Category Archives: Beauty culture

Feminism and Makeup: Are They Compatible?

First, let’s distinguish two different broad types of feminism, what I’ll call radical feminism and liberal feminism. Obviously you can be a mixture of the two views in various ways but for purposes of this post I’ll just assume they are diametrically opposed on the issue of makeup.

Liberal feminists often talk about how makeup is empowering, about taking control of our appearance and reclaiming femininity to boost our self-esteem as well as engage in an artistic endeavor that is pure, fun, empowering, and something that is open to all genders. Liberal feminism is characterized by maximum inclusivity, respecting all forms of makeup as equally valid, including more controversial extremes such as drag makeup and glamour looks with a million products. For liberal feminists, makeup is not a fundamentally corrupt enterprise, it is a legitimate and totally valid way to express yourself.

In contrast radical feminists are more likely to say things like:

-Women wear makeup for men and makeup is a product of the patriarchical institution of men demanding women wear makeup in order to be considered “normal” and is thus fundamentally corrupted as a practice no matter how “artistic” it aspires to be.

Furthermore, the radical feminist insists we cannot escape the social influence of unattainable beauty ideals being pushed on women everywhere, the obsessive judgments against women who don’t reach those beauty ideals, and the negative influence this has in the workplace and everywhere else, where a woman’s professional qualifications are called into question if she comes in with her natural face with dark undereye circles, etc.

Ok, so that’s the two opposing feminist positions on makeup in a nutshell. I’ll get into more differences later in the post.

As someone who has been lurking makeup forums for awhile, my impression is that that most of the people who consider themselves “makeup addicts” vehemently deny that they wear makeup for men. Personally, I think it’s best practice to take these people at face value and if they say they don’t wear makeup for men, then they don’t wear makeup for men, plain and simple. I mean, most men prefer women to wear less makeup anyway so if women are just catering to the demands of men why not wear less makeup? No, women who are true makeup lovers do not wear makeup for men. If anything they wear it for either themselves or for other makeup addicts. When I positively comment on people’s makeup in real life it always makes me happy to see their face light up as someone appreciates the work they did that day.

Why even distinguish makeup addicts from the casual or seldom makeup user? Because I think a more interesting question is not whether casual makeup use is compatible with feminism but whether the LOVE and addiction to makeup as a hobby is compatible with feminism. After all, the casual use of almost any consumeristic product in today’s day and age is bound to lead to ethical problems but this is contaminated by all sorts of other complicated questions about what it means to be complicit but not fully cognizant of problematic capitalistic systems.

Another point of contention that radical feminists make in order to argue against makeup is that women are expected to wear makeup in the workplace but men are not and this sets up a fundamentally problematic dynamic that is destructive to the goal of liberating women.

In my view, this is a valid thing to be concerned about. I of course have problems with any kind of expectation that says women MUST wear makeup in order to be seen as professional, clean, pretty, or competent. But we can be critical of this expectation while at the same time not denying the intrinsic joy makeup lovers get out of makeup, the joy it brings them, the pleasure it gives them from feeling good about themselves, etc. If we start getting hyper ethical, where do we stop? How many radical feminists are willing to stop drinking wine or coffee even though if we as humans used all the land and resources growing those things to grow food for starving people then the world would be much better off for women to live in, but you don’t see radical feminists go around protesting those things.

Another thing radical feminists argue is that the institution of makeup perpetuates the impicit bias that women’s natural faces are seen as ugly and in need of correcting with makeup. Just think of Benefit’s recent “Yuck!” campaign, it perfectly encapsulates the idea that women NEED to buy a million makeup products to be seen as valid and beautiful otherwise they are somehow “nasty” or “icky”, not fully women. It’s been a longtime assumption that women who don’t wear makeup are either lesbians or somehow less fully their gender than women who wear makeup.

As a trans woman this is definitely something I can relate to because I wear makeup to work as a coping mechanism for gender dysphoria and misgendering but I resent the implication that I need to do these things in order be seen as my gender. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy the process of makeup application and it’s not a chore to me. But for many women it is a chore, and not something they look forward to doing yet they do it anyway because if they didn’t they would get negative feedback. I think like most women, I wear makeup for multiple reasons. Because I enjoy it, because it makes me feel good about myself, it’s an avenue for artistic expression, there’s always room to improve, the technical details, to combat the possibility of misgendering and to help cope with dysphoria, because I enjoy the community of makeup lovers, the camaraderie it brings me with fellow enthusiasts, the small connections that happen when someone says something nice about someone else’s makeup.

Another argument radical feminists makeup is that the makeup world is fueled by Youtube gurus and rampant, dangerous, unhealthy consumerism based on trends and fads.

Dont get me wrong, there is a lot of problematic capitalistic tendencies to the makeup world. There are probably people out there, including myself, who perhaps use makeup as retail therapy a little too much than we should. But this is true of almost anything, from spending $50 on a new videogame because you’re stressed, to going out to eat and bar hop blowing tons of money. Everything in life is subject to the same possibility of taking it to the extreme, but if radical feminists held other things in their life to the same standard as makeup then they would have to radically change their own lives or admit to being hypocrites.

One thing I’ve noticed is that radical feminists who are against wearing makeup….often don’t wear makeup! It’s almost like you have to like and enjoy makeup to be able to like and enjoy makeup and the people who don’t wear makeup don’t like it and thus rationalize their dislike of it by inventing problems against it even for people who use it as a source of enjoyment and empowerment. Imagine that. But I want to reiterate that I agree that it’s fucked up how much pressure women are under to wear makeup otherwise they get comments about whether they are sick or feeling under the weather.

