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Women's Outreach and Resource Collective | A collaborative community for advocates of gender equity and social justice

Masking with Makeup

By: Laurel Haislip

Today is my birthday so naturally I want to feel special. I smooth the wrinkles out of my favorite dress, select a fitting pair of shoes to compliment, and head to the mirror.  There I fix my hair just right, curling, pinning, and spraying the waves into place. There I apply a layer of goo over my skin, powder, bronzer, and blush. There I paint my eyelids with layers of color, draw around my eyes with a dark pencil, and wave a wand over my lashes.  Only then am I ready to face the world. Only then do I feel beautiful.

The problem with this is not with makeup itself. You see, I don’t just do this on my birthday; I do it every day. More than anything it has become a habit, a ritual that leaves me satisfied when I catch a glimpse of my reflection throughout the day. Putting on “my face” is one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning. It allows me to paint myself like a blank canvas, starting fresh with every sunrise.

While makeup is wonderful, it has taught women that their blank canvas is not beautiful. I have been told over and over that I am beautiful without makeup, and I do truly believe it. Why then do I rarely leave home without it — and when I do, walk with my head down, hoping no one will recognize me?

I believe that women’s dependence on makeup points to a deeper dependence on being beautiful. We are taught from birth that our success in life is measured largely by our appearance, while that of men is in their intellect, strength, and talent. We are taught that good looks go far and allow us to be taken more seriously. Experience confirms our fears: those with the most money and success (think celebrities, newscasters, and entertainers) tend to be better looking. We are bombarded daily with the idea that beauty attracts a mate and makes us stand out from the crowd.

Think about what this is teaching girls and women everywhere: that to be successful you must be beautiful. We assume that enhancing our appearance at a surface level will enhance our chances at love, happiness, and personal achievement. Often pressures stem from the actions of other women who are also trapped in this vicious self-perpetuating cycle. Women really don’t have a choice whether or not they should participate in today’s beauty standards: to do so is to risk judgment or disadvantage themselves against the beauty standards of other women. We wear makeup largely for the beauty standards that have quietly pushed us into this cycle, not for ourselves. And the funny thing is, what we assume others want to see is not always right. A study by the Quarterly Journal for Experiential Psychology reported that “women are likely wearing cosmetics to appeal to the mistaken preferences of others.” Since when was making ourselves beautiful to please others helping women move ahead for feminism? Not in my book.

Wear makeup or don’t wear makeup, it doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is that you do what empowers you, for the benefit of yourself and women everywhere.



worcuga • February 8, 2015

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