What has my make-up got to do with you?

// 12 June 2012

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This is a guest post by Levi Grayshon, whose personal blog can be found here.

 I choose to wear make-up purely for myself. I don’t wear it in order to impress people, or to snare a man. I feel that this would be the case for many women. So, why are women constantly being criticised for what make-up they wear?

It’s everywhere. For instance, Tumblr “etiquette” blogs, including the beautifully named “hoetips” posting images that advise their followers to “taste the rainbow, not wear it”. Why do these people care so much about what make-up we wear? Why would it matter to them that I want to wear colourful lipstick, and test out eye shadow? The thing is, it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t matter what you want to do to your own face – it’s your property, not the property of your boyfriend, your Aunt Sue or the man who served you in Tesco this morning.

I find it horrible that in 2012, women are still ridiculed and put under scrutiny for what they choose to do with their bodies. Women’s magazines push their readers to spend their hard earned cash to copy Cheryl Cole’s red carpet look, but are barely ever encouraged to create their own make-up looks and embrace their individuality. We are constantly being pressured into being “perfect”, and conned into purchasing so-called miracle products which hide things rather than embrace them. We are told that our bodies and skin are shameful and our cellulite, wrinkles and even freckles are something to cover up. Yet these things are completely natural.

What is even more contradictory is the fact that we are encouraged to feel nothing but embarrassment over our natural selves. Body hair? Yuck, wax that off. If you don’t then you are a freak. You must endure a bit of pain in order to be “normal”. Pale skin? Quick, cover it up in fake tan. Not too much though, or you’ll look like a dirty slag. Seemingly, there are strict criteria that women must meet. Too much make-up means that we are fake and “slutty”. Not enough means that we are lazy and “manly”. It’s almost as though we have to fit into a narrow bracket to be accepted as a woman.

Shows such as Snog, Marry, Avoid also baffle me. The women who go on the show are stripped of their “fakery”, called names and battered with wet wipes. They are completely stripped of their individuality, and guess how the success of the makeover is measured? Their picture is shown to a cluster of male passers-by who rate the women on the scale of whether they would snog, marry or avoid them.

Is it just me who finds this a bit… well, disturbing?

A woman does not base her looks solely on impressing possible suitors. I, for one, use the way that I dress, do my hair and wear my make-up to express myself. I don’t do it to warrant honks from louts in Fiat Puntos, or gropes at the bar. We should be able to look the way that we want to without constantly being judged for it. Whether that judgement is getting street harassed on the way to the cash machine and being told that you look “up for it”, or being looked upon disapprovingly because you ditched the lipgloss and hair straighteners for a day. For instance, when I had platinum blonde hair I got harassed when I was out and about twice as much as I do now that I have dark hair. I also got a lot more funny looks off fellow women for some reason. Why the hell should I get judged on my hair colour?

What I am trying to say is just this: women need to stop getting judged on what they look like. I don’t care if that lady across the road has a big fat bum and an orange face. No one deserves to have their confidence knocked by people that they don’t even know. Women are more than just a face and a body, they are people. It is nauseating being told how to apply our make-up, style our hair and what to eat to achieve the perfect “bikini body”. The way we look isn’t what defines us, and is just one of the many parts of us that make us interesting people. Does “too much” eyeliner make us a bad person? No.

Close-up photo of a range of different coloured eye shadows by kurafire, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

MarinaS // Posted 12 June 2012 at 11:09 am

Well meaning, but misjudged. I mean, I’ve given up make-up, shaving and other hallmarks of performed femininity, and even I don’t have your confidence that I dress purely for myself and am entirely immune to the crushing burden of indoctrination that surrounds me. Also, “women need to stop getting judged”? I think you mean “people need to stop judging women”. It’s not a whoopsie that happens to the careless while they’re walking down the street; it’s a fundamental part of the gender ideology that underpins patriarchy.

Laura // Posted 12 June 2012 at 11:58 am

MarinaS – That’s clearly what the author meant, she just wrote it in a different way. Also, the focus of the piece is that women shouldn’t be judged for their appearance, end of – regardless of the reasons why they engage in certain beauty practices. I think that’s something that can be lost in feminist debates around choice v. socialisation/indoctrination.

IronFly // Posted 12 June 2012 at 11:59 am

“Women are more than just a face and a body, they are people.”

You know, when I watch TV and read those nasty women’s magazines that’s the only impression I get. Women who have made interesting lives for themselves, have jobs they love or interesting hobbies or personal projects and feel fulfilled (basically, people with well-rounded lives) – they’re anomalies, not the norm. Also, women who don’t care much about how they look don’t get on the telly or film or whatnot, do they? Or if they do, they get insulted for it.

Also, being valued on your looks is encouraged from an early age. Lots of women have grown up with self-esteem that evolved from getting compliments from other people (be that other women or men)…and so they encourage it in their daughters, teaching them how to pose “sexy” when they’re just kids, as if that’s the only way to make them feel good.

