Is It Hypocritical to Wear Make Up AND Call Yourself a Feminist?

I remember watching Tracey Spicer, in defiance of beauty culture, take her dress off during a ted talk and asking myself how much time I spent in the mirror every morning. At the time, I would *sometimes* apply a bit of concealer, touch up my eyebrows, and occasionally go for the lip gloss and/or mascara. Maybe 20 minutes? 30 including hair? That’s not too bad, right?

Well, I noticed during the last 5 weeks I spent in the States that I was suddenly wearing make up habitually, to the point where it became a staple in my morning ritual. In Europe, I spend many a days make up free, and I feel okay. I’m mostly self conscious about my under eye circles, but beyond that, I think my face is easy to look at. (If you came here for self-pity rants, goodbye).

After about two weeks of this new routine, I found myself asking another question to the girl staring back at me in the mirror: Is it hypocritical to call myself a feminist while putting this gunk all over my face?

It’s a good question.

One part of feminism is trying to dismantle these horrible hoops we as women have to jump through in order to be taken seriously within society… Namely, the fallacy that our credibility is in our appearance. Not only is it untrue and insulting, but it allows the meaningless things we do for our appearance to suddenly have hyper intense significance. That’s bullshit. Plus, it makes applying makeup feel like walking a tight rope. On one hand, you can’t wear too much make up or else you come off as narcissistic, dumb, and/or slutty. On the other hand, wearing no makeup means you’re lazy and unkempt.

As a feminist, I want to break down these stereotypes but in changing the game, we cannot forget that we live within its boundaries.

Here’s my take on make up:

#1) I like it. I won’t lie or sugar coat: It does give me a level of confidence. My dark circles aren’t the worst, but it’s not a matter of insomina or sun. It’s genetics. Those bad boys are never going away. I’ve come a long way in accepting my body as is, and I find my face more appealing with a little concealer. It’s my choice.

#2) It can open up those locked in social confines. No one should judge me purely based on my appearance (I think the phrase goes something like we should be striving to live in a nation based on the content of our character, not our skin!), but at the same time, if I can use my appearance to open people up to my multifaceted character (*10 minutes into the conversation* “Oh yeah, I’m a feminist blogger…” “Really?” “Yeah! It’s awesome!”), how am I hurting the mission? Everyone has their level of empathy, and when I meet someone, I try to find that. And once I’ve found it, I try to push it. I challenge it. Sometimes that starts with a little mascara.

2016 Update: In response to the young woman above

I know what you meant, but it hurts to read. 2 years later, and I’m not sure what I think the correct answer to this is. It’s clear to me that I recognize the power of subscribing to the male gaze… that when I look a certain way, I’m treated a certain way, and so in fitting in the box, I can dismantle from the inside.

I don’t think I agree with this anymore. If someone will only value my words when I look a certain way, that’s a reflection of their limitations and it’s not my responsibility to teach them to change. Modifying myself for their humanization is by definition, oppressive. It’s their work to change.

#3)Make up exists and if you haven’t been in a Target in a while, let me just tell you, it’s not going anywhere. And why should it? We’re humans that have the cognitive creativity to make our faces more “beautiful” with different colors and creams. Of course we should expand the definition of “beautiful” but studies have shown humans to be more attracted to symmetry, something makeup certainly does nicely. (These two are not mutually exclusive).

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Nevertheless, I can see how it is hypocritical to wear makeup and be a “feminist” under two scenarios:

1) if you forget that you’re fine without makeup too.

You’re smart and have character. You’re important. Just as important as anyone else. And how you look does not define who you are. I think when you are relying on make up in order to fully feel like you, then you’re objectifying yourself and perpetuating the mindset. So don’t always go all out. Pay attention to how much time you spend in front of the mirror. Watch Tracey Spicer’s ted talk about all the potential time girls and women have if they cut down on make up time. How could you spend yours?

