Touching up your lippy on the frontline…

I hate to say it fellow feminists, but I think makeup is here to stay – it’s likely that I’m going to be shunned by my ‘sisterhood’ for saying this, but I for one, am glad. Makeup has, for so long, been synonymous with the creation of ‘female’ or the idea of ‘female’ in man’s eye… but does wearing makeup have to signify your acceptance of your position in society as a bit of eye candy? Only valued for your aesthetic beauty? In my opinion, no. Wearing makeup doesn’t need to mean that you’ve submitted to society’s beauty ideals, nor does it mean that you’re subscribing to a male ideology of ‘perfect beauty’. It is absolutely fathomable for a woman (like me) to be a feminist (like me), and wear makeup (like me). My relationship with makeup began when I was in my teens; I was overweight but was often told that I had a pretty face, or beautiful eyes. My adolescent mind told me that the best way to distract people from my size was to accentuate the features that received the most positive comments – cue heavy eye makeup and strong cheekbones. Then I discovered feminism and found myself in limbo; could I wear makeup and still fight for the rights of women? Am I endorsing the idea that women are mere sexual objects?  On the one hand, the issue of choice is important to many feminists, which means that a woman should be able to decide to wear makeup for herself without anyone else assuming that she’s a floozy. On the other hand, many men and women are concerned about the messages implied within cosmetics advertising and television shows’.  

I’m inclined to fall on the former side of the fence – yes I’m a woman and a feminist, and I believe that I should be able to wear what I want without feeling like a sexual object, a weaker person, or simply not equal to those around me. And yes, ‘what I wear’ does include makeup. It’s utterly ridiculous to accept that sexualisation can be found in slapping on your war paint, but it happens – I mean, red lipstick has been sexualised so much that red coated lips ‘apparently’ resemble a vagina for fucks sake. I accept that makeup has divided so many feminists and I accept that makeup has been sexualised within our society, but I refuse to conform to these sexist views, makeup can be empowering… not demoralising.

In the 1940s, during WWII, the aesthetics of women were expected to be held to a high standard. With the likes of Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Taylor advocating women’s beauty, it is foolish to assume that women didn’t wear makeup. However, ‘rationing in World War II affected everyone and everything. Petrol, sugar, eggs, nightshirts, sausages and spats…But the home hardships didn’t end with coupons. Never mind dwindling supplies – some items just weren’t available at all. One of those was cosmetics.’ With the slogan ‘beauty [is] a duty’ on everyone’s lips, women were under pressure to look their best in a time where everything else was far from its best. 

Although this appears to put a lot of pressure on women, their ‘beauty as a duty’ can be seen as a great strength, a pulling together of all resources to piss off the enemy , for one, Hitler hated cosmetics, which undoubtedly gave women the fuel they needed to scrimp and save their powders and creams. When these lotions and potions ran out, women would pool their resources and would use beetroot, boot polish and gravy to create lip stains, mascara and blusher – needs must. Although ‘Brits thought women in war paint rather fast… anything the enemy hated was fine by them’ so rather than being weakened by their makeup, these women were finding strength and sorority through their lippy, ‘they might have lost their homes, their men and their stockings. But woe betide Mr Hitler if he took away their looks’.

When our lives are in disarray we struggle to find something to cling on to, something that indicates normality, something that allows us to find dignity when in the middle of a storm. Makeup, for these women, appeared to offer them just that. Some feminists may suggest that women wear makeup to attract a man, but when most of these men were at war – what can be said for the place of makeup then? Women wore it for themselves, ‘it was fun, it was art and they didn’t think they should have to give that up’ because their lives were in chaos. Makeup shows resilience, a silent power, a dedication to your everyday life and most of all, a refusal to let the enemy break your normality – but the enemy doesn’t have to be a person.

You’d have thought, during the credit crisis of 2007 that the percentage of cosmetics sold would have reduced. Well, you’d be wrong. A British Lifestyles report from Mintel shows that spending on beauty and personal care cosmetics has increased by 11% per person since the onset of the crisis – this kind of growth within sales has been fondly nicknamed the ‘lipstick effect’. This preference for cheaper luxury items seems to indicate that people are turning to them to ‘improve their mood during periods of economic hardship’ – once again showing that makeup can cover the cracks of a troublesome society and offer some kind of solidarity or mental strength. Feminism may strive for equality, but telling women not to wear makeup when so many use it for non-sexual reasons is foolish… I opt to wear makeup because it makes me feel good; I can create a look that I want for me, not one that’s prescribed by society. I’ve no doubt that there are some women out there who do wear makeup in order to appeal to men, that’s fine fellow feminists, grab your placards and defend your right to have a fresh face – but I choose to support women’s rights whilst proudly sporting a full face of makeup.


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