On the journey of loving yourself well, it can be difficult to discern which conventions of society are helpful and which ones are harmful. There are many questions I’ve asked myself—especially as a feminist and as a woman. What are the true origins of my modesty? Can I be strong and still like the color pink? Am I offended when someone refers to me as a girl? How do I feel about wearing makeup?
That last question is one I often discuss with my friends. And because we’re all unique, we each have a different opinion. As we share our views, we also respect that we have no right to tell anyone else what to do or believe. Instead, we value the perspective each of us brings.
Does radical self-love mean I have to give up my lipstick? Is makeup harmless or misogynistic?
I don’t believe there’s a universal answer to that question. At the end of the day, it comes down to love. Whatever you choose to do, can you love yourself well as you do it? When it comes to embracing or eschewing makeup, do you understand your motivation? Each person will have unique reasons for whether or not he or she participates in this commonly feminine convention.
For some makeup is a mask that denies who they really are. For others it’s a way to bring their true self out. However, at the end of the day, you have to love yourself. And that can mean avoiding or applying makeup.
Rather than determining whether or not wearing makeup is wrong, I am more interested in how society teaches us (or conditions us) to see ourselves and each other. Wearing makeup can be innocuous. However, sometimes it’s a symptom of chasing after someone else’s beauty standards.
A look back through history shows that there have always been standards of beauty. Even in Biblical times, women were praised for their looks. Some standards of beauty are almost universally held; others are unique. But regardless of who gets to define what is beautiful in any particular place or time in history, certain women are always left out. This is why I encourage my friends not to chase after the hegemonic aesthetic. Because it is fickle and growing increasingly unrealistic.
The evolution of the epitome of femininity is a timeline of its own. Perhaps you were born into an era that praises your looks. Perhaps you were not. However, even if the only standard of beauty you’re aspiring to achieve is one of your own making, you must love yourself as you are right now. Even if you have goals to change or improve, and whether or not you decide to wear makeup, who you are in this very moment must be enough. You would never tell a newborn baby: I’ll love you when you’ve mastered calculus or can read at a collegiate level. Similarly, your love for yourself should not be conditional. Promising to be happy in the future is a fool’s errand, because you only have the present.
As a woman, I find myself in a daily struggle to divest myself of society’s destructive claims to my appearance. I refuse to believe that fashion should (or must) be painful. I reject the idea that makeup is a staple. And I denounce all those commercials with ulterior motives. You know the ones I mean. They’re the advertisements that make it sound as though your body’s contours need to be camouflaged, aging is a disease, gray hairs are adversaries, and your natural complexion is unworthy of being seen.
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How have we become convinced that the natural is nefarious? Why do we fight so hard against our bodies—the unaltered presentation of ourselves?
We dye our hair to look like someone else or younger versions of ourselves. We cover our faces with powders and creams to obfuscate our unique characteristics, which we’ve collectively relabeled “flaws” instead of “inconsistencies” or “differences.” We squeeze ourselves into corsets and Spanx® until the silhouettes of our bodies are lies. We damage our knees, backs, and feet to wear shoes that someone else first told us we should like.
We suffer to look beautiful because we collectively created an ideal of beauty that doesn’t exist in nature. We want to look young and/or flawless forever. And there is a whole host of companies happy to oblige our obsession. All those products that profess to improve your appearance are (sometimes subtlety and sometimes not) implying that without them you look worse. That’s a subliminal erosion of your self-confidence. That first hit is free because it’s a hook for dependence.
What’s the solution? Do we need to boycott cosmetic companies or burn our makeup and accessories? I don’t think so. Again, I bring it back to love—love and control. Can you wear makeup and truly love yourself? If yes, then wear it all. Are you in control of what you put on your skin? Or have you been unduly influenced by celebrities, ads, and other media?
Personally, all I have to do is think about the money—the literal price of vanity—to know where I stand. How much am I going to spend on dye so that the world never knows I’ve got gray hair? Not one penny. Who will become rich off of my guilt-ridden (yet seldom used) gym membership? Nobody. Will I purchase magazines that encourage me to diet and deny myself sustenance to fit into a mold that doesn’t represent the majority? Nope. Am I okay with making anti-aging cream and cosmetic companies wealthy at the expense of my self-esteem? Absolutely not!
It’s both a personal and a communal battle. We as individuals need to take a look at whose standards we’re straining to achieve.
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Sure, some are worthwhile. Let’s all aspire to be happy and healthy. But why should I deny or disguise my appearance for anyone other than myself? Why should I apply or ingest chemicals (some toxic) in pursuit of an unrealistic aesthetic? If it isn’t making me stronger, healthier, or happier, I reject it.
Let’s support each other and the breadth of humanity’s beauty. Let’s stop looking for our goals and guidance among illusions—ads, television, and movies. Every age and area of the world will have it’s beauty ideal—put pretty on a pedestal as it sees fit. That’s human nature, and it’s actually not the problem I have a problem with. The thing to avoid is idealizing the ideal until it no longer resembles anything real and then imposing those unrealistic standards of appearance on the masses. The problem isn’t the preference; it’s making it a global imperative.
Whether in television, film, commercials, or any other visual medium, people of every shape, size, and color should be affirmed and feel represented. It is harmful to perpetuate an unrealistic or monolithic ideal. No one should feel shackled to something as subjective as an aesthetic or beholden to beauty standards that are illusory at best.
The world is diverse. Every body is different, and that’s as it should be. Yes, you’re entitled to your own definition of beauty’s epitome. You simply can’t convince me that your ideal is compulsory.
I will fight against all attempts to homogenize people’s bodies and dilute humanity’s diversity. And if you don’t like the way I look, that’s fine. It actually has nothing to do with me.
So, does radical self love mean you have to give up your lipstick? No, absolutely not!
Personally, I feel more loving towards myself when I don’t wear makeup, because makeup erodes my self-confidence. However, that is not the case for everyone else. If you can apply your lipstick with joy and love for yourself, then pick your favorite colors and wear them in health and happiness.
[Feature Image: A lighter skin person with long dark brown hair is looking into a mirror and applying a dark pink lipstick. Pexels.com]