Makeup Makes Me A Bad Feminist?

Don't know if she's a cultural feminist, but Gwen Stephani uses hair and makeup to self-express.

Don’t know if she’s a cultural feminist, but Gwen Stephani uses hair and makeup to self-express.

I stopped wearing makeup in graduate school.

I’m not alone. Of my professors mentioned that women grad students almost always stopped wearing makeup.

I suppose that a made-up face makes women feel less serious. And less feminist.

After getting a PhD in sociology I started teaching women’s studies — the feminist arm of academia.

And not long after, I started wearing makeup — some of the time. I like to mix it up.

Why did I start again?

The textbook I use asks whether it’s okay for feminists to wear makeup. My students usually say, “No.” Well, they used to say “no” until I started wearing it again. (They sometimes still stick with “no.”)

Apparently they forgot about cultural feminism. Cultural feminists celebrate things that have historically been associated with women and femininity.

You needn’t be a cultural type of feminist to wear makeup, and not all cultural feminists wear it. But they point out that we tend to devalue things that are associated with women and femininity. Makeup has been associated with women and femininity, so it must be bad, silly, trivial, vain? Of course not!

Actually, makeup can be self-expressive. It can celebrate femininity. It can be fun.

On the other hand, people can be manipulated by the market into believing that they aren’t good enough without it. Or beauty ideals may make them feel superior, or inferior. And product testing may harm animals. Not so good.

The problem isn’t makeup. What matters is whether it is being used for good or ill.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 28, 2016, in feminism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 63 Comments.

  1. The problem is society telling women what to do

  2. Make-up is perfectly fine if used with a sense of balance and proportion, to downplay flaws and accentuate beauty. After all, celebration of beauty is uplifting and, therefore, must prevail over everything else.

  3. With makeup, women often love to wear it knowing full well they are putting chemicals on their skin and goodness knows what chemicals are in makeup. I myself really don’t see any point of a woman wearing makeup when you can’t see you go on personality and the person’s voice which tells you that they are attractive so there are ways and means for everything but your skin will love you for not putting on makeup as who knows what the chemicals will do to one’s skin.

  4. I wear makeup because….I want to? I think I’m still a feminist, even if a bad one 😉

  5. I like the concluding statement…if it is good, then one must go for it. If it enhances your self-confidence, it is ok till it is not overdone.

  6. The problem seems to be some people try to prove they’re a ‘better’ feminist than other by creating silly rules. It’s appears to be about feeling superior to others.

  7. The problem is not makeup, it’s people :). When I go to work I put on some mascara and tinted lipgloss. Occasionally I’ll wear tinted moisturiser. I see it as a way to highlight my best features, and also a way to differentiate my work self from my home self. I am not sure what this has to do with believing that women and and men are equal. That being said, some women have unhealthy makeup (self esteem) issues, and I have known quite a few of those.

  8. Personally, I think feminism is breaking the molds and being treated equally, and one’s message shouldn’t be lost based on a shade of lipstick. I wear light make-up, mainly because it makes me feel good, I think it makes me feel a little less tired (plus having two kids, working full time and going back to school really helps you accumulate bags under the eyes). I feel a little more put together, not because of the make-up, but because I feel I look a little more put together and that makes me feel good. I work in finance and over the years I have noticed I get taken more seriously if I look more put together. I already look extremely young so adding a little make-up helps me look my age and I think people take me more seriously then. Anyway, besides the point, if wearing makeup or not wearing makeup is one’s prerogative, then who cares! I don’t listen to someone or not listen to someone and hear different things based on if they have bronzer on that day or not. Make up shouldn’t take away from one’s message. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t wear makeup or a bra. Not wearing those things doesn’t make you a feminist either. Self-expression and the freedom we have to express ourselves or spread our opinions or words are really the most important pieces here.

