I’ve always struggled with reconciling my love of makeup with my feminist roots. My Mum brought me up fiercely feminist. While other little girls I knew had Barbie dolls, I wasn’t allowed to own one. I made do with hand-me-down GI Joes and lots of teddy bears.
My Mum wasn’t into cosmetics or spending hours preening herself in front of a mirror. She told me not to worry about shaving my legs or changing anything about myself, that I was perfect the way I was.
Given how I was brought up, I’ve always wondered where my love for all things beauty came from.
I also have a funny sense of guilt for being interested in beauty related things. Makeup and skincare seems not only superficial but also directly opposed to the feminist values I believe in. Reading Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’ and similar tomes in my mid-twenties further ingrained this guilt.
Unfortunately, the beauty and fashion industries often do fuel insecurity and undermine a woman’s choice to look how she wants. The appearance ideals we see on advertisements and billboards the world over are mostly unattainable. A recent example is Dior’s choice to use a 25-year-old model, Cara Delevigne, as the new face of its anti-ageing line of skin care meant for mature women.
But then at the same time, I can’t ignore that taking care of the skin I’m in and enhancing my best features is undeniably confidence boosting.
I am also heartened by changes happening in the beauty industry. For example, online retailer ASOS uses models of all sizes and doesn’t airbrush or edit their pictures. You see stretch marks, rolls and all the normal elements of women in all their glory!
The intersection of beauty culture and feminism is a fascinating place.
I do think that beauty culture can co-exist with feminist values, but only when beauty culture is about self-expression, artistry, and making yourself feel good. I think things can sometimes become problematic when women undertake to make themselves beautiful for others and in culturally prescribed ways rather than ways that they personally enjoy.
I also think feminist values can be incorporated into beauty culture and support the growth of a more inclusive definition of beauty – one that doesn’t just exalt women who are genetically predisposed to be white/thin/tall and with classically symmetrical features.
For now, I’m going to go ahead and keep enjoying my beauty and skin care products and continue getting facials without guilt or shame. But I’m also going to always ask myself – just who exactly am I doing this for? And make sure that it’s for me, and no one else.
These are just my thoughts. Can you relate to my feelings of guilt about enjoying beauty? Do you think beauty and feminism can co-exist? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!