Hello, I’m glad you stumbled upon my blog! There’s an abundance of beauty blogs these days, but you won’t see me making reviews and tutorials here. I made this to write about the social aspects of makeup and a lot of the not so great parts of it. One thing I want to make clear is that while I’m taking a critical look at makeup, I am by no means shaming people who wear it so please keep an open mind. I myself wear a lot of makeup on a daily basis, more than anyone else I see, and only half jokingly call myself a cakeface. Even if I took the stance that makeup is completely bad it would not be fair to then blame women for being socially pressured into it. In truth, I am still trying to figure out what i think and this blog is very much a journey of learning for myself. I love makeup but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t think critically about it.
I was probably about 12 when I first asked my mother if she could buy me makeup. She never wore any and I didn’t have any older sisters so it wasn’t something that I previously thought very much about. I remember going to summer camp and being the only one not putting on makeup in the morning. I felt so left out and ugly next to my cool makeup wearing friends and decided that I would ask my mom if I could start wearing it as soon as I got home. Now, I love putting on makeup but I know that my introduction with it was out of insecurity.
I think this is an experience that most girls have, and seems to be happening increasingly younger. According to Daily Mail, “over half of 12 to 14-year-olds wear make-up most days and 17 percent refuse to leave the house without make-up on”. I see so many young girls covered in thick foundation and layers of mascara. They see their friends, celebrities or, increasingly so, girls on social media wearing makeup and believe that it just something that girls are supposed to do and they need it in order to be belong or be beautiful.
Unfortunately, this pressure persists for the rest of our lives. Another article from Daily Mail says that over a third of women believe their significant other would not have been attracted to them if they hadn’t been wearing makeup. One in ten even said “they would never let their partner see them without a full face on”. Some women get up early so that they can put makeup on before their partner can see them. It is very disturbing that women do not feel comfortable enough to let the person they are in love with see their true appearance. I wear a lot of makeup but can’t imagine hiding my natural face from my significant other, and I’m not even sure how someone would keep that up.
This pressure doesn’t just occur in women’s personal lives but extends into the workplace. The study showed that six out of ten women would never go to work without their makeup, with many believing that they would be ignored for a promotion or perceived as not taking care of themselves. This isn’t just imagined either. An article from the New York Times called “Up the Ladder, Lipstick in Hand” discusses a study that showed that people viewed women wearing more makeup to be more competent. Women should not feel that they have to wear makeup and look physically attractive in order to succeed at work or in any other aspect of their life. We can’t call makeup nothing more than a fun personal decision when we live in a society when people feel like it’s a must.
Recently I was talking to a friend about if to stop wearing makeup is the right thing for me to do. I recognize the effects of my makeup extend past myself as an individual and contribute to a larger culture. Still, it is something that is really fun for me and makes me happy. To me it feels kind of like art. We were going back and forth on things I can do to protest while still being able to participate in my hobby. Unfortunately, if I keep wearing it at all I will be contributing to sexist culture to an extent because I am supporting the industry, but there are still ways to improve. One thing my friend suggested is to only put on makeup on days when I’m staying home all day, but that doesn’t happen very much, and I honestly do use my makeup as a way of self expression and I like others to see. He also pointed out that I could do unconventional makeup, going farther than the big eyeliner or bold lipsticks I like to wear. This reminded me of the Japanese ganguro subculture.
The Japanese beauty standard consists of pale skin, dark hair, and natural makeup. Their culture values collectivism and conformity. Ganguro (literally dark/black face), a subculture that was most popular in the 90’s, seeks to completely rebel against this by doing the opposite. It is characterized by dark tanned skin, blonde or rainbow hair, thick eccentric makeup, and brightly coloured clothes. A Listverse article called “10 Unusual Japanese Fashions and Subcultures” said that the ganguro girls were often viewed with distaste or even harassed and the style died down, however a more recent Daily Mail article says that it continues to live on.
So, am I planning on starting to do my makeup like the woman above? Well… no. But, I do think the idea and their commitment are pretty badass. Maybe I can take some sort of inspiration from their movement without killing my hair and skin.
I aligned wholeheartedly with liberal feminism from my discovery of feminism up until pretty recently. In fact, I never even seriously considered anything else as having any validity. I still agree with many aspects of it, but came to the realization that some things just don’t make sense to me when I really think about them instead of just accepting them. Currently, I am trying to learn more and figure out my true views on each issue within feminism. Although I do not completely agree with all of liberal feminism anymore I feel that I have a solid understanding of it.
First, let’s address what liberal feminism is. Liberal feminism is the most common type of feminism and is hugely popular right now. Basically every feminist post you see on social media is liberal. For some reason feminist views on Tumblr are commonly attributed to radical feminism, but the users are overwhelmingly liberal and actually anti-radical. One of the prime ideas of liberal feminism is that women’s ability to to make their own choices will liberate them.