  9. I totally agree with this opinion on the blog. We can reveal ourselves to others with wearing makeup. I think people do makeup to be looked more beautiful by others, and it is not a bad thing. If we want to be more beutiful by wearing it, that is exactly who we are. Makeup sounds like they are covering up their faces to hide the parts that they don’t like, but I guess they can not only make “the best” ourselves, but also express the way they are by putting favorite colors eye shadows or cheeks on thier faces. Still, makeup can create the only one original “me” in the whole world. On the other hand, I think it is not be forced for women to do that. If someone don’t want to wear makeup, that is the way she wants to be, so makeup should not be necessary for all women even if makeup is considered as an usual thing in society.

  10. Now I’m confused on what feminist think needs to be done to create equality between the sexes. How\why would feminist celebrate femininity when femininity is connected to the subjugation of women? I would think feminist would reject any gender role. Wearing makeup to celebrate femininity is the wrong message to send. It reinforces the notion that women’s worth is tied to how she looks. I thought we were trying to move away from that. That being said I do believe makeup is a necessary evil because of societal expectations. But celebrating it is a step backwards to me.

    • Feminine and masculine don’t mean anything other than that certain traits have been assigned to women and others have been assigned to men. And how those things are a assigned varies from culture to culture. Take a look at this:

      My Son Likes Girl-Things. Is He Gay?
      https://broadblogs.com/2011/03/11/my-son-likes-girl-things-is-he-gay/

      When you live in a society that values men over women you get a society that values masculinity over femininity.

      Yet much of what we call feminine is very good: nurturing behavior, being in touch with your emotions and able to express them, being nice…

      As we come to value things that are called feminine we will increasingly value women.

      And actually when we are cut off from our feminine side — whether we are female or male — we are harmed. Here’s another perspective on that:

      Men Wearing Dresses to Feel Whole
      https://broadblogs.com/2014/10/01/men-wearing-dresses-to-feel-whole/

      But thanks for your comment. You’ve given me a blog idea.

      • My point is that makeup as a whole is used to control women. Most women wear it because society tells them it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s the right thing to do, a lot of women gain confidence from it. Much in the same way some women gain confidence from wearing sexy cloths. That to me reinforces the notion women’s value is in her looks. One could argue that women use it for self-expression. That may be true for a small number of women. If that were true for most women. They would have the confidence to express themselves with makeup, not gain confidence from wearing it. Makeup just like nudity are not inherently bad. However, the current societal context for both is not good.

        I think most traits that are CURRENTLY associated with masculinity will always be valued over femininity. If you gave someone a list of traits both feminine and masculine and ask them what traits do they want in their mayor, president, CEO, or any leader of a large organization. Most traits will be associated with masculinity. Does that mean that men are better suited for leadership roles? I would say no, but how we have defined femininity and masculinity says yes. Does it mean the traits we want in our leaders are wrong? Some maybe but not the vast majority. We can’t change traits but we can change how they are associated with femininity and masculinity. I think most traits shouldn’t be inherently associated with either. When we associate traits with femininity and masculinity, we put people in a box saying that they are less than because they don’t display certain feminine or masculine traits. Are women that are nurturing are more feminine than women who are not? Are men that are stoic are more masculine than men who are not? If we don’t at least redefine femininity and masculinity, I think women will always be at a disadvantage in the bigger picture.

      • Like I said, Women shouldn’t wear make up if they’re doing it for the reason you described above: They are being manipulated by the market period

        Given how we define feminine and masculine we need to raise our appreciation of what we call feminine–traits like nurturance, Being nice, being in touch with emotion. They are human qualities that all of us need. We also need to be in touch with what are called masculine qualities. But because we value masculinity those qualities are more easily taken on. When we value all of our qualities we will be more likely to step out of the box.

  11. I agree with many of the points being made. I feel that make up for many people (not just women) is a form of expression. People wear it at times to enhance their beauty or to hide a minor insecurity. For many women it makes them feel powerful, it makes them feel good like they can do anything. For others its a form of art, they enjoy being able to create something for the world to see. I don’t see how wearing make up makes you any less of a feminist. Being a feminist means you want equality for all, wearing make up has nothing to do with it.

