Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing

By Quinn Davis, Intern (2011)

“The only way I’m staying with you is if you stop wearing mascara.”

Sure, I had dated some d-bags before. But this guy competed for it in the Olympics, won the gold and then spent the next six years touring the country so that hopeful up-and-coming d-bags could look up to someone. Plus, some cereal could capitalize on his success (Shredded Douche!).

(Word to the wise: If you’re dating a woman who has a future in writing, has thought about writing or has written anything ever, you should consider treating her with more respect than your collection of Kerouac books. Cheers!)

Okay, back to the Cosmetic Conundrum. Count Douchula and I had been dating for a year or so when he decided to inform me that I was “just not interesting.” This morphed into me begging him to stay with me, which morphed again into him demanding that I make some changes, including my makeup.

Was he allergic to the product? you might ask. Did he feel insecure about his own lashes next to my lacquered ones? Did his mother die while driving under the influence… of mascara?

The answers were no and, shockingly, no and no.

Now for some background: I’m not some spineless leaf floating around waiting for someone, anyone, to pick me up and call me their own. The short way of explaining why I was in this relationship to begin with is that I wasn’t in a good place during my first two years of college, and Monsieur D’bag took this as an opportunity to practice for the Big Leagues.

I could go on and on about this relationship and all of its advantages, but I’m waiting to get Oprah famous before I allow karma’s spiked tail to strike – for the betterment of all the rest of us, believe you me. Besides, it’s difficult to explain why a woman stays in a physically and/or mentally abusive relationship; that subject needs a discussion or two million of its own. Instead, I’m going to use someone who used me (schadenfreude is not dead) to illustrate the fine line that feminists walk: Fighting socialized norms while following them.

It was the spring of my sophomore year, and I had just dipped my toe into the pool of feminism. It was exhilarating. Every word I read felt like someone else was describing me – to myself. I finally understood why things didn’t feel quite right when middle-aged men commented on my appearance. I got how fourteen-year-old boys learned to have the gall to look me up and down whether I stood alone or with my parents.

And – most importantly, at least in this piece – I saw how the desire to wear makeup was socialized into me as completely and concisely as a cult.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my foray into feminism was the start of the disintegration of my relationship with Snap Crackle Douche. It helped me realize what a crap-tastic situation I was in. However, at the time of the Cosmetic Conundrum, the full realization was just a glimmer in my eye.

“If you’re such a feminist, how can you buy into the very things that are used to oppress women?” he asked.

To tell you the truth, I had no idea how I could. I mean, I liked wearing mascara. When I put it on, my eyelashes were transformed into these incredible, feather-like things that made me feel like a magical being. I was a friggin’ unicorn. Bam.

Of course, I now knew that this idea was tainted. Somewhere along the line, I soaked up the idea that unicorn eyelashes were what beautiful women had, and that being a beautiful woman is very, very important. All that shiz was subconscious, which is exactly why it was successful. Would it really work if someone came up to me and actually said the above sentences to me? Uh no, and it’s not just because I would have thought that whatever “unicorn eyelashes” were, they would make me look like a drag queen.

So here I was, caught up again in douchery, trying to explain why I did what I did. I lost the argument, spent the next month trying to find a satisfying lie (“It’s just a bet, and if I win, I get a pony!” <-not a finalist) and yearned to unveil the HOLY CRAP!-worthy lashes I had been blessed with.

A month and a half later, I sat in my feminist psychology class, trying to look and sound as awesome as the seniors next to me. Once again, feminism decided read my mind and explain myself to myself. My professor explained:

“It’s hard enough to feel forced into making a decision without being punished for making it. Believe it or not, a lot of people actually do like whatever thing society is telling them to do. You can’t socialize someone into liking something and then ostracize them for liking it. I know the media and beauty industry made me think that I needed mascara. I’m a feminist! But now I love it. I love it for me. I can go without, sure, but I just love the way it looks.”

FaBLAM! In case you’re confused, that was the noise of the logic bomb that went off in my head.

