Women frequently hear an argument when it comes to make-up. If someone applies make-up, she is reminded of how she is surrendering to a beauty standard and not embracing her natural beauty. This is a form of make-up shaming.
The argument puts across the idea that those applying make-up are trying to live up to a dictated beauty standard. Feminists argue that women wearing make-up are considered beautiful by society, and thus they end up being trapped in this conception of beauty. Women are forced to accept these norms, which only objectify them for the male gaze. Although this argument is well-founded, it often ends up glorifying those who don’t wear make-up and equates not wearing make-up with being a feminist. No make-up becomes a symbol of rejection of beauty standards.
Those against such ideas have spoken out, emphasising that people should not be shamed for make-up if they enjoy it. Women should be allowed to choose how they want to express themselves. While it is true that there is no wrong when it comes to enjoying make-up, those supporting this view often believe that make-up is empowering for many women. It makes them confident and gives them a sense of security, and thus, women should be allowed to embrace make-up. This gives an inherent feminist quality to makeup.
Here, we forget that women’s empowerment is not really related to make-up as such. It was always meant for the social upliftment of women, and there is no conceivable way in which make-up ensures this social upliftment. It is to the advantage of capitalism if women believe that they are becoming empowered because they are buying beauty products. One should also remember that the feeling of insecurity itself was created by the beauty industry, which looked to profit from these insecurities. We are made to feel ashamed for how our faces naturally look—birthmarks, age spots, wrinkles, etc., are all nothing but “defects.” In Casira Copes’s succinct words:
Empowering in what way? What does makeup give anyone the power to do? “Empower” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in very uncritical ways in regards to feminism and women’s issues. To empower someone doesn’t just mean to make them feel good about themselves. Empowering someone means to literally give them power, authority, or agency within their society and in their lives. We empower people by making sure their voting rights are unencumbered, by providing access to healthcare, by giving them platforms that they have historically been denied, and by keeping them safe from oppressive forces that seek to harm them, among many other things.
Labeling make-up as feminist can be better understood in the context of feminism’s growing association with neoliberalism and consumerism. Calling make-up feminist is related to the celebration of choice, wherein wearing make-up is considered to be empowering because it is a woman’s choice. Feminism has become individualised so that it no longer focuses on women’s liberation and collective political action but instead thinks of it as a personal project. According to Arianna Marchetti, “This strong individualism gets in the way of feminism as a social movement and subtly leads women into believing that their attitude, and their efforts in becoming a better version of themselves will eventually determine their success or failure in society.”
As in the case of make-up, in other issues too, the meaning of feminism is getting lost and confused with neoliberal definitions. Here, we need to consciously review the terms and concepts we use when it comes to feminism. This does not mean in any way that wearing make-up is wrong or anti-feminist. There is no reason to stop wearing make-up if you enjoy doing it. As Copes notes,
“The truth is, makeup is incredibly neutral.” Wearing makeup doesn’t necessarily say anything about anyone’s activism or politics. It’s an art form, and for many people, it’s a career path similar to that of a painter or designer.But just as there is nothing inherently feminist about paint, there is nothing inherently feminist about makeup.