It’s a vicious circle, and the sooner you see how damaging it is the sooner you can leave it. :)

Nicola // Posted 12 June 2012 at 12:35 pm


I always find it a little bit naive when i hear women say they wear make up/shave etc purely for themselves. I don’t believe we can live in a social Vaccum, we live in an extremely consumerist society where women are sold/told what is acceptable on almost all levels of their lives.

I very rarely wear make up, when I do, it’s important that I’m being honest with myself – I’m doing it to conform to a particular notion of beauty.

Of course as feminists we know women should not be judged on appearance, but while we continue to buy into this consumerist male dictated view of attractiveness (and that includes make up) we are really just kidding ourselves.

Lindsey Spilman // Posted 12 June 2012 at 12:36 pm

The reason why there are magazines and expensive products is because people buy them, they capitalise on peoples insecuritys, they always have and will until you stop having the insecuritys and stop buying the products. As for women judging each other, this is a bigger problem then men doing it. I think that the reason why many think women do make up and stuff for men is because many women dont like wearing the stuff and may have thought they had to to get a man at some point in there life. Ive just had my hair cut short after almost a dacade of wearing it longer and tied up. Ive not changed my clothing style since, and ive never worn make up. Already im finding women to glare at me less. The only problem now is i get the feeling everyone knows im a lesbian, which is annoying simply because i think that women should be able to dress anyway they want without these assumptions being made.

MandyM // Posted 12 June 2012 at 4:17 pm

I thought that the first few seasons of Snog, Marry, Avoid were actually a lot better. I found the concept quite strange at first, but it was handled well – the ‘makeunder’ encouraged people to think about their own identity that didn’t need to conform to the expected conventions around them (lots of fake tan, makeup and so on). They did a follow-up with people who had a ‘makeunder’ which usually focused on what they took away from the experienced and how that helped them change their look, or if it made them happy to stick with what they had before – it didn’t judge them on it and it all felt pretty open. Also they made sure to include at least one instance in every show of someone who did feel comfortable and happy with what they had and declined a make-under, which was accepted as a viable and positive decision.

Still can’t agree with the whole ‘Snog/Marry/Avoid’ that they do though – it feels nasty.

Lisa Whelan // Posted 12 June 2012 at 5:46 pm

As a semi-related story, during a maths class when I was in year 9 at secondary school (top set and everything) all of the girls were sent for, removed from the class and taken to the hall. Following this, we were given an hour-long lecture on how to apply make-up that would look “natural” (ironic right?) in order to get ahead in the job interviews of our future. (Not that a good grade in maths would do that, seeing as we’re women.)

The teachers seemed to think we were receiving valuable advice here, the lecture was not optional, and I was given detention for talking back to the people (from Boots) who’d been sent to talk to us! (As an aside: they criticised my “heavy” eyeliner! Grr.)

Whilst I am for make-up, for the self-expression side of it, I avoid foundation and concealer as I am against the idea of “hiding” parts of yourself rather than accentuating them. (Although I also happen to think I’m blessed with mega skin. Dunno if that’s confidence or genes though!)

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 12 June 2012 at 10:59 pm

I don’t wear make-up everyday, I have roscea so it’s kind of asking for trouble if I was to do that. So when I do wear it I go a bit crazy, bright, bright lipstick is my favourite. Wearing make-up is a luxery for me and I really don’t give a rat’s arse what people think. snog marry avoid would be well battering me with the wet wipes!

I’m pale skinned and I choose not to wear fake tan which I have been cristisized for, as if it’s a life or death situation. Apprantly my jet black hair is too harsh for my skin tone as well. People thinking they have a right to critisize how I choose to look is one of the reasons I got into feminism, because I started to think; Who actually makes these beauty rules? And why do women get such such a hard bloody time when they dare to break them?

Zoë // Posted 13 June 2012 at 12:54 am

‘I choose to wear make-up purely for myself’ the fact that very very few woman would wear make-up when they are alone in the house surely disproves the ‘I do it purely for myself’ theory. I find it unbelievable the author does this. The very start of this article makes other women and feminist who do wear make-up for other people feel pretty shit about it and starts up that whole ‘im more of a feminist that u because i dont wear make-up, im more than a feminist than you because i wear it for me’.

Lets be honest most almost everyone wears make-up because through years of social conditioning we’ve been taught to believe we are more attractive in it (attractive to other people). Its very difficult to escape and i don’t think we should be made to feel guilty about it – or have any illusions as to why we wear make up – its not for us, its for everyone else (if you think its for you, your fooling yourself).

The author is right we shouldn’t as a society be criticising people for what make up they wear, but i cant for the life of me understand why she would start this article with that statement. It discredited the entire article for me.

