Why Wearing Makeup Doesn't Make Me Less of a Feminist

Why Wearing Makeup Doesn't Make Me Less of a Feminist

Jillian Selzer on the role of aestheticism in gender equality—and why feminine and feminist shouldn't have to be mutually exclusive

Jillian Selzer on the role of aestheticism in gender equality—and why feminine and feminist shouldn't have to be mutually exclusive

Text: Jillian Selzer

The first time I was ever shamed for being a feminist was not by a man or an elder, as one might typically expect. It was, ironically, by another feminist. I was interviewing a student leader about her accomplishments, impressed by her efforts. Mid-interview, she stops me and asks, "Are you a feminist?" Taken aback by her abruptness, I answered with a resounding yes. After all, why wouldn't I be? It seemed simple: I believe in equal social, political and economic rights for men and women (of all races, religions, and sexual orientations). She grunted and rolled her eyes. "That's a surprise, considering how much makeup you're wearing." I continued the interview respectfully but walked away confused. Since when did my use of makeup cancel out my beliefs and actions in the fight for gender equality? Am I less of a feminist because I like wearing MAC's matte lipstick in Ruby Woo? Apparently, according to some, the two are mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, this inaccurate assumption is often coupled with the sad notion that women wear makeup to hide their flaws and appease men. Neither are true, or at the very least shouldn't be true. People wear makeup for a variety of different reasons, whether it's to create art, express their personality, or simply cover a zit—and they shouldn't be shamed for that, especially by other feminists. Just because I indulge in a beauty regime doesn't mean I agree with the sexist notions that women should dress for men or wear makeup to be considered a real woman. I'm not a 1950s June Cleaver perfecting my pout with red lipstick so I can kiss my husband's ass when he arrives home from work. I wear makeup because I like it. Not because I'm trying to impress my male counterparts in a subconsciously sexualized way. It's my version of empowerment. It's my version of showing my personality. Let's not confuse that with me stalling feminism—which, by the way, is defined as "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." Nowhere in there does it mention anything about aestheticism or beauty standards.

Society's seemingly irreparable, perfectionist beauty standards try to box in what it means to be the ideal woman. As a writer for a fashion magazine, I see this first hand. I acknowledge that I work for an industry that more often than not misrepresents women through makeup and clothing. But I also acknowledge that I have the platform to change that, and the conversation starts here. It's our job to break down those misconceptions, both with the public and with each other. It's counterproductive to do that by criticizing other women for exercising their right to self-expression. How does that propel Feminism? Spoiler alert: it doesn't.

As feminists, we need to change the narrative without reinforcing stereotypes. Focus on closing the wage gap. Practice intersectionalism. Learn about the education deficit for women in third-world countries. Don't tell other women how to dress or look. Don't capitalize on the aesthetic of Feminism. Change the narrative that aesthetics even matter more than a simple means of self expression. What makes a woman ideal is who she is, makeup or not.

So no, wearing makeup does not make me less of a feminist. Wearing makeup does not strengthen a misogynistic patriarchy. What does strengthen it is the idea that wearing makeup implies female inferiority. If we take a step back and realize that tearing down each other helps nothing, then we can make progress. It's not about the actual choices we're making with our beauty routines; it's about ensuring we have the fair and equal rights to make a choice in the first place.

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