I came across an article on Bustle where Tori Telfer writes against makeup, her reason being that makeup in general is, just, well, “creepy”:

Blame this rant on my inner grumpy old man (I’ll probably be screaming about Twitter from a rocking chair tomorrow), but the fundamental concept of an artificially enhanced face is creepy. Because although you might feel good in foundation, that’s secondary. Its first purpose is to trick the viewer into thinking you’re more competent, healthier, and more desirable — oh, and also that you have a great job and higher earning potential than your clean-faced neighbor. Anyone starting to hear a tinkling horror-movie piano? The choice to wear makeup should tell you nothing about a person’s work ethic, sexual prowess, or earning potential — all it really tells you is that this person cares about her (or his) appearance. But we take it to mean so much more; makeup tricks us into making judgment calls that we don’t even realize we’re making. Aren’t we sick of fraudulence and artifice? Don’t we want to know what’s really going on?

I have to disagree. First off, don’t her words have the same bitter aftertaste of slut-shaming? Secondly, I don’t think there’s anything inherently creepy about wanting to enhance your appearance. The part where it gets messy is when the definition of enhancement is skewed, which we can see everywhere from the television to magazines. The whole point of being on this earth (biologically speaking) is to be attractive enough to mate, then reproduce and die. Easy peasy. So let’s start at the root of the problem (social expectations of a woman’s appearance) and not attack the women themselves. I completely agree that makeup should not create any sort of bias for or against the person wearing it, but ultimately, you’re a fraud if you’re a fraud. Not if you slap some sparkles over your eyelids. I think we should expand our idea/ideal of beauty and let makeup be gender-neutral. Gender equality means gender equality, not more taboos.

Which leads to…

2) if you believe men should not wear makeup.

Seriously. Why can’t men cover up a break out or their dark under eye circles? Why can’t men color in their eyebrows? Lets de-sexualize make up! Because really, what’s so feminine about it? That only women wear it? Because that can change. I think its just natural to want to make your face look nicer to you or whomever you want to attract. It’s why men shave, yeah? Or grow out long beards. Or have short hair. Or long hair. Or a mohawk.

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo is about it. I also read a pretty good Bustle article where makeup artists threw in their two cents on a reddit before/after makeup photo. My favorite quote comes from freelance artist Caroline Cayetano:

I view makeup as a work of art, not something girls wear on their face to make them feel better about themselves. (Granted, there are a lot of girls who feel differently — and I think those are the ones who had a negative reaction to the Reddit picture.) To me, people can do whatever they want with makeup. In fact, the new makeup trends are crazy lip colors (blue, green, yellow) — who’s to say that that’s weird, or even unpretty? It’s just makeup, and at the end of the day, it wipes off. It’s just a form of expression. As women, we’re fine wearing sweats one day and Spanx the next; how is makeup any different?

Personally, I don’t wear makeup to hide who I am or to be a different person. I do it because I can. I do it because I love playing with colors and being able to transform myself. I love that we have freedom to do what we want with makeup. There might be many tutorials on how to get the ‘perfect’ look, but my number one rule in makeup is, “There are no rules!”

Ultimately, feminism is the belief in equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for all human beings, regardless of sex or gender (with intersectionality this also includes those of different races, classes, and body shapes and abilities). I think makeup can only be a barrier to the paradigm shift when people wear it without knowing about the subtle social implications of it. That’s a matter of education, and after that, if someone still wants to wear makeup, that’s their free choice. That’s autonomy. So let’s spread the awareness, open our minds to a broader definition of beauty, and let people do whatever the fack they want! 🙂

What do you think? Is make up another outlet for freedom of expression, or a limitation to our function in society? Why or why not?

Hi. It’s me. 2 years later. I see the points you’ve touched on and I think many young women could relate to your words. I do think it was critical to acknowledge that you were speaking to other young women who already fit, more or less, into society’s mold of “beauty”, i.e. thin, able-bodied, Eurocentric features. You didn’t do that. I think at the time of writing this, you didn’t see that. You did touch on expanding the definition of beauty, but not why. I think that wasn’t priority for you because you, in so many ways, fit in its narrow gap. I’m glad you recognize that now.

