I read a feminist article awhile back in which the author talked about her mission to make herself as unattractive as possible--her form of personal protest against the lifelong sexism that she faced from the men in her life. It was called Becoming Ugly, and it was a powerful piece to which I have no doubt every woman can relate. Every woman knows what it is like to feel the oppressive male gaze on her body, to feel like an object rather than a human being. Years of harassment and sexualization can be enough to make any woman want to look as ugly as possible, not just to feel some sense of peace but also as a proper ‘fuck you’ to those who only value us for our looks.
I know I have felt that way. I have felt the strong urge to resist and denounce any and all things feminine with regards to my appearance. At times, I have wanted to throw away all makeup and beauty paraphernalia--after all, it only ever leads to lingering stares and the belief that my appearance is all I am worth. But every time I try to throw it all away... I can’t. I can’t, because I also enjoy looking feminine.
I enjoy makeup and girly clothes and dying my hair crazy colors; I enjoy changing my appearance. Every time I am about to open that trash can, I think to myself: Why do I have to be the one to change something about myself? Shouldn’t men be the ones to change their misogynistic values? I shouldn’t have to look a certain way in order to be respected or valued. I should be able to wear short skirts, plunging necklines, and red lipstick and be taken just as seriously as someone who is covered head to toe and not wearing any makeup.
This inner conflict I have is one that has plagued the feminist community since the inception of feminism itself. Is wearing makeup anti-feminist? Or is it anti-feminist to believe that wearing makeup is anti-feminist? The various waves of feminism have gone back and forth on this issue, just like I go back and forth between deciding if I should throw my makeup away or not. Both sides have valid arguments and both sides can be a powerful form of protest. Which leads me to wonder: why do I have to pick a side?
This binarized way of thinking restricts women from expressing different sides of themselves and different sides of their feminism. Why can I not express the side of myself that doesn’t want to wear a drop of makeup one day and express the side of myself that wants to be a walking advertisement for Sephora the next day? I believe a more fluid interpretation of feminist values allows for greater inclusivity. How I choose to express my feminism may change on a daily or weekly or monthly basis, but feeling empowered by my expression, whatever it may be, never changes.
I am empowered when I wear makeup because I am expressing the part of myself that doesn’t believe I have to change my looks to be respected. I am empowered when I don’t wear makeup or look feminine because I am expressing the part of myself that doesn’t want to be solely valued for my looks. I am a human being, we are complex, our beliefs are not always mutually exclusive of one another; they intersect, overlap, contradict, evolve. The whole point of feminism is to treat all humans with respect and equality. So I will be respected for having two feminist beliefs that are may contradict each other, because I am a human and that is my right. I will have my makeup and throw it away too, gosh dangit!