  12. I think that wearing makeup does not make you a bad feminist. The first reason is because the definition of feminism is just wanting females to receive the same treatment as males in society. I don’t believe that wearing makeup goes against this goal. Personally, I wear makeup only on special occasions, but I have several friends who wear it on a daily basis, so much to the point where they look completely different on the off days that they don’t wear makeup. I blame society for making them think that they need to wear makeup everyday to look presentable, but I also don’t think that their intentions go against feminism. Unless they are doing it solely for the purpose of impressing a man who doesn’t like them when they aren’t wearing makeup, there is no harm in using it.

  13. I don’t think wearing makeup makes you a bad feminist. Makeup for a lot of women is a way of expression. In my opinion, makeup can change how you take on the day. It can be an extra pep to a girls step. It no way means she’s less of a feminist if she has it on and it no way means she’s more of a feminist if she doesn’t have it on. It’s a personal choice and it doesn’t represent one thing or another. I do think that cosmetology industry can profit and women insecurities but that’s another issue and a different subject.

  14. I feel it should at my discretion whether I use make-up or not. Absolutely up to me.

  15. I was raised a feminist, and have a huge love for cosmetology. I consider it a hobby.
    Once, I was fixing my eyeliner at work, and a coworker said to me “I don’t have time for that stuff… I like my face the way it is.” implying that I wore it because I was insecure and that it was frivolous. I wear makeup because it’s fun and empowering for me. That’s simply not the case for some people and I respect that. I don’t expect others to wear as much makeup as I do or any at all unless they want to. Cosmetics are a choice, not a requirement.
    I will echo some other comments and say it’s mostly society’s fault that cosmetology has a bad reputation. The makeup industry is built around making women feel insecure and inadequate. They try to convince women they are undesirable if they don’t look a certain way so they can sell them something to achieve that look. This causes some girls to think they need makeup to be attractive so it’s seen as something for insecure, shallow, or “ugly” girls. Women who wear makeup are often not taken seriously because sometimes people have difficulty comprehending that women can be both attractive and intelligent.

  16. In Japan, most female workers are forced to make up and wear high-heeled shoes. This is one of terrible unwritten rules in Japan. Wearing make-up associated with women and femininity. They should let women who doesn’t like wearing make-up go to work without make up.

  17. I think makeup is not the problem I think the problem is the rules and ideas our society builds.
    Personally I wear makeup during the weekends because I don’t have time during the week.But It’s not because I don’t like my self or have a problem with my flaws. I am very positive with my self and I consider to be a feminist. I enjoy makeup and see it as art. I know there is other women, because I know many, that enjoy makeup because it covers their flaws and makes them feel a better women. Makeup for me is not to make me better is just an enjoyment and hobby.

    I enjoyed reading this article by the way:)

  18. I do not wear makeup all the time, but I do love to wear it when I get a chance. Make up takes a lot of time to put on, which is why I do not always wear it. Wearing makeup does not make someone a bad feminist. Makeup is a way of expression for a lot of women. It is also a form of art. The makeup industry keeps growing every day, I follow a lot of makeup artists that are men, and they are just as good as women. Makeup does not correlate to equal rights. The problem is not the makeup; it is the idea that society says that women HAVE to wear makeup to look better.

    • Yes that’s right. Makeup isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s great for self expression and celebrating femininity. The problem is when you are manipulated by the market or when animals are harmed from animal testing or when some women feel superior or inferior because they feel more or less attractive.

  19. Makeup is a very interesting topic in a conversation. My friends and I always have different opinions about what it means for women to wear makeup. One of my friends is somebody I would consider to be a Feminist extremest. Whenever she gets the chance, she will make an argument for women’s equality. Examples include anything from “Why should there be equal pay?- because women work harder then men do” to “Why is the sky blue? -because women are strong independent women and they can make anything happen.” The funny thing about her, however, is she wears makeup all the time for the sole purpose of proving the point that makeup does not make you a bad feminist. She argues that makeup is an art and if women like to wear it because it makes them feel good, then they should be able to do so without judgment. I too believe that women should be able to wear makeup if they want to. I personally chose to not wear makeup unless I’m going out for an event because I don’t like the everyday hassle of putting it on everyday and I don’t think it’s necessary. We disagree all the time about what it means to be a feminist, but this is the one topic that we can agree on.

