Unpacking the Make-Up Debate: Personal Preference or Patriarchal Pressure?

“Big night last night?”

“Are you feeling alright? Are you sick?”

“You look so tired. Have you been busy?”

If I had a dollar for every time someone said one of these lines to me when I choose not to wear make-up, I’d have enough money to buy that MAC foundation I’ve been lusting over! As someone who wears make-up almost everyday, I am acutely aware of the differences in my day-to-day life when I (gasp!) leave the cat eye out of my morning routine.

I wouldn’t say that I’m in love with make-up or that I posses a hobby of being an amateur make-up artist, but I do love the way it makes me feel. My love affair with make-up, or more specifically eyeliner, started when I was 14. I went to a strict all-girls school with a no-make-up policy, and so when the popular girls starting wearing mascara and eyeliner as a subtle form of rebellion, I intended on taking part. Now, with absolutely no clue about cosmetics, it should be noted that the 14-year-old me simply smeared a black line under my eye like an early 2000s Billie Joe Armstrong and happily went about my days looking like a raccoon. Looking back, I cringe. But at the time it made me feel grown-up and mysterious, and was an important stepping stone in the development of my femininity and sexuality.

What followed was an incessant obsession with watching make-up tutorials on YouTube. I began to learn about blending all the different types of brushes, how to fill in eyebrows, conceal pimples, and change and accentuate parts of my face that I never even knew existed. To these peppy beauty vloggers, it was an art form, but to me it showed how to put on a mask and transform an appearance that otherwise bored me. I liked the way my eyelashes could be as long as spider’s legs and that my eyes looked bigger with a Cleopatra cat flick. It made me feel like a smoldering film noir star with a secret, instead of a dorky 14-year-old with frizzy hair and braces.

My initial foray into make-up may have been for purely self-interested reasons, but my relationship with it has shifted since finishing school and entering the workforce. While I once held the view that I would only feel the need to wear make-up when I wanted, these days I feel pressure to wear make-up because it is expected of me. Before I used to only wear make-up when I wanted to create a ‘character’ with my face, but I now wear it to university, work, and job interviews.

The fact that I feel not as well-presented with my actual skin peering through in a job interview—despite wearing a professional outfit, hair up-do, and, more importantly, having a killer resume—induces a lot of mixed feelings. Why did I once associate make-up as an indulgence reserved for nights out, but now feel that it is something essential in order to be taken seriously?

Whilst I would never let society control my relationship with make-up, I am aware that cosmetics are a subset of a bigger systematic double standard of women always having to look neat and presentable whereas men do not. My issue does not lie with make-up itself, but in the way society views the way women interact with it. Why has make-up become a necessary requirement for women to look sexy, professional, put together, or even healthy? Men have just as many pimples, dark circles, hollowed cheekbones, flaky skin, or short eyelashes as women, but are never held personally responsible for not rectifying these errors of nature. The expectation for women to maintain excessive amounts of personal care that men are exempt from comes down to inherent deep-rooted inequality.

Personal choice aside, patriarchy does not belong in the shower, tutting at women and reminding them to shave their legs, armpits, and pubic hair whilst men are free to grow hair like they are reforesting the Amazon.

Another serious consequence of this issue is the gender tax, which further enforces the divide between female and male personal hygiene. With a recent study by the New York Consumer Affairs board revealing that women pay on average 13% more for personal care products than men, it is more important than ever to be aware of the dark side of this double standard.

Whilst the gender tax is a disturbing and discriminating socioeconomic issue that faces women, make no mistake that paying a high price for products does not mean that we are encouraging this inherent sexism. By all means, spend your hard-earned money on luxury brands and buy products made with the tears of monks or the hair of a Mongolian goat harvested under a full moon…or whatever it is that makes those products so damn lush.

What’s important is wearing make-up for yourself and ignoring the attempts to stigmatize women for wearing too much, too little, or none at all. Wear make-up however you like (or don’t wear it), spend however much you want on it, and don’t let negative comments stop you from expressing yourself—and your face—anyway you desire.

And for the love of god, don’t let pop songs with condescending and obnoxious lyrics such as “you don’t need make up to cover up” stop you from nailing that cat eye or getting brows so on fleek you make people’s knees go weak. Because who says we are wearing it for you, bud? Do you think I paid $50 for this Sephora eye shadow palate to impress you when you can’t even tell the difference between a smoky eye and a shimmering eye? Think again.

Main image courtesy of www.mnn.com.


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