Monday, January 17, 2011

Justifying What We Do

Hi All, 

Since starting this blog, I've been thinking more explicitly about an issue that has been cropping up on and off since I started getting serious about makeup in these last few years. It's the issue of justifying wearing makeup in a society that does not require it, and where it seems to sometimes actively work against social movements fighting for gender equality. Now, I know that for some people, personal preference is enough of a justification to let the issue drop, and that justifying one's personal choices to others is hopelessly pass√©, anyways, but that doesn't feel satisfying to me. Maybe this is evidence of my years of studying English Literature, and those darned Theory requirements, but I feel like it is important to understand- and yes, even justify to others- the things we feel strongly about. 

I am keenly aware of the criticisms heaped on girly-girls. I've had personal experience with them for most of my life, and as I'm sure any woman reading this can attest, it is often a struggle (both internal and external) to straddle the divide between femininity and feminism. Yes, I want to be able to be perceived as lovely, and wear skirts and high heels and mascara and all of these other accoutrement of womanhood that are often inconvenient, painful, and sometimes unhealthy, while still being regarded as intelligent, competent, and as capable as a man. "Having it all" has become a laughable sentiment, since we all know that in the real world, something has to give, but I do think it is possible to get past people's preconceived notions of what it means to be "girly", and stay true to a personal aesthetic that you've cultivated for yourself. 

Hand-in-hand with this attitude towards women who haven't traded in the trappings of femininity in a one-for-one trade for respect is the perception of makeup and beauty rituals as somehow deceptive. A male friend who asked to see my room once was shocked to see the drawers of my vanity flung open, powder compacts and tubes of lipstick overflowing, and asked me "is your perfect skin a lie!?" He may have been melodramatic in his response to this scene, but the attitude is shared, if to a lesser degree, by lots of men and women alike. I refuse to dignify this response to makeup and cosmetics. There are days that I go without wearing makeup. I am not trying to use these products to hide my "natural" appearance. I genuinely like the way I look without makeup. I do not believe that makeup can bestow any new beauty that was not already there on anyone.

I wear makeup most days because I enjoy it. I enjoy putting it on; it is an artistic exercise, but instead of paper or canvas we work with the three-dimensional face. Instead of watercolors or graphite or acrylic paints, we use lipstick and pigmented powder and creams. It is a way to express outwardly and publicly an internal state; if I am feeling bold and mysterious I can put on a dark crimson lip and smoky eyes to convey this to the world. If I am feeling exuberant and cheerful, a flushed coral cheek and bright blue eyeshadow can help me share this. I believe that everyone has the right to choose how they want to be perceived by the world, and cosmetics are one way in which we can express this. 

I am also sensitive to the ritualistic aspect of many beauty routines. Cosmetics have been a part of almost every culture, and often for religious and cultural reasons as well as beauty reasons. Putting on makeup can be a few moments in which to focus on oneself in an otherwise busy routine, or maybe the only five minutes of the day that you get to devote to some creative pursuit. On a more personal level, many people have learned these rituals from mothers or grandmothers, and by participating in them link themselves to the beauty they always saw and admired as a child in the women they have loved throughout their life. I spent countless mornings as a child watching my mom apply makeup in her mirror at her vanity, finishing it off with a daub of dark lipstick and a spray of perfume; being able to do the same in my day is a kind of repeated coming of age process. I am lucky enough have inherited the same vanity I saw her work at and the same brushes she used, even those same nearly-empty bottles of perfume, so that I can fondly recall these memories each time I sit down to apply my makeup. 

What am I trying to say here? I'm trying to tell you that makeup can be important for some of us. It has meaning beyond a simple attempt to make oneself more attractive, although that can be a part of it, for some people. No one should ever feel like they must wear makeup in order to be appealing or beautiful; but if you love it, then do it because of that. Makeup shouldn't be perceived as a chore. It should be the highlight of a routine, a few moments set aside to nurture a sense of the aesthetic. Everyone's reasons for loving makeup and beauty rituals will be unique and individual to them, but I think we should all take a moment to find what our personal reasons are, and own them completely. Loving cosmetics does not make someone less intelligent or old-fashioned or less capable or vain. It can be a mark of individuality and independence, a nod to tradition, and a creative impulse. 

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