This means that liberal feminists are very pro-makeup. Liberal feminists point out how everything that a woman can do is criticized by someone out there no matter what, which is true. For this reason, liberal feminists believe a woman should do whatever they want and that any choice is empowering and feminist, extending to exploitative and dangerous things like prostitution. For many women, makeup makes them feel powerful, confident, and beautiful, which are all good things. So, makeup must be good.
This logic doesn’t totally hold up. Liberal feminism fails to look deeper and ask why does makeup make us feel better about ourselves? This ideology does not take into account that our beliefs are shaped by socialization and don’t just exist within ourselves as an individual. Furthermore, how do our own actions contribute to perpetuating to this culture? Does my happiness with my choice help women as a whole? Liberal feminist typically prioritizes the gratification of an individual rather than the group.
Radical feminist Meghan Murphy brings up a good point in”Choice feminism: how our rallying cry got co-opted and why we need to take it back”, an article I accessed through my college database. She is going off of the example of sex work, but the idea applies: “Viewing prostitution as a personal choice frames it as an empowerment exercise and, in so doing, erases the context of male domination and female exploitation in which it typically occurs”. If feminism says that choosing to participate in patriarchal systems is positive, how do we combat sexism? If we say that women are fully empowered and free to do whatever they want, how can we maintain that we even need feminism?
Liberal feminism is accessible and easy. It tells us to love ourselves, which is great, but while never questioning any of our thoughts or actions. It allows women to continue conforming to patriarchal standards with the belief that doing so is feminist. Unfortunately, many liberal feminists see any real discussion on these topics as misogynistic for criticizing women’s actions. General points are taken as personal judgments. A true feminist, they would say, supports a woman’s choice to do anything. I believe that ultimately women should be able to choose whatever they want to do. But, as Meghan Murphy says, this does not mean that every choice is feminist.
I am not saying we need to go out and burn our eyeshadow palettes. I’m certainly not saying that we should start yelling at other women for choosing to wear makeup. However. I do think think that we need to start thinking more. We need to learn to reasonably discuss this without ignoring someone’s valid points because they take a critical stance. It is difficult to face the fact that your choices may be harmful and a product of your society rather than just yourself. I make the deliberate choice to wear makeup every day, no one is literally forcing me to and I don’t consciously do it with the mindset that I must or that I’m trying to impress men. I love to do it and it makes me happy. Perhaps that means that I should continue wearing it; I honestly don’t know. But at the very least I must be willing to think intelligently and look at the larger picture.
In my last post I talked about how women used to use products to look very pale but now tan skin is considered beautiful now. Well, that isn’t true worldwide. In many countries people continue to obsess over pale skin and will go to great lengths to achieve it.
India is one country that places a huge emphasis on pale skin. An article called “Obsession with Light Skin” by Shyam B. Verma that I accessed through my school library database says that paleness is associated with desirability and prestige, which probably originated with the introduction of the caste system and increased with colonialism. In their more traditional culture, marriage is extremely important. Being dark may mean not being able to find a husband. Arranged marriages are still common in India and the newspaper matrimonial ads frequently say the woman must have fair skin. An article from the Hindustan Times called “India’s Unfair Obsession with Fair Skin” tells the story of a 34 year old woman named Lekha Sarang who was rejected by several men for marriage because of her darker skin. “Initially, I didn’t know why people rejected my proposals. No one would tell me the reason, until one day when I asked one of them. I was 26 then, and this man’s disclosure shattered me. I still thought he was an exception and the reason why the other men didn’t want to marry me was something else, until I asked a second man who also gave me the same answer,” she said. The man who she eventually married, Deven Makwana, was forbidden to do so by his parents who refused to even meet Lekha after seeing a photo of her. The couple eloped and Deven’s parents no longer have any contact with him. India has a massive skin lightening industry. Some countries, including India, have put restrictions on advertisements that are too discriminatory, but worldwide the market continues on making people feel like being fairer will make them happy, beautiful, and successful.
If that wasn’t bad enough, skin lightening products don’t just represent widespread racism and unfair beauty standards but also may be physically dangerous. A New York Times article called “Creams Offering Lighter Skin May Bring Risks” featured the story of a black woman in Brooklyn who frequently used lightening creams to be more accepted. Eventually the products made her skin “so thin that a touch would bruise her face”. She also had visible capillaries and acne. According to the article, the steroids in the creams can also lead to higher blood pressure and blood sugar. Multiple articles I found in my college library database also linked skin lightening products to mercury. The article “Skin-Lightening Practices and Mercury Exposure in the Somali Community” by Amira Adawe and Charles Oberg discusses the Somali population in Minnesota, many of whom use skin lightening products. Seven Somali women were interviewed who said that they mixed together four creams, three of which were found to contain mercury. They applied the creams to their body three times a day including when pregnant and breastfeeding.
