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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
- 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> ↩
- 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>. ↩
- 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, ↩
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Fritz, Jeanette, “Makeup a form of art.”22 Jan. 2014 UWIRE Text: 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. ↩
- 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/> ↩
- 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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