Your Lipstick is not Powerful

Your Lipstick is not Powerful

There’s a lot of emphasis in mainstream feminism on being pretty. Which might sound strange – after all, you’d think feminists would be the least likely group of people to care about being pretty – but it’s true. Whether it comes from women trying to dispel the myth that all feminists are hairy lesbians; or whether it’s women claiming back their right to wear lipstick, mainstream feminists are convinced that their ability to draw the perfect eyeliner wing will save the world.

It’s an idea that’s become known as ‘weaponised femininity’. The idea that by embracing the beauty standards forced upon women and using them as a form of powerful self-expression, women are somehow one-upping the patriarchy. The idea that the ultimate women is sexy AND strong. It’s an incredibly problematic idea.

[bctt tweet=”There’s this idea that the ultimate woman is strong AND sexy. That idea is bullshit.” username=”oawoodward”]

I’m sure it comes from a good place. It’s meant to encourage women to dress, and subsequently behave, however they like. It’s meant to dispel the myth that girls who wear makeup are ditzy, vapid, and vain. It’s meant to reduce the dichotomy between pretty girls and strong, intelligent, fierce girls. It’s meant to reclaim this patriarchal tool as our own – turning it from something forced upon us to something we have embraced, in the same way that other oppressed groups have reclaimed slurs.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

Yes, women are allowed to wear makeup. Hell, I myself spend large amounts of time and money on makeup. I enjoy the wonder of seeing my face transform using powders and creams and glosses. Doing my makeup is the one time that I can kid myself I’m artistic. But I’m fully aware that my decision to wear makeup is not my own. Not really.

It is impossible to remove a personal decision to wear makeup from the context of the world. As much as I would love to believe that I only wear makeup because I like it, I know it’s not true. I wear makeup because it makes life easier for me. It gets me better service in restaurants. It makes me more likely to get a promotion, or even a job in the first place. In a world where celebrities are slammed for going to the supermarket without foundation on, it’s no wonder that my self-worth is so often defined by how much mascara I’m wearing. As as long as we’re living in a world that’s weighted in favour of girls who wear makeup, my decision to powder my face will not be my own.

So wear as much makeup as you like. Walk around Waitrose as if you’re walking down a runway. Spend an hour every morning trying to get your eyeliner flicks even. That’s fine. It’s allowed. But remember that it’s not a feminist action. Your makeup is not liberating anyone and your lipstick is not powerful.

[bctt tweet=”Your makeup isn’t liberating anyone, and your lipstick is not powerful” username=”oawoodward”]

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    • Liv Woodward
      October 21, 2016 / 10:09

      Hiya, thanks!

      I just read your post and it’s super interesting to hear a slightly different persepctive on the issues. I think it’s always hard. I’m traditionally a very girly-girl. Always have been, always will be. So my style and decisions are always going to be tangled up with the patriarchy because what I like also happens to be what society wants me to like.

      However I think there’s a different between saying something is anti-feminist, and saying it’s not feminist. I’m in no way saying liking make up or other feminine things is anti-feminist. Of course it isn’t! But I don’t think it’s a feminist action to do what the patriarchy wants you to do – no matter whether you’re doing it because you want to or not. It will always take more courage, be more bold, and be more ‘feminist’ to go against conventional beauty norms, because that’s the world we live in.

  1. October 21, 2016 / 06:52

    Thank you for a very interesting and thought-provoking post. Maybe it’s not so much the lipstick as the decision to wear it, or not, that’s the powerful thing. The ability to decide who you are, how you show up in the world and how visible you make yourself is a power that historically women have not always had, and still today many don’t have. I love how creative men and women can be with make up nowadays. It’s not that more make up = more powerful, it’s just that having the choice is a power to appreciate and use in a positive way.

    I have a teenage daughter, and we talk about how make up is fun, and whether you choose to wear it or not is up to you and it doesn’t make you a better or worse person. If your self esteem is dependent on how much make up you’re wearing, then that is a bigger issue, and one to address. Don’t assume that it’s like that for everybody. Work on building up self esteem that is independent of how you look. You always have your power until you choose to give it away. Stay strong, stay powerful, that’s the main thing.

    • October 21, 2016 / 10:13

      Hi, thanks so much for leaving such an insightful comment!

      I think it’s always going to be hard to separate the decision to wear makeup from the patriarchy. To a large extent I (and I’m sure millions of other people around the world!) wear makeup because I want to – and there are so many days when I choose not to wear makeup for whatever reason. But that doesn’t change the fact that society treats women who wear makeup (or at least, the perceived perfect amount of makeup) better than they treat women who don’t. Women who go against conventional beauty standards (whether that’s by being fat, dressing masculinely, nor wearing makeup, or shaving their head) are always being far bolder than women who conform to beauty norms. That’s not to say that women who DO conform to beauty norms AREN’T feminist or powerful or brave or bold (obviously not!), it’s just saying that the decision to wear makeup isn’t inherently powerful or feminist, in the way that mainstream feminism would have us believe. So makeup isn’t anit-feminist, it’s not not explicitly actively feminist.

      Also I’m SO pleased you take the time to teach your young daughter that makeup can and should be used for fun. Many girls don’t have that kind of advice in their life, so it’s great that your daughter does!

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