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...over-educated and under-experienced, or so they say...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What We "Make-Up" For

I was sitting at my desk the other day when a fellow emailed me a random question:

"What is your personal definition of make-up?"

After giving him the dictionary answer and then reading his response, which was something like, "I can read the dictionary, Miriam Webster. I wanted to know how you personally define the stuff women put on their face," I said something like this:

My personal definition would be the stuff I put on my face because I’ve been socially programmed to do so. Not only does it appeal to men, or so women as a whole are told, but it also appeals to other women in that we believe it makes a distinct improvement on our features and we impress each other just as much as we impress members of the opposite sex.

Make-up is some subtle form of flaring out peacock feathers, or something along those lines. Additionally, through media and social programming, I have come to believe that I look better with make-up on than without (though my daughter regularly tells me I’m pretty without it and I don’t need it).

Women without make-up are often referred to as plain, homely, insecure, ugly, masculine, lesbian, feminist, etc. and so forth, anything that could possibly be perceived as a negative connotation. So… make-up could also be considered War Paint against the battle of negativity which comes from all sides (i.e. the side of feminists that argue against it have created their own zealous diatribe about make-up and women who wear it and the side of those traditional women and men who continually make negative comments about women who don’t wear it).

Make-up is one of those catch 22 things that you finally just have to say to yourself, “I like the way I look in it and so I’m going to wear it” or, “make-up is a pain, I hate putting it on, I look beautiful without it, so screw everyone and what they think.”

He asked me that question because he had apparently made a comment to his girlfriend about "make-up" being little more than a compensation for our wish to have green eyelids and black outlines instead of the regular plain faces that we have. Considering me a "level headed female" (which I laughed at), he thought he'd get my take on it since (at least I suspect) he received a somewhat hostile response from her. But he has a point, and his point is probably what rubbed her wrong. He basically stated that we "make-up" for what we perceive ourselves as lacking in the beauty department. This of course implies a sense of low self-esteem and we literally paint on a mask to cover that up. This aligns quite a bit with the feminist argument that we should see ourselves as beautiful and powerful women just as we are and not succumb to the pressure of society (which they consider patriarchal and oppressive)and make ourselves "pretty" because we're little more than visually pleasing objects. I guess this is why I've grown a fondness for make-up as war paint.

As a student of Humanities, you have the unavoidable pleasure of constantly sitting in class with the young ladies who love to shave their heads, wear camouflage and combat boots, claim themselves enlightened feminists and see every moment and everything as a perfect time to argue about patriarchal oppression of women. External beauty is always a prime target for their bullets. One of their favorites is that the beautiful woman is not free; she continually subjects herself to male dominance by presenting herself as the "object" and thereby hinders her ability to be respected for her internal attributes such as her powerful intellect. They also accuse her of being a follower, not a leader, and a terrible advocate for women because she is, through the acceptance of mainstream society, perpetuating female oppression. (on a side note, one of these shaved head ladies once told me I was very intelligent and my arguments were good, but they were invalidated by my long hair and make-up. "You would be so much more effective if you cut your hair." Effective to whom, is my question. Last time I checked, in a classroom of forty students, there were only two women with shaved heads and combat boots. If my arguments are good, I think I'd rather get through to 38 people instead of the 2 who've judged me for my appearance even as they claim to be my advocate.)

None of this is to say that I don't recognize my female self as an "object" of a man's lust. But in my experience, I could walk around with a shaved head and no make-up wearing a potato sack and they'll still lick their lips and make lewd comments if they feel a stir in their loins. The reality is, I can only please some of the people some of the time and this argument is a stupid waste of time.

Society does have an idea of how women should appear, but the same could be said for the appearance of men. And as a feminist, I would say it is important to be free of all societal chains that bind you (including overly zealous feminist diatribes that sound every bit as wacky as an overly judgmental evangelical christian); be aware that true beauty is internal and figure out what that means; know that your power is your mind and the way you use it; and don't be ashamed of your physical attributes because they are a part of the package so why not flare out your peacock feathers.

Let's put it this way. Some women want to be the Red Corvette: flashy, sleek and sexy and fun to drive but ultimately useless (this requires make-up). Some women want to be a four wheel drive, so they can make their break into the mountains where they don't need anything but all natural beauty (this requires no make-up). Some women think it best to be an army tank, convincing themselves that they must camouflage their appearance so they can accurately target their enemies and take a few hits before blowing him up (this requires no make-up, but some alterations in the way you dress and possibly shaving the head). Women like me? We prefer to be the James Bond vehicle -- the silver BMW that everyone wants to ride in but only we know it's equipped with machine guns, rocket launchers, a passenger seat eject button, and blades that pop out of the tires to grip the ice and snow as we make our escape without slowing the pace (this requires make-up).

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