The Feminist Makeup Culture: Reconsidering Cosmetics

Imagine this: a sixteen-year-old girl sits down in front of the mirror to put on her makeup for the day. She may be running late to get to school, but she is taking her time to go through her daily routine. Now, some may applaud her for using the tools at her disposal to hide her imperfections. Others may argue she is hiding behind a mask that is not real.

But instead, think about this:

She is an artist, the makeup is her medium of choice, her face is her canvas, and she isn’t trying to hide anything in the slightest. Instead, she is using her palette to draw out her natural qualities. She is using the unnatural colors, not to hide her imperfections, but to express her internal beauty. She is showing her true colors by drawing what she feels inside onto the outside in a bold, maybe dramatic, form of self-expression. When she is done, she is not only an artist but a piece of living, breathing artwork.

When thinking about art, cosmetics do not usually come to mind. Body paint, SFX makeup, and tattoos, perhaps. But not necessarily the average, daytime look. When considering that kind, it’s often thought about as simply covering the latest breakout. However, the modern makeup culture is beginning to evolve in ways that must be embraced. Cosmetics are, in fact, becoming an ever-growing genre of art. Thus, this article will analyze the current makeup culture, and reconsider cosmetics as a new art form.

The Epidemic

Young girls and women are pressured on a daily basis by the mainstream media to look a certain way and measure up to some pretty high standards. It’s difficult to discuss the makeup industry without considering these standards, or the body insecurities that they often initiate. These topics tend to correlate with one another.

(Source: www.morguefile.com)
Barbie has had a influence on women’s beauty since her debut in 1959. (Image source: www.morguefile.com)

Cosmetic companies marketing to young ladies are saying they can look better, and gain acceptance, if they use these products. Ultimately, this is an enterprise that appeals to women’s insecurities, and a profit margin based on those insecurities.

What is ironic, is that cosmetic campaigns claim to embrace the ‘natural look’ by providing products that appear as if the individual is not even wearing makeup. It’s like they are saying: “Cover up! But don’t let them know it’s not your real face.”

Consider this:

Among most eighteen-year-olds who look at their reflections, research shows at least 80% are unhappy with themselves; more than that, many do not even see an accurate reflection. 1 Cosmetics have become one of the easiest ways to ‘measure up’ to the predetermined ideals concerning beauty. 2 Since foundation magically makes scars or breakouts disappear, these ‘quick fixes’ offer a temporary boost of self-confidence. Little girls start at an early age learning how to use makeup, but their goals are not necessarily to enhance the features they already have, but to increase their attractiveness and be ‘more beautiful’. 3 In a way, women have come to idolize beauty by how they are raised to see themselves. They grow up wanting to emulate their mothers, who grew up doing the same thing. Teenagers on social media (such as YouTube and Instagram) model themselves, and receive judgment based on their appearance.

It is the overuse of Photoshop on beauty ads that misrepresents these expectations. These heavily edited images are unrealistic depictions of how women are supposed to look, 4 and they help set a standard for beauty that average women cannot possibly attain. 5 So this culture is in a perpetual state of flux because of these ideals being cultivated in the minds of our youth by those so-called standards.

The Revolution

It’s time to transcend beyond these preset ideals and consider that makeup is more than a tool for women to use to enhance their looks. Put simply, it can be artistic. It is a way to alter one’s appearance without permanent results. But the problems start when women are told they have to look a certain way, and when they are pressured to meet those standards. Women should be allowed to wear makeup to feel good about themselves, not to please other people. 6

Using cosmetics does not have to be a requirement. It also does not have to be considered a hassle or something to be dreaded. It can be a way to express oneself, to reflect who an individual is on the inside. This culture as a whole should begin to reconsider cosmetics entirely. Because makeup can be what individuals make of it; it is an art form and is not defining, but liberating. Thus, society should consider liberating makeup. 7

Mykie, a self-taught, LA-based makeup artist, and rising YouTube sensation, has said:

“Makeup is supposed to be fun, positive, and you should want to do it for yourself. No one needs makeup, you don’t need it to impress someone, you don’t need it to feel beautiful, and you don’t need it to fit in. You should want it to have fun. You should want it to be expressive. You should want it to play around with or to enhance your already, perfectly, wonderful features sitting on your face… You may wear makeup and feel more confident and therefore attribute your confidence to makeup. But real, true, lasting confidence comes from inside and will be there even when you wash your makeup off.” 8

In the same regards, women should not be pressured into using cosmetics as a means to impress men, or to enhance their self-worth. Instead, it should be used for recreational benefits, and as an artistic expression. In the following performance from TEDxRVAWomen, actress and makeup artist Eva DeVirgilis illustrates this best:

In my chair — a makeup artists perspective on beauty: Eva DeVirgilis at TEDxRVAWomen

The Advocates

Women are reclaiming what is rightfully theirs by dividing into two – albeit different – classes to fight back against these preconceived beauty standards.

The first class of women are embracing the natural look. They accept what others consider to be ‘flaws’ with pride, while promoting the body positive viewpoint that: ‘we should be true to ourselves.’ These women are admired for their independent confidence.

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Woman should be free to wear makeup without being criticized or scrutinized. (Image source: www.morguefile.com)

Then there are those who use cosmetics as their creative medium and self-expression. They are the daring ones. The ones who enjoy putting on different characters, who revel in changing their look every day. They are the unconventional, artistic ones who march into their local Walgreen’s, buy the wild color palettes, and make the cosmetics work for them. They do not succumb to the ads telling them they need to conform to the latest fashion trends; they work to blaze a fashion trail of their own. These are the women who say: “I am already beautiful; makeup is only accentuating that beauty, and I enjoy using it.”

Both of these classes of women are heroes in this cosmetics-obsessed generation. While the majority seek to embrace perfection, these women are embracing their humanity and their creative spirits, while still advocating a body-positive message.

With that being said, one does not have to be restricted to believing that makeup is nothing more than highlights and contouring; rather it is a form of art as versatile as oils or water colors. An era is beginning when it can be considered a medium. It is artwork that lives! It can transform anyone into a model, a princess, or a superhero, not by changing them on the outside but by reflecting what already exists within. This is not just for Halloween any longer; it’s not just for covering blemishes or fixing so-called ‘flaws’. It’s for drawing out that confident person hiding within everyone.

Eye shadow color palette. (Source: www.morguefile.com)
Makeup must be reconsidered as a developing art form (Image source: www.morguefile.com)

Everyone has the right to define beauty in their own way; not how the fashion industry sees it, or how the advertising industry sees it. It is time to reconsider the makeup culture, and redefine it as an artistic medium for exploration.

In the end, whether cosmetics are used for creative expression, or not, everyone should come to embrace their faces for what they already are, and that is beautiful.

Works Cited

  1. Fox, Kate, “Mirror, Mirror;
    a Summary of Research Findings on Body Image” 1997. SIRC Social Issues Research Culture. Web 20 November 2015. <http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html>
  2. Britton, Ann Marie, “The Beauty Industry’s Influence on Women in Society” 2012 University of New Hampshire Scholars’ Repository. Web. 22 November 2015. <http://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1085&context=honors>.
  3. Britton, Ann Marie, “The Beauty Industry’s Influence on Women in Society” 2012 University of New Hampshire Scholars’ Repository. Web. 22 November 2015. http://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1085&context=honors,
  4. Graydon, Shari. “The Pursuit of Beauty is Harmful” Gredes ed. 119-127. Gredes, Louise I. ed. The Culture of Beauty; Opposing Viewpoints. Missouri: Greenhaven Press. 2013. Print.
  5. Diller,Vivian. “Altered Fashion Magazine Photographs Cntribute to Unrealistic Body Images” Gredes ed. 145. Gredes, Louise I. ed. The Culture of Beauty; Opposing Viewpoints. Missouri: Greenhaven Press. 2013. Print.
  6. Fritz, Jeanette, “Makeup a form of art.”22 Jan. 2014 UWIRE Text: 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
  7. Nguyen, Emmilly, “It’s Your Makeup, Your Choice” 2 September 2014. The Daily Aztec. Web. 20 November 2015. <http://www.thedailyaztec.com/55410/opinion/its-your-makeup-your-choice/>
  8.  Mykie, “5 Tips to Feel More Comfortable Wearing Makeup” YouTube. YouTube. 2 December 2015. Web. 19 December 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBjGgrrBATU>”