  20. I wear make up about three times a week when I have the time to apply it.Putting on makeup is a stress reliever for me and usually allows me to get a better start to my day because I have an extra hour each morning to just sit calmly and experiment with different make up. On the days I don’t wear make up I don’t feel less feminine or less pretty I just know that I look different. I wear make up for myself and no one else.

  21. I don’t feel any qualms about women choosing to wear makeup. If it is done well, it is nice to see a done up presentation. I think they should also remember that beauty is also below the skin. In the way you behave, and in the way you exercise. So makeup shouldn’t be the end all for all judgement of beauty. What should be included is of course two more things: the maintenance of good fitness and the maintenance of healthy moral qualities as well. The woman who chooses to have a healthy complexion from cardio, a well done makeup routine, and a figurative heart of gold is the beauty we can all strive to be around.

  22. Leanna Candelaria

    I think that makeup was seen as a negative thing for women to be involved with because it might have meant that the women who wore makeup were more involved with making themselves “look pretty” opposed to working on their career/something that other people might deem as more important. I am a feminist who wears makeup most of the time. It also helps me express who I am as a person and is surprisingly very therapeutic. But being the busy person that I am, there are days where I do not have time to apply makeup. I don’t think that being a feminist should be correlated at all with how much makeup you wear and it’s horrible that some people believe you are less of a feminist if you decide that makeup is something you enjoy.

  23. This is an issue I have been dealing a lot with. Growing up in my household it was very normal to be interested in all things girly (I.E. makeup, dresses and heels). Yet, as I have gotten older I have begun to question these impulses. I know some of them are because I am a product of my culture, household and unfortunately modern day media, but on the other hand I know how the world works. As sad as it might be, I know I am taken more seriously when I have makeup on. I know my chances of getting a job are higher if I come into the interview with my hair and makeup done. I know I will most likely attract the guy I am interested in if I have my appearance put together. I also know I feel most comfortable. I am now trying to find a balance between having fun with my makeup and loving my natural self.

    • It’s an interesting thing to explore how much we do things for ourselves or others, how we might be hurt if we don’t this is a vital expectations, and what we might do about it.

  24. I find myself debating this more often than I would like. I am currently in a no make-up phase. It’s ironic how no make-up can simultaneously make me feel more serious and less serious. But that seems to be the place we live as women. Stuck between not enough and too much, the need to care about our appearance and the inevitability of being referred to as vain, the list of the paradoxes is endless.

    So currently I want to be make-up free because it is convenient and saves time, I enjoy feeling fresh faced, and I don’t want to counter my feelings of obligation towards being societies version of “presentable”. But just as I do something to not fulfill an obligation I am all at once being influenced by societies demands, which is what I am attempting to be free of.

    I leave the house feeling good about not having make-up on but at any point in the day, in an instant, I can feel like I am being silly and immature. “Why did I not take care of myself and put make-up on?” Because apparently, my defenses decide that the vulnerability is too dangerous of a thing to do in public and should be avoided at all costs. Back and forth.

  25. But buying makeup provides profit to the industry that makes a living off oppressing women and making women feel like shit about themselves.

    Also, by wearing makeup, we perpetuate the fact that most women wear makeup, thus perpetuating the alienation women experience when they choose not to wear makeup.

    • I just feel that women should not wear make up if they are doing so because they are being manipulated by the market. They also shouldn’t feel pressured into wearing make up. But make up can be fun and expressive. And it can celebrate femininity.

