Is makeup shallow?

Wednesday, 25 May 2016


I recently made a post discussing the idea of 'makeup lover's guilt' where I talked about the shame often associated with loving and collecting makeup. In that post I asserted that makeup is largely considered a shallow, self-centred, and selfish hobby or interest and I wanted to dedicate another post to dissecting that idea a bit more and letting you into my reasoning for making that argument.


First, I want to acknowledge that makeup and beauty are fields that our society has deemed 'women's interests' in the sense that they are feminine and only for women. By saying that, I am in no way arguing that all women are interested in makeup, nor am I saying that men or non-binary people can't be or aren't interested in makeup. I just want to recognise the gendered bias of the beauty industry and the wider global community.

Considering that women are the biggest shoppers globally, it only makes sense that the beauty industry is an incredibly lucrative industry. Also, it's an industry based in selling you objects by telling you that you're not good enough. In a society where women are almost exclusively granted value based on their physical appearance, it's the beauty industry's job to instil in consumers the idea that a woman (i.e. you, the buyer) will not be pretty/sexy/valuable enough unless you buy the new mascara/lipstick/blush. Like a lot of consumer industries, the beauty industry and beauty companies thrive on your low self-esteem and your hope that more consumption is the answer. In this way, it's incredibly difficult to separate the beauty lover from this industry that makes money out of shaming and manipulating women about their appearance and equating that with their intrinsic human value.

I think when most people think about beauty, especially women who aren't beauty lovers, this is the model that comes to mind. Perhaps they don't have a particularly critical or engaged view with beauty industry consumption, but they get the tone and it makes people think that anyone who would buy into such an industry are also agreeing with it and encouraging this shallow and damaging interpretation of beauty and women. It's far more complicated than that. You can't simply displace your disgust with an industry and transfer it to the consumers of that industry. But perhaps this is the topic of another discussion altogether.

And this creates a dichotomy, right? Women are expected to buy makeup and fulfil traditional beauty standards but they are not allowed to enjoy it. As soon as you enjoy the industry that you're being sold every single day, you become vain/shallow/self-centred/selfish. What is the right way here? How are women supposed to win?

What I want to articulate is the idea that makeup and beauty products and beauty lovers are not the beauty industry. If you ask anyone who loves makeup why they love makeup, I would guarantee it's not because they are obsessed with their looks. On the base level, makeup is an art form, just like painting and I can't imagine many people arguing that painting is shallow or selfish. But then you tie the hobby to the face, and appearance, and it gets a bit more complicated.

Makeup makes me feel good about myself for many different reasons. I love spending time just focusing on my makeup and myself in an act of self-care and relaxation. I love being creative and mixing colours, textures, and techniques. And, yes, a part of my makeup love is the fact that I like the way I look when I wear makeup. It's self-expression for me in the same way that wearing clothing is; I think I look good and I feel good because of that. I suppose it's basic self-esteem. But the key to this is: I could not care less what other people think about my makeup. It's really nice when someone compliments me but I don't do it for that, just like I wouldn't stop wearing makeup because someone told me they didn't like it. It simply isn't about other people.

Ultimately, I think the belief that beauty lovers are vain or self-centred is another example of people denying women autonomy. It's another way to tell women that they don't really know or understand themselves. Instead of allowing women the space and opportunity to share, explain, and explore their relationship with the beauty industry, they are shamed and silenced and sold even more to! Vilification of women for their love of beauty is a simplistic and dismissive attitude that denies the complexities of a fraught relationship between women, capitalism, beauty standards, and (yes) the patriarchy.

What do you think? How have you experienced your relationship with the beauty industry?

xx Julia

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