Why Makeup is More than Skin-deep


Image: Flickr Creative Commons

Yesterday, I was hanging out with a group of friends when one of them (a white, straight, cisgender male) mentioned that he “hates makeup,” mainly because it’s “false advertising,” and “a waste of time and money.”

I sat there (rocking a fabulous full face of makeup, complete with contouring, a smoky-eye and a killer highlight) and made a mental list of all the things straight, cisgender males simply don’t seem to understand about makeup, but should:

  1. Women are shamed whether or not they wear makeup. Girls are told by society that not wearing makeup is sloppy, unprofessional and butch but that wearing makeup is petty, girly and “just asking for attention.” We are expected (largely by straight men) to look like the airbrushed models we see on the covers of magazines naturally (when those women don’t even look like that naturally). Alicia Keys recently took a stand against this pressure by making the decision to no longer wear makeup. I’ve personally been shamed for both wearing makeup and not wearing makeup. In high school some guys told me that wearing makeup made me look “slutty.” So I stopped wearing makeup and was subsequently made fun of for my visible acne. I’d now learned at a young age that it was impossible for me to please men (which, as a woman, is my sole purpose in life, right? *sarcasm*). I was doomed to always be perceived as either “slutty” or “ugly.” So men, next time you’re about to make an ignorant comment judging a woman’s decision to either wear or refrain from wearing makeup, consider the fact that she’s most likely taken enough shit on the topic already without you adding to the pile.17865394115_b60977b516_o

    Image: Flickr Creative Commons

  2. Hate to break it to you, white-cis-male, but most women don’t even wear makeup for you. I know it’s hard to believe – aren’t YOU supposed to be the center of attention, here? But it’s true. Makeup has a vast amount of cultural, artistic and even therapeutic value. Throughout history, great tribes and warlords have painted their faces to denote power. In Japanese culture, Geishas used makeup as an artform as well as tool for seduction and sensuality. Today, many people have rewarding careers in doing, creating, marketing, modeling and reviewing makeup while others use it as a means of expression and creativity. Personally, I find that giving myself enough time in the mornings to do a full face of makeup, often listening to music or a TEDtalk in the background, helps to ease my anxiety and acts almost as a form of therapy to alleviate some of my stress. There is something calming and meditative for me about blending in my contour and sweeping a mascara brush methodically through my lashes. It short, I like the way it makes me feel. It’s as simple as that.5087914228_eda9a15262_o

    Image: Flickr Creative Commons

  3. Makeup is not just for women. Like many other unnecessarily gendered items (is anything necessarily gendered?), it is so rigidly prescribed to women in our society, when the fact of the matter is, many people – male, female, straight, queer, cisgender, transgender, etc. – love it. While many men assume that makeup is just something straight women use to trick men into thinking they’re attractive (an idea that was famously satirized by Jenna Marbles in 2010), this couldn’t be further from the truth. Makeup enables many transgender women to outwardly express their inward femininity, and allows men of all kinds to express their often unexplored feminine side. Makeup plays huge role in drag culture and is celebrated for its creative and theatrical application. For so many different people and entire subcultures, makeup has great meaning and cultural significance. It makes people feel beautiful, feminine, powerful. We are just now beginning to see a breaking down of gender norms in the world of makeup, as Covergirl’s most recent “CoverGirl” is not a CoverGirl at all, but a CoverBoy.


Image: Flickr Creative Commons

  1. This last point is not just for straight males, but also for other women who claim that wearing makeup is somehow antifeminist – an argument I’ve heard several times. And let’s be honest – in a way you’re right. In an ideal world, no one would ever feel the need to wear makeup because we would all perfectly accept each other just the way we are, and we’d feel fierce and fabulous without ever even breaking open that bronzer. But the fact is, we don’t live in that world – we live in a world that constantly tells women they need to meet an unattainable standard of perfection. To then shame them for using a little bit of concealer to cover the dark circles society has deemed unacceptable is just downright cruel. We also live in a world that tries to tightly bind both men and women into strict gender roles. If makeup can be a tool to break those bonds and express one’s true self, it should be celebrated, not shamed.

Bottom line: according to society, women can’t win when it comes to makeup. So don’t be that jerk shaming them either way. We’ve been shamed enough as it is. Men who wear makeup also undoubtedly get shamed (even more than women), and this also needs to end, as this type of bullying only perpetuates the hypermasculinity that already dominates our culture. The answer is to simply live and let live. Do not wear makeup unless you want to, wear it unashamedly if you do and, for the love of god, do not judge others for their choice to either wear or not wear makeup. We, as a society, simply need to focus on creating an accepting environment so that everyone can don their true colors.



3 thoughts on “Why Makeup is More than Skin-deep

  1. Littlefembot,
    What a great post! You bring up so many good points. I can absolutely hear your voice, frustration, passion, and power. Nice job!
    Makeup is absolutely an art. It takes time, effort and lots of practice. Some people are kick-butt at it because it’s not easy. There is no right or wrong way to do makeup. Some people are dramatic with their makeup, and others are much more simplistic, and that’s one hundred percent fine! If women want to wear makeup, who are we to tell them not to. If women don’t want to wear makeup, who are we to tell them to do so?
    There are so many false perceptions of beauty, all of which I’m sure we’ve bought into. I enjoy makeup, and you’re right it can be a methodical habit. It can be fun!
    I’m glad you brought up a historical side to makeup. Men were most likely to wear makeup than were women, and it symbolized status and power. We don’t see men in makeup here in America, outside of drag and goth, but makeup is a cultural thing also. I have a friend from Kurdistan, and I saw her brother one time at a festival and he was wearing eyeliner.
    I like that you also talk about Alicia Keys and her steps toward natural beauty. I read an interview with her makeup artist put our by Cosmopolitan. She talked about how Alicia said that she will probably wear makeup again some day, but right not she is focusing on being healthy–from the inside out.
    I saw on social media the other day of 20 before and after photoshopped celebs. I’m sure you have seen similar posts. One of my favorite ads/commercials about beauty is one put out by Dove. Although I have my own issues about Dove I thought this commercial was great. You may have seen it. If you haven’t seen it I think you might like it. P.S.–I like what the lady at the end says about natural beauty. Here’s the link https://youtu.be/litXW91UauE


    1. Wow, thank you for such a thoughtful and articulate response! At first I was like, “can I really write a post about something as arbitrary and seemingly unimportant as makeup?” But the truth is, shaming women for either wearing makeup or not wearing makeup (not to mention shaming men for it, or non gender binary people), can be a form of microagression, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. I long for the day when society can accept everyone’s natural beauty while still appreciating those who seek to express themselves through makeup.


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