts of my natural face, I should push against that as a feminist. Men are not expected to wear makeup, so why should I?

I do want to digress for a moment and say that no one should be obligated to wear makeup, but in some fields, that is unfortunately not the case. I work in a fairly liberal field, but women who do not wear concealer on a daily basis are called out for not looking put together or seeming tired. The general consensus from older women in the field is that we need to wear makeup if we want to succeed, but it needs to be no-makeup makeup, lest we be viewed as shallow. This is a catch-22 that has been discussed time and again, so I won’t spend too much time on it.

Where does all this leave us? I think we need to reframe how we consider makeup, and part of that is reframing how we talk about makeup. This is so, so hard because it is deeply ingrained in us that interest in makeup is frivolous or superficial. Makeup has been recognized more and more as an art form in recent years, but that doesn’t stop people from labelling those of us with purple eyelids and red lips as “high-maintenance.” The whole “I’m not like other girls” meme didn’t come from nowhere. Let’s all remind ourselves that femininity is not a bad thing. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

That said, we should also remind ourselves of the impact of our language. There is a massive difference between saying “I wear concealer because I have to cover up my eye bags” and “I prefer the way I look with concealer on.” It’s a small shift in language, but the implications are important. The latter is an internal preference: I wear this because I like it. The former indicates external influence: I wear this because I have to cover up something unsightly. Let’s stop talking about makeup as something we need and start talking about it as something we enjoy and something that makes us feel good about ourselves. We cannot limit this to only the instances in which we hear an ignorant comment like “guys don’t like red lipstick.” We should try to do it all the time– with each other and with ourselves. Hopefully, over time, it will become a habit.

I want to close this piece by returning to the quote with which I opened: “She’s too young for makeup.” This sentiment encapsulates so much of what is wrong with our current notions of makeup. We don’t view makeup simply as pretty colors we put on our faces because we like the way they look. If we did, what would be so wrong about a child wanting to participate? We view makeup as a means to cover our flaws. By pushing younger people out of the makeup world, we are trying to protect them from all of the insecurities that we attach to putting on makeup. We say that kids are too young for makeup because we either don’t think they should have these insecurities or we view makeup as a means of making ourselves sexually attractive. I agree that kids shouldn’t be trying to be sexy, and I hope kids aren’t insecure. However, let’s all ask ourselves, why do we immediately associate makeup with these things? I think if we really think deeply about this and if we work to change our language around makeup, we can begin to undo the deeply entrenched social stigma of makeup.

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