Can a woman who sells makeup be a feminist?

Yes: it is no surprise that women are bombarded and pressured by the media to maintain high beauty standards every day. In fact, it’s impossible to even discuss the makeup industry and those who actually work in it without considering these standards, or the physical insecurities they can feed on. Many go as far as to believe that women who work in the makeup industry, whether it be by selling makeup or endorsing their products, are inherently anti-feminist.  

I hear the gasps already. But allow me to tear this disputable claim apart.  

Prominent makeup influencers like Charlotte Tilbury are known for selling their extensive beauty and skincare brands, as well as producing YouTube videos on how to use them. From her standpoint, makeup is a personal choice which empowers women and allows a sense of ownership. Indeed, when you look good, you also feel good, so why shouldn’t a woman wear makeup if it makes them feel good? Nevertheless, if a woman favours wearing minimal to no makeup, then fantastic! A woman shouldn’t feel pressured to wear makeup because everyone else does. We see some pretty outstanding and shocking makeup trends through social media (such as crazy contouring or over-lining lips) but we must remember that if a woman wants to wear lots of makeup or partake in a trend or two they have every right to. It is their face and a woman should never feel judged for how they want to look.   

Makeup should not be considered as something which solely allows women to look ‘attractive’ for others. It can also be used as a creative outlet of artistic self-expression, whether that be through creating character illusions for costumes/cosplay, or experimenting with styles, trends and aesthetics. If makeup is merely a suppressive tool to keep women confined to fit some twisted beauty standard then it is insulting not only to women who wear it for themselves, but also to artists who pride themselves in their work. Celebrities, artists, designers and entertainers we love and admire have conceptualised some of the most iconic, avant-garde and fashion-forward looks with makeup, which have benefited everyone regardless of their gender throughout history. Legends such as David Bowie, Prince, Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy, Cher, every contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Need I go on?

There has and always will be a demand for makeup; regardless of who sells it and how it’s sold, it will always be bought. Why? Because it’s versatile, temporary and fun! It is also your choice whether you want to buy it or not – what you put on your face is nobody’s business but yours.

A woman is not and should not be defined simply by their appearance.

Gazal Raii

No: The debate that surrounds feminism and makeup is a thought-provoking one. The original marketing of makeup was that the products existed as a way for women to make themselves more visually appealing. Makeup feeds on women’s insecurities but also on how we want to appear our best, our most attractive and most desirable.

Our sexuality and attractiveness seem to be defined by how much makeup we wear. When looking at modern society through a close lens, women ask their friends if they look good before going on nights out. Friends ask friends if they’re ‘fit’ enough to pull, asking for opinions on their outfits and makeup. These types of conversations show that women place a massive emphasis on how attractive they are, based on their appearance, and by extension their makeup and style.

Since Laura Mulvey introduced the term ‘The Male Gaze’ into feminist dialogue, the argument that women exist to satisfy the sexual desires of men has become a large part of discourse within the media. When exploring the reason for makeup being introduced into society, we can see that it started out as a platform to make women feel insecure. Undeniably, the makeup industry has a massive part to play in women’s sexuality, but is also a large contributor to women’s insecurities.

Many women express that they can’t leave the house without wearing a small bit of makeup, evidencing how makeup covers up our insecurities. Makeup could even be creating our insecurities because we no longer accept our natural appearance. Instead, we are constantly looking for ways to edit and improve it. We do this by covering our face in foundation, lengthening our lashes and lining our lips.

The makeup industry is worth $445 billion and can be seen to capitalise off of the anxieties of its consumers. Makeup is considered to be a luxury item; it is very expensive, but is considered a must by women within modern day society. Even when looking at the makeup industry outside of a patriarchal social setting, it can be viewed as a part of capitalism. Makeup takes our money, hides our natural beauty, and bullies us into a state of insecurity.

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Jess Barrett

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January 2022
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