I have a dilemma. It’s something that has been bugging me for years, and never fails to get me all riled up and confused. Here it is – can I wear makeup and still be a feminist?
There’s a lot more that goes into that question, but that’s what it all comes down to. I understand that feminism is about choice, about having the option as a woman to be whoever we want, and I guess as a side step from that, look however we want. But makeup to me has always been about changing who I am to please others, not ‘a way of expressing myself’ as some people put it.
This has all come to the boil again after a shopping trip last night. Simon and I both have job interviews next week (both very exciting and the perfect jobs for us & where we’re at in life), so we wanted to get new clothes. Simon has been needing a new suit for a while. Now, I need to point out that Simon loves wearing suits. He’s been wearing them ever since he was an insurance broker, and has continued to wear them even when working in call centres. People think he’s weird until they get used to the fact he dresses better than most of the higher management. He believes it’s important to look your best and to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
I, on the other hand, tend to choose comfort over impressive stylings. I believe I look nice and presentable, but I don’t like to make myself all about my clothes. And as a woman, I find a lot of the time if you’re wearing a nice dress or have nice hair, that’s all people comment on. If I look presentable, people listen to me rather than simply look at me. I know the idea of dressing up for work is so that people take notice of you, but I’ve never found that to work in my favour. I’m not an unattractive person, but I don’t give any great value to my looks as they are just due to genetics. I have little to do with them. My brain, on the other hand, is something I have had a lot to do with, and is what I like to be valued for. One of the sweetest moments in my life was when I was first dating Simon and overheard one of his mates say to him “God, well done man, she’s so hot” and he replied with “Yeah, she is, but that’s not the best thing about her – it’s her mind“. Needless to say, it swept me off my feet.
Last night, I faced the usual hideous process of shopping for clothes. I like my body and am happy with all its lumps and bumps, curves and flats. Until I go shopping. Then I turn into a hideous swamp creature with no self esteem. My interview next week is for a Business Analyst role at one of the country’s biggest banks, so it’s a pretty huge deal (organised for me by my now-permanently-favourite cousin). Time to buy my first lady suit. Feeling like a kid playing dress ups, I tried on a number of jackets before we found one that fit fairly well. I have an ‘unusual’ body shape if you use the way clothes are designed as a blue print for women, as I have a small waist compared to my chest. Fitting my boobs into things – nightmare. Ladies always want what they don’t have, I know, so there are probably pert C cupped women out there reading this, hating me. Trust me, I would love to have smaller boobs when it comes to shopping time. My usual clothes induced boob hatred was already kicking in when the saleswoman decided to weigh in with her two cents, clutching my bosom and hoiking it up to my chin (well, wishful thinking there), telling me that ‘everything will fit better if you just had a better bra…what is this, a sports bra? (it wasn’t)… you need to get a bra properly fitted…’ etc etc. I felt like yelling at her that I have heavy breasts, if a bra put them where she wanted them to be it wouldn’t be properly fitted because hey, I have skin under my boobs as well and my stomach isn’t meant to be stretched up to my collarbone, and you know what, just LEAVE ME ALONE. But I didn’t, of course, because that’s not what I’m like when I’m the Creature of Lowselfesteem.
Simon, of course, was no help, nodding away merrily, because he would love to have my boobs up and out on display at all times (I bought a push up bra a while ago – basically a bra a few cup sizes too small, because they don’t make push ups for women with large chestal regions, he liked it but I jiggle like a bowl of jelly on a pogo stick). He did, however, get to experience the gorgeous lighting they put in women’s change rooms. He was out on the man couch in front of the big mirror, and kept telling me how hideous he looked, check out the bags under his eyes, etc. I cottoned on to what was happening and reassured him it was just the lighting – all change rooms in women’s stores do it. He finally understood why I come home depressed after shopping trips.
In case insulting my top half wasn’t enough, the shop lady decided to lay into my legs when we moved on to the big decision of skirt or pant suit. Apparently I look better in skirts because I have…long meaningful pause and a sliding gaze…”women’s curves” on my legs. God forbid. I wasn’t even in a bitchy teen shop, where I’d expect the sly comments about my body. I was in a woman shop, and this shop assistant was at least 15 years older than me. Thank god Simon was there to give me positive, constructive feedback on everything I tried on, otherwise I’d have melted into a puddle of doom and slunk away convinced my horrendously ugly body would lose me the job before I’d opened my mouth to answer the first interview question.
We finally made our purchases (skirt suit, with the option to return for the pants when my size came back in) and escaped. A haircut and a suit for Simon later and we were home. Then Simon suggested I wear makeup for the interview. I don’t wear makeup. Only on special occasions (like a noughty birthday) or as part of a costume. I just don’t see the point. I’m happy with my face how it is. Even back in the day when I had more blemishes (oh, early 20s, you were cruel), I barely wore cover stick. I’m cool with how my face looks, and think that if someone has a problem with it, I don’t really want to know them anyway. I had been considering wearing some makeup for the interview though, to help hide the inevitable initial blush that kicks in whenever I’m talking to new people. I told Simon this, but said I feel like I’m setting a false expectation, because I won’t be wearing makeup while I work there. He bit his tongue but I knew he wanted to say something. I told him to go ahead, and he said he knows it shouldn’t be that way, but people do respect someone who looks good, they take you seriously, etc etc. Hackles instantly went up. The words ‘Fuck them’ and ‘Not going to be a corporate puppet’ may have been unleashed.
It all comes back to my ambivalence about makeup. For me, it seems like a symbol of conformity. Which immediately puts me off. I’ve been trying to get my head to think of it another way. Simon’s mum never goes anywhere without her ‘face’ on, and his sister is a makeup artist. I respect and love them both as women, and I’ve been trying to adjust my thoughts on makeup. I don’t judge them for wearing makeup, but every time I’m over for a party Simon and his mum push me towards Amy to get my makeup done. My mum never wore any, so I haven’t grown up around someone doing their face every morning or experimenting with her makeup while I was still young. I just don’t get it. And I don’t see the point of spending hundreds of dollars to coat my face in chemicals that I then have to remove every night.
Can someone explain it to me? Any feminists out there who are proud makeup wearers, sassy dressers and still kick ass women? I keep throwing mental images of Tina Fey, Angelina Jolie and Professor River Song at myself, but it’s not sticking yet. Women of the world, help me!