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51 Comments

  1. MichelleAjodah

    Great article, it’s always interesting to think about makeup as an art, considering how much the beauty industry impacts society.

  2. melikomo
    2

    A piece of art will always come with critics.

  3. Elmo
    1

    I’m a designer by schooling, and a lot of my friends like to say I’m “artistic” when I post up any pictures of projects… the difference is, I am taught that I am no “Artist” by trade, a designer is someone with the tools and training to execute a solution for a set parameter – creatively. That does not make me an “Artist”. I can use the tools and medium to make something look great, but art is a little bit more complex than design… [and design is complex as is!]

  4. Loan
    0

    I think it can be art. For me, this depends on context, purpose, how well it is done, and why.

  5. Alise
    0

    Art is where the heart is.

  6. Camille Brouard

    I think the great thing is reaching a stage where makeup is not a necessity, I intentionally gave up using it for a while to feel more comfortable in my own skin and it was a great decision, as nowadays I can go out with no makeup, a little, or loads!

  7. Brandon T. Gass

    Nice article and important topic! I think we should encourage girls that while make-up can be fun, it shouldn’t be seen as necessary in their eyes. They shouldn’t feel like if they don’t wear make-up then they are physically repulsive.

  8. Ian Boucher

    What a reappropriation it would be to have makeup more overtly articulated as being used for artistic expression! And it really does lend itself to being so, in so many ways!

  9. Salinas
    0

    I think makeup is a cool way to express your artistic side. Unfortunately, I am not artistic whatsoever and I usually don’t wear makeup.

  10. Isiah
    0

    I like this topic, and I feel like it’s definitely touchy (which is a good thing).

  11. Shanae
    0

    Makeup is an art form.

  12. Chae Mckinnon
    0

    I think if you are a creative person and your style of makup is unique you are an artist. In my opinion
    “art ” is just a form of design, creativity. anyone can be an artist.

  13. Gerda
    1

    I feel makeup is more like “ornamentation” VS “art”. Makeup trends come and go, but you’re usually applying the same colors to the same areas of your face. Art is groundbreaking and thought provoking, so it would have to be something fresh – so the only makeup I would consider “Art” is theatrical/avant garde/editorial or runway makeup.

    • Ara
      0

      I agree. Makeup is an art when the outcome is something positive. If it makes you feel beautiful, then it is your own art if you see so fit. Everyone’s opinions are subjective, and my perspective is just one of many.

  14. ricki
    0

    That’s definitely an interesting perspective! Nice post!

  15. I have thought along these lines for a long time, but you articulated my thoughts perfectly! What an interesting post.

    Makeup is so incredibly varied that it shouldn’t only be to cover up perceived “flaws.”

    And take your argument a step further: Why restrict makeup to women? If makeup is simply a form of art and self-expression, why must it be restricted by gender (binary)?

    Any man or woman has the ability to express themselves through art, while they should also have the freedom not to use any particular art form.

  16. ZooM
    0

    I personally think the human body is nice the way it is.

  17. Brice Gamboa
    0

    Makeup is a form of art as is paint or ceramics. Most people don’t have the ability to be creative, or they just don’t try because it doesn’t interest them.

  18. Rima
    0

    It involve colors and creativity. Art.

  19. Karisa
    0

    Your ability to change and create anything is art. Though everyones perception of something maybe different,the mere fact that you have given someone a right to have an opinion whether good or bad means you have curved there thinking and that in itself is art. Standing still being and doing nothing is not art.

