Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The problem with makeup

Since my last day at my soul-sucking job two weeks ago at the morally bankrupt financial institution where I was employed for three years, I have yet to put on any makeup. I've written about the topic before, and gone into great detail about the more malicious and/or deceptive practices of marketers for cosmetic companies and why they piss me off, but I'd like to approach the topic from a slightly different angle this time around.

A blogger by the name of Rachel Rabbit White started what ended up being a pretty far-reaching movement called No Make-Up Week this past September. I thought about going along with it, but ended up forgetting or realizing I'd put on mascara or something and figured I'd sit it out, but it's a great idea, nonetheless. As Rachel says,

The philosophy is this. Make-up is great. It is a powerful tool, a way to express yourself, your mood and interior life. But, when you can’t go without something, it loses it’s spark.

A study online claims that 8 out of 10 women prefer their female colleagues to wear makeup and the same number of women said they would rather employ a woman who wore makeup than one who didn’t. Because of these expectations, I think it’s hard for any woman to have a good relationship to make-up.

Makeup and other cosmetics are great, fun ways to be creative with one's appearance. My problems with makeup are easily summed up in two ways:

1. Makeup is not marketed as a fun way to be creative with one's appearance; it's marketed as a necessity to cover, hide, or otherwise correct a woman's appearance. Implicit in this marketing is the assumption that there is always something wrong with the way that women look. This is perpetuated by douchey magazines like Cosmo and even teen rags like YM and others who give incessant "tips" about how to apply makeup to "problem areas" and from which cosmetic company to purchase them.

2. Makeup is only marketed to women. If makeup is to be used to cover "problem areas" or improve the appearance of the person wearing it, one would assume that men would also want these products, too, no? Apparently not; men are apparently believed to either have perfect appearances, or they're not expected to look attractive at all times. Either way you look at it, the assumptions are sexist in nature, and contribute not only to misogyny, but also to deliberately manipulative marketing schemes that are deceptive to the targeted audience and irresponsible to the environment and their customers' health.

Eliminating my use of makeup isn't a huge change for me, really; the only thing I need to eliminate from my daily makeup routine is mascara. Mascara is hard for me, though, because I feel like I look like a completely different person without it on. With foundation cream, undereye concealer, etc., I feel like the way I actually look isn't changed too drastically, but mascara lengthens and darkens eyelashes, which makes my eyes look like a different shape. Without mascara on, I feel like my eyes disappear into my face.

But see, not only is the idea that mascara changes the shape of my eyes probably not even true, but that is an insecurity that makeup causes. I didn't feel like I needed mascara until after I got into the habit of putting on mascara and other cosmetics every day, and as a result, wasn't used to the way my own face looked without it on. I also foolishly never washed it off until morning, just before I reapplied it, giving me even less time to see my actual face.

I don't think make-up needs to be a contentious issue, or something that a woman has to swear off in order to be a "good feminist." I'd like to see make-up sold as a creative tool, and marketed to both women and men. Unfortunately, exploiting women's socialized fear of being physically imperfect sells more products, and nothing short of a complete overhaul is likely to change this behavior.

With swearing off makeup, at least temporarily, I hope to be able to recognize my face again and not feel like it needs to be altered, which will allow me to see makeup exactly the way I want to, as an occasional way to be creative with my appearance.