  26. For me, putting on make up is as much part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth. I started wearing make up at a pretty young age but when I look back, I can’t see a clear reason for starting to do it in the first place. I think the reason I started ( among others) is that I come from Sweden where it is important to look your best when outside. I Think this can be linked to the stereotype that everyone from Sweden is blonde, blue eyed and looks good. It has almost become part of our identity to look your best. So even though I am very aware that wearing make up everyday is something that society is “forcing” me to do. I can’t stop doing it because it makes me feel secure and Confident. or more correctly, If I don’t wear make up, I don’t get as many looks as when I do wear it so I feel more exposed than I want to. Maybe you can say that make up is a shield that your “real self” can hide behind.

  27. This is a very interesting point that you bring up regarding makeup and feminism. As a transgender woman, who considers herself a feminist, there was a time where I could not imagine going without makeup. Makeup is often one of the first steps most trans women have access to that can help them bring a sense of congruence between their mind, body and spirit. Sometimes the difference between makeup and no make-up can be the difference between being seen as female by society, or ending up a victim of some sort of violence as so many trans women are in our society. It has taken a great deal of confidence building and medical intervention in order for me to feel congruent in my identity as a woman, and now I don’t consider makeup a necessity. The one part about crossing the gender divide is that you literally find yourself questioning everything about society and gender: do I like wearing makeup? Are the proportions of my body right? Am I a dress or pants and t-shirt kind of girl? It can literally be one of the most exhausting processes imaginable. But, in the end, like makeup and all other forms of self-expression you find what works for you. I think when feminism gets wonky for me is when people use it to trade one form of oppression for another, as in you must resist wearing makeup because makeup is a construct of our society and not wearing it is an act of fighting against the patriarchy that permeates American culture. In my opinion the idea that telling women makeup is anti-feminist is really no different than society expecting women to wear makeup – they are both forms of repression – feminism should implore women to follow their own joy and not trade one set of standards for another.

  28. I have always believed that wearing makeup is a choice, just like deciding what you want to wear each day. For a lot of women, makeup is a way to feel confident when they normally wouldn’t, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t feminist or support feminist values. Wearing makeup allows women to enhance their beauty to a level that they feel confident at, which I believe is one of the most important qualities women can feel. The feeling of confidence opens up so many opportunities for women because they are no longer held back from their insecurities. Also, makeup is a form of art; it is a way for women to express themselves. Makeup can serve as an outlet and also as a way for women to show the world who they really are. If a women decides to wear makeup, then other women shouldn’t shame them for their choice.

  29. I find that with the right intention, makeup is no different that painting. Both art forms, both acts of self-expression.
    It’s correlation with beauty is where I believe makeup begins to go from art form to conformity of antiquated gender roles.
    Makeup equals beauty. Beautiful is what a woman should be to get a mate. It’s a deplorable sequence that encourages physical attraction/beauty be valued over other facets of a person. But this is completely socially constructed. Lipstick is fundamentally a concoction of oils and wax that deposits color onto your lips.
    In my book, feminism isn’t about shunning out or limiting, it’s about expanding and educating. Like you mentioned, you can be a feminist (be it cultural or otherwise) and wear makeup. Doing so does not reduce your beliefs. I think it’s important to “celebrate femininity” regardless of however you define femininity. I wear makeup because it allows me to exercise my right brain in terms of creativity and imagination.

  30. I wear makeup for me. I don’t care what people think of me but I care how they treat me. Because of my baby face and my disability, oftentimes people treat me poorly. I have these two things against me. When I wear makeup I can see an obvious difference in the way people look at me and treat me. Recently, Alicia Keys, the famous musician stopped wearing makeup as a way to empower herself. Wearing makeup can empower some people, whereas not wearing it can empower others. Interpreting wearing makeup and being feminist is all up to each individual person. I don’t think there’s one answer for every circumstance.

  31. I personally don’t have any problem with not wearing makeup but I prefer my face with it. I see it as highlighting my features. Make up makes some women more comfortable which is great. But I think it should not be there to paint a totally new face- to hide, so to say. My understanding of feminism is seeing men and women on an equal level which would mean in this context that I should not judge women or men who have or want to have make up on.

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