  20. I absolutely love the idea of calling makeup an art form. I’ve always felt this way, but wasn’t quite able to put it into words. I personally do not wear much makeup, so I really enjoy learning about it from other girls and how they like to wear it. I think it’s awesome and creative!

  21. Nof

    great article. I’m very much involved in the makeup / beauty community on youtube and makeup artistry is a hobby of mine! It’s awesome to see it intersecting and growing with other aspects such as an online magazine!

  22. Buffy
    0

    Art is not quotidian.

  23. Hanes
    1

    I think this a hard grey area to crack, I for one, am going to school for fine arts, and makeup can either differ a lot from makeup, or be very similar depending on HOW you put it on.

    Granted, you could say doing a smokey eye is like drawing a circle again and again because you do it so much, but it’s how you change that circle that makes it gorgeous or different or beautiful in it’s own way. So in that aspect, makeup could be considered an art, as most are called makeup “artists” but again… makeup artists go deeper into the range of colors and really bring out someone’s beauty based on coloring, lighting, shadowing, etc. Which is what art is really… all about. Highlighting, using shadows to create looks and deepen your looks can really be considered almost the same as me sitting down and painting my TV.

    But I digress, in my opinion, just because you put on your eyeliner everyday the same way… doesn’t make it art. Just because you sweep bronzer on one day instead of your normal blush, doesn’t make it art. It’s when you step back, you look at the entire picture, and you decide to use the coloring in your clothes, your hair or your skin to make the colors stand out in a certain way, that is when I consider it art. Anyone can put on eyeliner and bronzer everyday and that isn’t art in my opinion, it’s when you put your thought into it, can it be art.

    Then again, half the time I put makeup on, is because I’m trying to make up for the time I can’t paint or draw anymore… So I put a LOT of thought into this.

  24. Venus Echos

    Megan your argument of makeup being an artistic art form aesthetically pleasing to the applicant verses the use of makeup to conform to a distorted societal view is important. However, I would like to speak to the use of chemicals in most commercial brands, especially those easily accessible over-the- counter. Eliminating the amount of chemicals in makeup is just as important as your argument. These chemicals are absorbed through our pores and just think about the amount of lipstick we have ingested; in addition to those whom we share a kiss-babies, moms, dads and boy/girl friends who in turn are ingesting these chemicals as well.

  25. Mei Meier
    0

    Thanks for sharing

  26. Danae Leake
    0

    This is such a powerful story. It’s fluidly written, and holds a perspective who describes a blossoming movement for the cosmetic industry. 🙂

  27. mwalll

    This article made excellent points, however I feel that this article critiques makeup too far. While it is true society’s expectations and definition of beauty revolves around using makeup, it can be said that makeup is not the enemy. Makeup is meant to highlight your natural beauty, in turn letting women and young girls feel prettier. There is no wrong with feeling pretty while wearing makeup; the issue that evolves from this is that women and young girls think they are only pretty when they wear makeup. Society has to let women, specifically young girls, realize that they are beautiful with and without makeup. Makeup is not the enemy, but rather society’s unrealistic definition of beauty is.

  28. kasey
    0

    i personally think makeup is art and a way of expressing your self, but some people i know don’t consider it an art ..

  29. While I agree that these definitions given to women should be addressed, I think this article inadvertently does the same thing to women that society does to beauty standards. It still placed all women into a category, held up makeup to an unreasonable standard, and largely failed to give women credit for being able to choose whatever they want to do with makeup. I think the discussion should be not “what should we think of makeup” and more “why does this matter?” What makes young women think they way they do about makeup, and what can we do, together, to improve self-image.

  30. Emily Deibler

    Thought-provoking article. Good work. Ultimately, the effects and intention of make-up depend heavily on the person applying it. While I like make-up (speaking solely of applying it on myself) on occasion, I agree with Venus Echos that some issues come with the chemicals in them–which wreak havoc on sensitive skin. It can be a vicious cycle: make-up hides flaws but hurts skin, so apply more make-up to cover any damage done (and purchase more of a different sort until something works). This isn’t exactly an issue with make-up as a concept, but rather the creation process on the company’s end.