Whenever we look back at beauty practices of the past we act horrified that people would ever do those things to themselves. But can we truly say we are so great now? We poison our skin with lightening creams, give ourselves cancer in the tanning bed, displace our organs under corsets, let plastic surgeons cut into us in search of a new perfect self. We have never stopped suffering for beauty.
In many cultures around the world, pale skin is prized. As far back as the Ancient Romans people were trying to lighten their skin. The article “Suffering for Beauty Has Ancient Roots” from NBC says that upper class Romans would put white lead on their faces to become paler. Later on skin lightening became even more popular. Queen Elizabeth covered her face in a white lead based foundation known as ceruse, according to the Royal Museums Greenwich website. The whitening products would eat away at and scar the skin, and in response people would cover their skin in egg whites to glaze it over and of course, cover it more of the lead foundation. People of her time would even paint veins onto their skin to give the appearance that they were so pale that their skin was translucent. Fun fact: the term “blue blood” likely came from the visible blue veins of the pale nobility. As you probably know, pale skin was considered fashionable because it meant that you were wealthy and didn’t need to work outside.
Today in the United States, we definitely don’t put as much emphasis on the importance of pale skin. Arguably, tan skin is considered the most attractive at the moment. I would say that this is for similar reasons of why pale skin was historically popular, although instead of it being a status symbol of being able to stay inside, wealthier people have the time/money to lounge around in the sun or go to tanning salons. Many women spray self tanner onto their bodies and put on foundation a couple shades darker than their true skin, like Kylie Jenner and a lot of YouTube “beauty gurus”.
This does not, however, mean that we love dark skinned women of color. Darker skin as an attractive thing seems to not usually apply to people who are not white, and instead we are encouraged to be as light skinned as possible. The little representation of people of color in the media is nearly always of people paler than average (who we often photoshop to look even whiter), and in society people with darker skin are more discriminated against.
Certainly, we do not discriminate against pale skin, as some people say. Truthfully, I’m tired of pale people claiming discrimination and racism because tanning is somewhat popular. I really can’t think of any disadvantages pale people have in life for being pale, save for the sunburn but I don’t think the sun is racist against white people. A comment to a pale girl about how she she must not go outside, will never be anything like the systemic colorism against people of color. White still means privilege and power.
Plus, almost all of the models, singers, and actresses I see are pretty pale, many of them very much so, which is why I’d even hesitate to call tan our beauty standard. It is hard to determine American beauty standards when there are inconsistencies (for example, runway models are stick thin but I hear more people praising the curvy hourglass shape). Tan is now considered beautiful, but you definitely don’t need to be tan to be beautiful.
Who even started wearing makeup in the first place? Many people act like makeup, especially the heavy use of it, is some sort of modern phenomenon but that simply isn’t true at all. According to an article I accessed through my college’s library database called “History of Cosmetics” by S K Chaudhri and NK Jain, the Egyptians were the first ones we know of to wear cosmetics, as early as 10,000 BC. Cosmetics were important to the Egyptians and women would bring their makeup with them to parties in small boxes that they would store underneath their chairs. “Opthamology of the Pharaohs” from Discover Magazine even says that the cosmetics was buried alongside the deceased, which the Egyptians believed meant they would have them in the afterlife. And people say I’m obsessed.
What is a slightly newer phenomenon is makeup only being for women. With its modern use one might think makeup was invented purely as a patriarchal tool but that doesn’t seem to be the case (not that it didn’t evolve into it later). In Egypt, people of all gender, age, and class would wear cosmetics which included scented oils and paints and dyes for the face. The most notable of Egyptian makeup is kohl, a dark powder that was basically the ancient equivalent of eyeliner. It was used around the eyes and also on the eyebrows. I used to think that the depiction of Egyptians with the thick rimmed eyes was just a stylistic thing in their art, but nope, that’s actually what they did (almost makes me feel better about how much eyeliner I used to wear…).
Besides enhancing the appearance, there is evidence that kohl served a functional purpose. It may have been used to deflect the sun’s glare away, much like the black stripes a football player applies. It also trapped some of the desert dust from going into the eye, and may have been used as an anti-microbial ointment, according to the ScienceMag article “Egyptian Eyeliner May Have Warded Off Disease“. So it seems that the Egyptians’ use of makeup was a little more useful than ours in addition to being less sexist. Not everything about kohl is beneficial though, as it was largely made of lead sulfide. The kohl eyeliners you’ll find at your store here today are only kohl in name, but people in certain parts of the world like North Africa and Central Asia continue to use it. Personally, I’ll skip out on the lead but instead honor the inventors of eyeliner through some nice thick wings.