This is a guest post by Kara K. Kara K. is currently attending school to get her Master’s Degree in English, with a focus on disability studies. She has a long-standing interest (and participates) in conventional and unconventional beauty culture, including makeup, wigs, and Japanese Harajuku street fashion.
I am a feminist. And I wear makeup almost every day, and have for over ten years.
I’m a member of a makeup community on the popular site reddit, and over and over again the users there state that they wear makeup as an expression of self, of creativity, or of joy. A particularly moving post came from a cancer patient, who wrote that she, not cancer, decided how she looked every morning. Occasionally, someone will wander by and talk about how guys like “natural girls” and the unanimous response pretty much goes, We don’t give a fuck what you think we should do. We wear makeup because we want to, not to please men. As I sarcastically once posted, “My face is, of course, designed for the explicit purpose of pleasing your penis.” My makeup is not about being sexy for random men—or women, or other—that I meet. My makeup is about one woman, and that’s me, and whoever else I deem worthy of having the right to weigh in.
If you are not one of that select group, then you should shut up about how pleasing my face is to you. If you find my face not sexually enticing, you don’t have the right to demand I change. And if you don’t find my face to be politically correct, or socially appropriate, you should still shut up about my face, because it is my face, and not yours. Asserting control over a woman’s body—her face, her uterus, her breasts—is a betrayal of feminism. If we, as feminists, believe that women deserve autonomy, then I am allowed to have my face without being shamed for it.
My makeup represents to me control. I can’t stop people from looking at me—but I can absolutely control what they see when they look at me. My makeup is a way to self-create. As time has gone by, I’ve become less interested in “natural” makeup, instead going for dramatic looks with bright colors and intense lips. Sometimes, I do use more mattes and neutrals, but even then, the the entire thing is a construct. You don’t see my face—you see the face I want you to see.
Every day I wake up and create a completely unique work of art applied on my own face. I don’t do it for anyone else—I put on makeup when I’m at home alone. That’s when I put on the most makeup, try new things, take my techniques a step further. I don’t just feel beautiful, I feel talented. And this means a lot to me, because I have zero artistic ability. I once had an art teacher frankly tell me that I was unable to meet the minimum standard in her class, but she would pass me on the grounds that I did sincerely try. And all the creativity that I can’t paint, sculpt, carve or embroidery joyously explodes out of my brushes and pencils and onto my skin. I am a living work of art.
But life is not a vacuum. Choices don’t just happen. The common saying is that it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert at something. I wear makeup almost every day of my life since I was fourteen years old. I have spent several thousands of dollars on makeup and makeup products. I started to count through my makeup kit and I stopped at around $500 worth of eyeshadow palletes, primers, powders, liners and stains. I put ten products on my face every day. I spend twenty minutes of my day coloring my face instead of spending it with my family, or sleeping, or cooking a healthy breakfast, or doing my homework, or working out. I have sacrificed a lot to gain this skill. I sometimes think about what I could have accomplished if I spent twenty minutes a day learning a musical instrument, or writing, or studying a foreign language. The amount of time and money I spend on grooming and personal hygiene is easily triple that of my male partner. I wonder how any gender-performing woman can compete with a performing man, because he just has so much more time.
And there is a dark side to my makeup. While it’s true that I don’t wear my makeup to impress other people, it’s also true that I hate my face. I hate it. I hate the way I look and I hate it when people see me without my makeup because all I feel is ugly. I wear makeup to impress myself and change the way I look because I am ferociously disappointed with what I see in the mirror. And this standard of beauty I that I apply to myself is as much a construct as my face is, created by movies and television and magazines and even my own friends and family, and a few cruel ex-boyfriends. I have the right to decide what makes me look and feel beautiful, but my decision has a long history of baggage.
I used to hate myself for wearing makeup, too. I used to beat myself up for being a bad feminist because I couldn’t accept myself as I “naturally” was, because I bought into conventional beauty and because I’m privileged enough to be accepted into beauty culture at all. I know that when I wear makeup to work, I make it a little harder on all the other women who don’t, because I’m reinforcing this standard, normalizing it. When I go makeup shopping with my friends, or offer to do makeovers on them, I’m supporting a poisonous industry that targets young women to convince them that their face is unacceptable and they need makeup to even be tolerable to the people around them.
I was going down a negative spiral, where I hated myself from all kinds of places and directions—the way I looked without makeup, the way I was ashamed when I wore it, anxious every morning about how I’d feel like shit about myself on this day. This kind of interpreting of feminism wasn’t freeing to me. It was mutilating an already wounded person.
The person I am “naturally” is a woman that wants to wear makeup. Feminism wants me to accept myself as I am. Feminism wants me to have a positive body image of the person I am right here, right now. And right here and now I’m a person that’s learning how to contour, that loves to wear two shades of eyeshadow, and has a troubled, yet loving relationship with her face as a means of self-expression. Being a feminist means I support other women—and men, and people who don’t identify as either — in their choice to wear and not wear makeup. Being a feminist means I question why we have the hangups we do, without torturing the people who have them. Being a feminist means that I can be a complicated person, who wears makeup to express myself and hide my flaws, who feels pressured to put on paint but hates being told I shouldn’t.
I am a feminist, and I wear makeup. And I am finally learning to be okay with that.
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