  31. I think it depends on the person, they may use it as art, a passion, beauty, or just for their own insecurities.

  32. yshim

    A well rounded perspective on the deeper meaning behind applying makeup.

    Describing makeup as an art form can be liberating and useful as a tool to help others understand how the process is about more than vanity.

    With the new surge of beauty bloggers, vloggers, and contour craze trends.. it’s a bit alarming to see how it’s affecting younger generations of girls.

    It seems as though there has and always will be societal standards to conventional beauty, even as our personal preferences evolve with age. Today’s mainstream beauty feels masked under too many layers of caking and baking foundation even if it is crafted out of confidence and creative expression.

    There should be more of a reminder that our looks are not the utmost priority. What we do will be more important.

  33. I am torn on my response to this article.
    As a feminist, a pro-choice in all aspects feminist, I see the possible value in attempting to eradicate makeup as something artistic. But I also fall into the “why must this matter so much” camp as well. No one is arguing that the man-bun is an art, because no one trying to take away the right for men to look how they please.
    Of course, as writers we can’t simply turn a blind eye to relevant topics in society. But I’m worried blowing makeup into such artistic and refined proportions actually gives into those who try to vilify it in the first place.

    • Katheryn

      I disagree about the lack of criticism regarding men’s looks. The “man-bun” “dad bod”, lumberjack look, and others have been roundly lampooned and criticized by many – there are memes, articles, and other opinion pieces all grousing about how “silly” or “stupid” they look, as well as drawing comparisons between his virility or lack thereof if he chooses to dress like a lumberjack or grow his beard out when he is, in reality, say, a Wall Street investment banker. No one is immune from the critical eye of the internet; from people who have nothing better to do than make fun of others for being different. It transcends gender; however, women are definitely scrutinized and judged more harshly, and for infinitely more reasons. Creative freedom of expression seems to intimidate others more often than not, especially when it’s perceived as being a trend.

  34. Katheryn

    One of my students is a makeup aficionado, and takes great pleasure in playing around with it, painting her face in varying degrees of artifice. She also has one of the healthiest self-images I have seen in a college-aged woman. I’d (and she’d) consider what she does art (and a form of personal expression), but that may be, in part, because we are in the theatre, and makeup is for us an art form as a general rule. Interestingly, my Theatre History class recently got into a discussion about “Can anything be art?” while discussing 20th century theatre movements that were alternatives to Realism (Dadaism claimed anything had the potential to be art). Opinions of the class varied from one end of the spectrum to the other. Although standards of what is considered art exists in every genre, ultimately it is all in the eye of the beholder.

  35. Tiffany
    txl
    0

    I’m with you on that makeup is an art form, and that’s honestly something that seems to hard to explain to my guy friends (especially when I’m running late, haha). I think what’s important when it comes down to it is that women have the choice whether they want to use it or not, rather than face all kinds of social pressures to be visually perfect. That’s the worst part, that it’s not entirely my choice to wear makeup–for example, people are nicer to you and view you as more professional if you wear it.

  36. Lexzie

    This was a thought provoking article. I can understand why some would think makeup is a form of art, and I certainly believe it can be in different situations and circumstances. In a society where ‘ideal’ beauty is valued the makeup companies create profit because they claim to hide imperfections. Makeup is a materialistic luxury for most of the 1st world and is not used for artistic purposes.
    That being said makeup can be art, I especially believe this is true in theatre and photography.
    I think the intent behind the use of the makeup is important.
    Art is subjective though, and you really got me thinking about this topic, so kudos!

  37. I think makeup has become even more of an art form in the past few years. There’s so many new techniques out there and it’s incredible to see how people transform their faces (without looking like they’re dressing up for Halloween.) I think we should definitely embrace it. It’s fun, experimental and giving some people confidence they never had before. If you want to be a bare-faced beauty, go for it. If you want to look like you just had your face, “beat,” as they say, then werk it.