But in my view just because there are some problematic issues with the makeup world doesn’t mean makeup is inherently incompatible with feminist ideals and goals. Women are under immense pressure to be fit and slim but that doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with eating healthy and going to the gym. It’s all about the intention you have when engaging in an activity and how it effects you and those around you. Yes, it’s possible to wear makeup for quite possibly the wrong reasons, but it’s also possible to wear makeup for the right reasons, for reasons that are compatible with feminist ideals

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Filed under Beauty culture, feminism, Gender studies

Dysphoria as a Symptom of Modernity

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Dysphoria is everywhere we look in American society. Take for example the toxic beauty culture of the media promoting images of beautiful models representing unattainable beauty ideals. There are many young women wishing they were skinnier, with bigger breasts, and the right size ass. I would imagine many if not most girls and women in America wish they could change something about their bodies or appearance. Men and boys as well. We live in a fix-it society exemplified in reality tv shows depicting “ugly” people getting a smorgasbord of cosmetic surgeries and then showing the dramatic “before and after” reveal. The plastic surgery industry is a multi-billion growth bonanza – with surgeons making big bucks by not having to deal with insurance – straight up cash please.  But dysphoria is at the core of this phenomenon, a cultural dysphoria we have all internalized due to our exposure to unattainable beauty ideals and constant exposure to the digital altered world where a thick instagram filter hides our imperfections.

There are many flavors and varieties of dysphoria – and it is not just a transgender thing either. It literally just means discomfort about some aspect of your physical body. But dysphoria is probably more associated these days with gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a special kind of dysphoria that is felt when one is uncomfortable in your body because it either makes you feel like the wrong gender or makes you socially perceived as the wrong gender. Gender dysphoria has been a known phenomenon for decades. Many kinds of treatment are available to gender dysphoric people. Therapy. Hormones. Surgeries. These have all been shown effective life-affirming and life-saving treatments. I wouldn’t necessarily argue these treatments should be seen as “medical” in any way, like fixing a broken truck. They affirm gender. They relieve that pain of looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself as the right gender. People who have never experienced it generally have little ability to know what it’s like. But I don’t want to buy into any system of thought that sees all trans people as these broken creatures in need of fixing with the doctor’s help. Some trans people might think they are broken but I don’t want to generalize to ALL trans people.

Why is dysphoria a symptom of modern society? It’s because dysphoria is a symptom of the hyper-sexualizing/beauty obsessed modern media machine that is Hollywood and American media at large, either in video games or magazines, to the models we see on the walls of every department store. It’s everywhere. When you see perfection everyday it’s hard to not feel like well if I had the money to spare maybe I really would like to have perfect teeth, or bigger breasts, or less wrinkles in my face, or a flat stomach. I would look younger, better, newer, improved.

Non-trans dysphoria feels like a tempting analogy with trans women who get “facial feminization surgery” which is essentially just cosmetic surgery with the intent of reducing masculine features and emphasizing feminine features.  The analogy is that the dysphoria of a cis woman wanting plastic surgery to look presumably more feminine and beautiful is like that of a trans woman wanting plastic surgery to look more feminine. Metaphyscially they seem to be very similar.

But we must be careful with this analogy. Very careful. Because we can make a distinction between healthy and non-healthy kinds of dysphoria, strange as that sounds. What kind of dysphoria would be healthy? First and foremost the kind that can be treated. If the underlying cause is gender based then there are proven treatments that often lead to easing the burden of gender dysphoria, though it might be present at low background levels or intermittent bursts. Second, in cultures that have a recognized social role for gender expansive people the kind of dysphoria present in those populations is not necessarily unhealthy so long as society at large approves transition and has the mechanisms in place to ensure a healthy transition.

On the other hand, the kind of dysphoria that stems from trying to live up to the beauty ideals in media and culture is a lot harder to treat because it’s based on a flawed ideology, an ideology of the body. Of what the body is supposed to be. This is also the root of cis-normativity as well. This kind of dysphoria is hard to treat with technology because the problem actually lies in the culture at large not necessarily in the individual. The media machine that spreads unattainable beauty ideals into every aspect of society is unstoppable and getting worse as our appetite as consumers grows larger. I don’t see it going away anytime soon. This affects everyone but especially young women.

But men have their own unique kind of dysphoria surrounding things like balding and muscles. They see physically perfect super men in Marvel movies and feel inspired to get a super hero body but few ever get to that level, just like most women don’t look like Kim K.

But I think it is these media-driven kinds of dysphoria that are unhealthy and thus different from the healthiness of gender dysphoria, which is rooted in concept- gender – that is absolutely fundamental to our essence as people whereas the beauty ideals of society are not core essential features – we can do without them thank you very much.

Last, and this is important, I don’t want this post to indicate that I mean to judge any particular person for getting cosmetic surgery. I support the autonomy of rational people to make decisions about their bodies as they see fit. And who am I to judge. But surely there are some cosmetic surgeries that cannot be described as healthy. People get talked into more work being done by overly enthusiastic surgeons during consultation.

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Filed under Beauty culture, feminism, Gender studies, Trans studies, Uncategorized

Can Trans Women Learn Anything from Drag Queens?

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Filed under Beauty culture, Trans life