Is the compulsion for young women to wear makeup a form of internalised misogyny?

Octavia Akoulitchev 25 March 2017

From the minute we enter this world, we’re likely to be delivered by a female midwife wearing a gendered uniform, that is different from the uniforms of both the female and male doctors of the hospital. There is no clear, practical reason for these uniforms to be different – they serve to instil power, and consequently gender, hierarchies that follow us through, and shape our experiences of, our lives.

Many of us unconsciously adhere to gendered society, fed to us by marketing that sees such distinctions as easy money. When puberty, our first step towards sexual maturity, coincides with our first experience of institutionalisation – secondary school – it’s important for many of us to fit in and to do so by fulfilling the expectations that are fed to us.

So, when I was 12 years old and left the house wearing eyeliner and mascara to school for the first time, it was much more about fitting in than anything else. I didn’t even buy the products designed for a self-identifying girl like myself, I stole them out of my mum’s makeup bag. The act didn’t garner much or any attention from my peers, but it made me feel more confident and comfortable.

This first act was the beginning of something that became ritual for me. I used to, and to a lesser extent still do, spend a lot of time applying products to make myself look the way I like to look, and the way that other people recognise me. Makeup works magic, but this is unsurprising when the companies supplying the products are the ones propagating the images that form our mainstream beauty standards.

But what happens when I decide that I don’t feel like wearing makeup, but it’s become a part of my identity? I’m aware, and I’m sure everyone else is aware, that I look different to how I usually do, as my made up face has become a part of my identity. No one comments, but I do feel less comfortable, especially if it’s in a more public setting or someone wants to take a picture.

A couple of months ago I was watching an episode of The Lie Detective on Channel 4 which featured two gay men, just friends at the time but trying to find out if their relationship would go anywhere, who bonded over their interest in makeup. Shortly after though, one man rated the other’s makeup a 7/10, saying that “the man who messaged me was a man, like a manly man” and that he prefers men without makeup, despite donning 10/10 makeup himself. What we find attractive is difficult to change (although not impossible), since we are subject to beauty standards since day one. But this sort of ‘fem-shaming’ that exists in the gay community and associates feminine attributes with weakness creates a sort of paradox regarding makeup. Makeup is associated with femininity and therefore loosely to ‘weakness’, but women who don’t wear makeup aren’t associated with ‘strength’.

Ultimately, though, it is a form of self-expression and identity, like clothing or hairstyle or anything else. I have formed an identity that is inevitably shaped by beauty standards, and the feeling I get not wearing makeup is similar to if I decided to dye my ginger hair black. There is nothing wrong with black hair, it’s just out of sync with the identity I’ve constructed for myself. So, as much it’s important to smash the hetero-capitalist patriarchy by subverting norms etc. etc., telling young girls/boys that they should or shouldn’t wear makeup can be just as damaging as forcefully dying their ginger hair black. Or something along those lines.

Anyway, here’s a quote from Too Turnt Tina: ‘Boys, I do not wear makeup to impress you. And I don’t wear makeup because I’m insecure, because frankly I look good without makeup. Hmm – beside the point, irrelevant. Anyways, I do not wake up in the morning and think ‘I’m gon paint my eyelids blue because Josh loves blue’ or ‘I’m gonna fleek the eyebrow because Josh loves the flicka da wrist’. No, uh-uh. My eyelids gon be gold cus I’m glitter AF. My lips gon be pink cos they so luscious. And I’ma look good, and you ain’t gotta tell me I look good, cus I know. So check this contour.’