  38. I enjoyed this a lot, although I was expecting some more discussion of the actual techniques and modes of expression of these women. I’m 26 and I’ve definitely noticed that there is a rapidly growing subculture of young women who use bold colours and lines in a way that only maybe a decade or 15 years ago would have been considered gaudy. I think this new, bold and expressive style reflects a change in many women’s attitudes about who make up is for. I feel like this is inextricably linked to the new internet culture. Women talk to each other about make up on Facebook groups, online forums, blogs, on YouTube and Twitter. Not only that, now that it’s so easy to set up shop online (whether through a host site like etsy or your own page), many women are now making their own products, networking, and buying from each other! I collect nail polish and everything I buy is made by girls I talk to online. Once I started buying indie polish, I got into blushes and other products. These small businesses are typically artisanal and often use organic ingredients and unique colours and styles that you’d never find in stores. For example, in indie nail polish production, you are absolutely bound to encounter way more glitter (seriously, you don’t know how excited I can get about varieties of glitter), bright colours, crazy effects like colour shifting, glow in the dark bases, and so on. The focus is NOT on looking sexy (although there’s nothing wrong with that and I definitely feel sexy when I’m wearing a cool polish), it’s about having fun and expressing yourself. It’s about celebrating difference, playing, and being involved in a community. It’s about women sharing ideas with other women, and so on. It’s very exciting.

  39. I find that most of the time when I’m wearing some degree of makeup, it’s because I want to look how I feel inside. Let’s say I look tired, but I’m actually energized inside. I’ll feel the need to freshen-up so that I look more presentable and people stop asking me if I’m tired. On the other hand, sometimes you’re feeling crumby, but as soon as you put makeup on, you instantly feel better. Crazy wold.

  40. justjosie

    As a feminist/ humanist, i think a really important part of analyzing the make up culture, is the agency of the people who wear it, and the relationship between the persons desire and pressure to wear it.

  41. This is a really interesting take that I had never heard but definitely makes sense, the few times I have worn make up I was always fascinated by how it changed or enhanced certain features. I definetly see the artistic value!

  42. Not only does this sort of thought process help to combat toxic beauty standards, but I’ve also found it helps explain make-up to those who don’t use it. You wouldn’t ask an artist why they like to sketch so it doesn’t really make sense to ask someone why they like to put on make-up if they enjoy the practice.

  43. I feel that makeup should be worn to enhance ones natural beauty/features, it has artistic value also – if you were to really play it up. At the same time it adds artistic value even if you are just enhancing your own features – highlighting your natural beauty.

  44. I really enjoyed this article and many of the comments. I consider myself a feminist and I love make-up. It’s a part of my personal self-expression and something I enjoy. I also think looking at the agency of the people who use make-up is important when considering make-up/beauty culture. I don’t like it when people make assumptions about me just because I use make-up and like fashion

  45. Interesting perspective on makeup as art, great article and a thought provoking take on the ongoing arguments for/against makeup!

  46. Love this topic; I’m taking on a slightly radical opinion that makeup cannot be reclaimed by women when the beauty industry reflects the male gaze. Makeup as a form of artistic expression is appropriate if the makeup challenges conventional ideas of beauty, however this is not the case for everyday women who still aspire to fit the image expected of them by their male peers and female peers who have internalized conventional beauty standards.

  47. Deana Murphy

    I agree with how the use of makeup can be considered art because it is a form of self-expression. However I also see how it can be a negative thing for young girls. In today’s society they generally use makeup to make themselves feel better about the way they look or to impress others when I think they should embrace their natural beauty. Everyone should be confident enough to walk outside with a bare face. While there is nothing wrong with liking makeup or wanting to wear it on a daily basis, it is an unfortunate thing when girls do not feel beautiful without it.

  48. petronellarisita

    I love how this article had a nice balance, it not only showed the artistic nature to cosmetics but also the important con on it’s affect on young ladies today! I think it’s definitely eye-opening because it teaches us not to judge others but most importantly not to judge ourselves. Makeup can be used to express our creativity but shouldn’t be used as a mask we feel like we must hide behind.

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