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 13 June 2012 at 1:10 am

An interesting question re our physical appearance can be asked if you imagine yourself alone on a desert island…would you care about the way you looked if you were not being observed by anyone? Of course our outward appearance is influenced by external factors…other than our own reflection, when do we ever look at ourselves? We are constantly judged & we constantly judge.

Alice // Posted 13 June 2012 at 2:01 am

This is really weird because I wrote a blog entry about this a few days ago.

http://flowersandfeminism.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/snog-marry-avoid-and-the-demonisation-of-overt-fakery-2/ if anyone’s interested :)

This is a good article. I wear make up and I wish I didn’t care about the way I look, but I do. That is probably society’s fault but I guess I’ll never know, and while foundation exists I’m much happier wearing it than not. I am a student who is surrounded by the critical gaze of other people who have embraced make-up. I enjoy sleeping with attractive men and go out of my way to look attractive for them. I’ve adapted myself to the social milieu, and although I’ll freely admit that I am conforming, I’ve tried not conforming in that environment and just felt disgusting.

I often go for a slightly darker tone than my natural skin colour – due to people asking if I’m ill on the rare occasions that I don’t wear it – but apparently that’s more fake than the same layer of foundation in a slightly different shade. One is judged “natural”; the other is “fakery”. I also wear hair extensions sometimes, after a bad stylist frazzled my already damaged hair, and according to Snog Marry Avoid this is a heinous crime. I’m fake, disgusting and don’t deserve male attention (ironically the show’s presenter tries just as hard as the women she slates, but just makes it look like she never tried).

Jonathan // Posted 13 June 2012 at 10:11 am

As someone who believes in the multiplicity of human gender – i.e. that “femininity” and “masculinity” are facets of the human population, rather than being discretely divided according to binary sex – I support any woman’s right to choose the cultural tropes of femininity for herself, in the same way that I claim my own right to do so as a man.

I just wish that those who choose not to adopt “culturally appropriate” gender expression were more visible and better supported by those who do. The concept of choice is only valid if people are truly free to make it and, first of all, realize that a choice even exists.

(And on a personal note: the ubiquity of heteronormative femininity and masculinity in contemporary culture makes me … tired.)

IronFly // Posted 13 June 2012 at 12:03 pm

Maybe the author meant: I don’t *consciously* wear it for others but there are subconscious elements involved, OR, maybe the author was being completely honest – some people seem to enjoy a wearing and experimenting with make up in the same way some enjoy playing with fashion (whereas some of us couldn’t possibly understand why you’d wanna put so much effort into your clothes *unless* it’s to show off to others)….hope that makes sense. It’s hard to understand other people’s motivations sometimes.

Clare // Posted 13 June 2012 at 10:11 pm

I have watched one or two snog/marry/avoids that have almost made me cry, in a good way. I remember one in particular with Bianca Gascoigne, a woman who is often paraded in gossip mags etc. From the programme you could see how low these girls’ self esteem was and to see them realise that they are beautiful, both with and without the layers of make up got me all emotional. It actually helped me to empathise more with people who wear a lot more make up than I do, as previously I may have found myself quite intimidated by women I have come into contact with who wear more make up and obviously take more pride in their appearance than I do.

I would also say that I feel I wear make up, certainly more for me than I do to attract a partner (and not just because I have a lovely man in my life who for some reason thinks I look more attractive first thing in the morning with my hair out at every conceivable angle). When going out I like to put on the brightest most contrasting eye shadows, lip sticks and glitters, because bright cheerful colours make me feel bright and cheerful too.

Catherine // Posted 15 June 2012 at 8:49 am

For myself, wearing make-up can be both for my benefit and for others and this is true of some of my male friends (admittedly, gay men but not averse to a bit of tinted moisturiser or an eyelash tint) I am middle-aged so can look a little colourless and tired without a bit of lippie so I suppose I am conforming to the ideal of youth=beauty. On the other hand, my toe nails are always painted regardless of whether anyone can see my little pigs (blackish red for winter, scarlet for summer). I was a proper goth as a youngster so can testify that make-up is not just about conforming to Western ideals of femininity, it’s also about performance and playing with identity. And I still have a soft spot for a bloke who plays with make-up…

Kayl // Posted 17 June 2012 at 10:04 pm

I’ve read some surveys which say that a disturbing number of women don’t let their partners see them without make up or leave the house without make up. This suggests that a lot of people feel extremely insecure about themselves. The beauty industry makes people feel insecure about themselves so that they buy more products. I think that a lot of people kind of kid themselves into thinking that they do it for themselves – I certainly did – so I think that it’s important to try to get people to question why they actually do certain things. Sometimes I see women wearing so much make-up it’s almost as though you could peel off their face. It makes me feel sad that people have so little confidence that they can’t leave the house without wearing a mask. I don’t think that this article draws enough attention to the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to grow up without internalising social pressures to look a certain way.

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