Overall, this article was way too simple. You actually had reasons why someone could be a hypocritical feminist for their views on makeup. It’s no one’s job to speculate why someone wears or does not wear makeup. You are not someone’s feminist validator. No one has to explain their reasons for wearing makeup to be valid. To wear or not wear makeup is that person’s choice, and that person’s alone. Feminism is working for a world where that choice is recognized and respected. A person’s humanity should not be dependent on anything, especially choices as arbitrary as wearing makeup or not.

You also upheld the gender  binary in your examples of how one’s views on makeup could conflict with their feminism. Men should be able to wear makeup? What about *anyone* regardless of gender? You know.. there aren’t just men and women in this world. That’s also a construct… like beauty itself. 

Of course, you couldn’t have known all these things back then. Your feminism started with the limitations you could perceive as the person you were then… and still basically are (mixed-Black and woman, but also loaded in ableist, cis, eurocentric privilege). This article is a great example of someone who is challenging the oppression because so much of the privilege remains invisible to them. The dangerous part about feminists like the one above is when they find answers for their specific struggles without considering the way their identities reinforce oppression.

That’s why true feminism is constant self-reflection and expansion. It’s learning about oppression beyond your experience, because often, if it doesn’t affect you personally, you won’t see it at all. Feminism is active work to learn about yourself and beyond. Find yourself on the spectrum. Most of us are not victims or oppressors, but a little of both somewhere in the middle. The fight is not simple, so there’s no reason to try and make it so.

2 thoughts on “Is It Hypocritical to Wear Make Up AND Call Yourself a Feminist?

  1. I have SO many feelings about that TED talk. I started watching it wondering what the hoopla was about and at first was intrigued. But by the end of the video, I was enraged.

    I know what you’re thinking….enraged is a pretty strong term to use. But that is how angry I was to watch someone complain about how much time they CHOSE to do their hair, their make up, their entire routine and to turn it around and blame societal factors and have her young daughter watch and ask innocent questions to pull at the heartstrings on the other parents and people watching. To gain a sympathetic ear about how hard it is to be a woman, mother and have a career PLUS having to “groom”?! She was acting as if she was the only woman on earth to have to get ready and wear all sorts of different hats throughout the day. She whined about how society is making her wear spanx, do her hair and wear make up but not once did she say anything about personal responsibility and choice.

    I could wear spanx as well if I CHOSE to. But I choose not to because I CHOOSE not to treat my office as a cat walk. I will dress appropriately for my body’s hourglass shape and 160 pound, 5’7 frame. I COULD do my hair in rollers to give myself more volume in my pin straight, collar bone length Irish red hair. I choose not to because that would require more time that I do not wish to give. I COULD wear a heavy foundation to hide my freckles on my porcelain skin and hide the dark circles under my eyes that my father gave me. But I CHOOSE not to. Because this is how I look and I feel great just wearing my tinted moisturizer with SPF and a little mascara. That makes ME feel good and that’s all that should matter.

    What Tracey failed to do was mention that she is also responsible for her own feelings. If she feels societal pressures then maybe there is an underlying issue that she is not loving herself to the fullest. Not that everyone is saying she should stop grooming all together.

    I am not discounting the fact that she is doing something outside of her comfort zone and that is great! Good on her for doing something against her own grain. But personal choices on grooming are nothing more than that.

    • Hi Tara,

      Tracey did not talk about responsibility and choice because she is not talking about the personal issue of this, but the systemic issue of a woman’s image in society in order to be taken seriously. Everyone has a choice in what they wear and how they groom, but we are social creatures and we live in a world that polices many aspects of our lives in order to be “accepted”. This includes the professional. As women, this can be hard, tiring, and for some women, impossible. If you’re interested in learning more about this, I would totally recommend

      Here’s a link I think you may find eye-opening and is the issue where much of Tracey’s talk stems from:

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