“You’re wearing makeup to a 9 am class?! Don’t you have better things to do with your time”, “Who wears makeup to lectures, dude no…”, “She’s so pretentious, going to class with a face full of makeup”. Among many others, these were some of the disturbing things I heard when classes started in my first semester. Many such comments and speculations were directed towards me, my girlfriends and girls in general.
I first started wearing makeup around 10th grade, when Maybelline was very big with girls my age and a mascara tube became an extension of my best friend’s arm. I used to wake up an extra fifteen minutes early to throw on some mascara, eyeliner and lip-gloss (even though my hair used to stick to it every time there was a light breeze). Looking back on it I find it amazing how applying those simple products especially on the days of important presentations and outings gave me so much confidence (and made me feel like I was channeling Avril Lavigne herself through a smokey eye). At the age of 15, it was oddly empowering. And I think most girls have experienced this at some point in their lives.
College is a more liberal space than schools, and it was here that I started wearing makeup with more continuity and in a bolder manner (with actually visible colours). But it was also here that I witnessed a really negative attitude towards makeup-wearing persons in general, which brings me back to my beginning paragraph.
In the late 1960s, ’70s and the ’80s when second-wave feminism caused a roar across the United States, some feminists urged women to discard anything that men could use to objectify them. They argued that by adhering to a particular way of social presentation of themselves they were submitting to a patriarchal culture. While it was true that some workplaces did impose certain dressing standards upon their female workers, a lot of them wore makeup for themselves. Which according to me nullifies the idea of believing that wearing makeup now in the 21st century means that you’re trying to appease men. This is something that a lot of us need to realize. While some women did pick up the practice per their office rules, they did not form a majority. Therefore, generalizing and saying that “women wear makeup to appear acceptable in society and attractive to men” and then further subjugating all women to this generalization is not only completely unjust, it is nothing short of a modern-day gender-based prejudice.
One that I, unfortunately, see a lot of my colleagues participating in.
Makeup shaming is something that happens both when girls wear and do not wear makeup. If girls go around with a product-free face they are shamed because such a face is not considered beautiful or appealing (oh how dare you have that pimple showing, you dear girl, have an acne issue). But if they do apply makeup they are slammed for “not being natural” or trying to live up to beauty standards. One would think that understanding that such a double-faced behaviour is hypocritical and ironic would be obvious; but shockingly very few people comprehend this, even after being aware of this duality, as I’ve witnessed.
Now what this does goes way deeper than being at the receiving end of insensitive comments, no it’s not that simple. Makeup shaming puts natural beauty at an unattainably high pedestal and makes those who wear makeup feel guilty for using it. I believe that presentation is a big part of one’s personality and how they chose to express themselves is not a democratic decision.
People argue that wearing lipstick (or makeup in general) sexualizes women which therefore makes them the subject of objectification by men. To that, I say if wearing lipstick makes you feel sexy then that is something you should be unapologetic about. Furthermore, objectifying is inherently wrong regardless of well…anything else that may be speculated as a cause for it! As university students, we should have clarity about this. To credit this point further I would like to cite one very important aim of third-wave feminism, which is to assert the fact that women can still be feminists without having to disregard their femininity as was previously believed. It aims to make women feel comfortable about embracing their sexual power, and if the way to that is through makeup, then so be it.
Girls do not want to be made to feel lesser than their male friends when they walk into a lecture with painted cheeks. Girls do not want people to roll their eyes at them when they stand up to answer a question because other people think that bold lipstick makes everything coming out of their mouth worthless and trash. Girls do not want their ideas to be termed as frivolous because they have glittery eye shadow on. Girls do not want to be called fake or pretentious for wearing an extra dab of concealer. Girls do not want to be judged for their presentation in rooms which are supposed to be “hallowed halls of learning”.
A university should be a place where every individual regardless of everything else should be given an equal footing where they are judged by professors and peers alike based on their intellectual capabilities and definitely not based on their physical appearances. As someone who has been studying both science and humanities, which are pretty vast realms I still have to find that equation that relates makeup as an indicator of a person’s intellectual capabilities. I suppose reaching that conclusion must require deductions that are beyond the comprehensive prowess of my brain.
I wonder why these people who participate in makeup shaming don’t question the sexist ways in which cosmetic products are marketed. I wonder why they don’t question bigger issues like the eco-friendliness (or lack thereof) of these products and the credibility of companies that break environmental laws. I also wonder how when people shame someone for wearing makeup they don’t do it on the grounds of these products being harmful to nature and harmful to the consumers. How they don’t say “don’t support this industry, this brand does not have an ethical practice with its workers, this company makes them work in hazardous conditions”. Are these not the things we should be questioning? And if we are not questioning them then what is the purpose of our education, if not to at least learn to hold organizations that are fooling the public responsible for their actions?
I urge everyone reading this to firstly not judge others, especially girls, for wearing makeup to class or outside of class. Secondly, I urge them to argue on substantial issues which are real problems in today’s world- if they have something to say against the usage of makeup it should not be petty and personal. A positive channeling of critical opinions can go a long way in bringing about actual change and a more broad-minded, accepting and logical perspective can make an educational institute more inclusive for everyone.