Purple and Grey

Musings on the grey areas within gender and sexuality, with a particular focus on the asexual spectrum.

Makeup and Gender Norms

Okay, so I’ve neglected this blog for close to a year now. I blame that pesky Real Life thing. But I’ve been meaning to get posting again, and today a friend of mine sent me this article, which inspired me to actually start working on a post.

The article is about a campaign challenging women to go without makeup for a day, in order to raise awareness about eating disorders and promote healthy body image. It cites some statistics that make me kind of sad: 44% of women have negative feelings when they’re not wearing makeup, and only 3% feel more attractive without it. I’m reminded, too, of this New York Times article, about a study showing that people tend to view women as more competent if they wear a little bit of makeup (but not too much). Why is makeup such a strong cultural expectation for women that everyone – both the women themselves and the people around them – tend to view not wearing it as a negative thing?

Of course, the issue gets even more complicated for anyone who’s not a cis woman. For people who identify or are perceived as male, wearing makeup can be seen as taboo and even deviant. For people who are perceived as female but might not identify that way, and/or choose a more masculine gender presentation, not wearing makeup can likewise be taken as a sign of deviance. Makeup is one of society’s ways of reinforcing binary gender roles.

This is not to say that people who genuinely enjoy wearing makeup should stop wearing it. If it makes you feel good about yourself, by all means wear it! What I’m really getting at is the problematic, gendered social expectations surrounding makeup and what we might be able to do to challenge those norms.

Personally, I’ve never understood makeup at all. I’m completely mystified by all those different-colored squares and different types of brushes, and the cosmetics aisle at CVS might as well be another planet as far as I’m concerned. On the extremely rare occasions when I decide to put on makeup for a special event, I generally have someone else do it for me because I haven’t got a clue how to do it myself. And on those rare occasions when I do wear makeup, it feels like I’m dressed up in a costume. It’s fun to look at myself and see something a little different from what I normally do, but I’m always relieved to wash it off and just be me again. The stuff feels weird on my face.

I do worry sometimes that people will judge me for not wearing makeup, especially in a professional setting. And occasionally I look at someone who’s really rocking the makeup and wish I knew how to make myself look like that. Neither of those things is enough to make me do something that just feels totally artificial and bizarre to me. But still, I feel that social pressure and it bothers me.

What are your feelings about makeup?

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