The point of feminism isn’t to proclaim how women should be. In fact, that’s the opposite of feminism. Feminism is about people choosing for themselves, without societal, familial or any other pressures getting in the way.

If you’re only aware of societal pressures on a subconscious level, it’s damn near impossible to make a truly feminist choice. I certainly didn’t when I first started to wear mascara.

But now that I was able to choose what I wanted while recognizing those pressures, I realized that mascara was one of my forms of expression. I loved my unicorn lashes, polka dots and pigtails not just because of how they made me look, but because it broke people’s stereotypes. They would walk in, see me as a harmless puffball and then be hilariously confused as the cuteness started swearing like a sailor, calling the shots and kicking anyone who touched her junk (yes, really).

Once I figured all this out, I went back in my mind to that argument I lost, just like everyone does. I would tell him that as a feminist, only I would choose the way I present myself, as long as it does not harm myself or anyone else. If I choose something that I’ve been socialized to like, I am no less a feminist than my Burt’s Bees and Birkenstock-wearing sisters.

And best of all, I would have actually said it, batting my unicorn eyelashes the whole way.

Related Content:

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22 thoughts on “Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing

  1. Interesting read, but the name-calling was distracting for me. You keep calling the guy “douche”, when all we know is that he raised a legitimate question. It might have been a dumb reason to break up (if it was the only reason), but it certainly made you think and evaluate your beliefs.

    Imagine if the roles were reversed, and a disgruntled man wrote about a “bitch” who broke up with him. Just sayin’.

  2. And this is why I’m glad I’m not a feminist. I mean why would anyone want to be a feminist anyway?

  3. Thanks to all who commented! My ego owes you at least a coke.

    @Amy: The way I see it, we have the same goal. We want others to be confident, and we don’t want to contribute to their sexist socialization. I go about it by emphasizing choice. Here’s why.

    I was stripped of my right to choose, and it was the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me. Getting your choice back is like giving a starving person a chicken dinner. You want to readapt Oklahoma to reflect just how great it is to get back with your surrey with the fringe on top. Doing something because I “like it” isn’t just some flippant thing. It’s a friggin’ revolution up in here. Holler.

    I won’t give up my sacred right to choose after fighting so hard for it. Besides, the fact that I’m helping make feminism more accessible to other women who are just like me is a big, huge, candied cherry on top.

    Also, I don’t wear makeup every day. When I’m makeup-free, I don’t lounge around my house all hunchback of Notre Dame-like. I am a hell of a lot more than lacquered lashes. Even though the idea of pierced ears seems totally crazy to me, it doesn’t mean I know anything about a woman with them. People need to see me for me. So, sup world. Game on.

    And um, FaBlam? That’s got to be a thing by now, right?


  4. I would tell him that as a feminist, only I would choose the way I present myself, as long as it does not harm myself or anyone else.
    Do you not suppose that continuing to indulge in altering your appearance with cosmetics may be harmful to the audience you seek to bring your message to? This could be particularly true of young girls whose minds are like sponges absorbing the world around them and with it gender norms.

    My young daughter will frequently comment on how weird it is that women wear cosmetics and color their hair while men do not and it’s probably not bold to guess that many children her age also see this double standard and take issue with it as well. She is, in fact, the reason I gave up cosmetics as there is no reasonable explanation to offer to a young girl as to why women wear these products. To make me more attractive? To make me something I’m not? To make my face acceptable to others? Every answer has the potential to be damaging to her young mind and self esteem and truly made cosmetics no longer worth it just because I “like them”.

    Your argument is interesting, even compelling, but I can’t shake the feeling that many things adult women do because we “like it” and it’s “our choice” are ultimately very harmful to the young eyes who may be looking up to us as role models.

  5. Sounds like you’re an individualist. I guess feminism is the civil rights response to society being machismo for so long, but to ultimately get to true equality, which is individualism. I never made that connection before.

    You can apply the same logic backwards to men that want to wear makeup. By not wearing makeup they are just doing what they were conditioned to do and get no guff for it (I’ve never heard of a woman telling her boyfriend he needed to START wearing makeup, the only exception I can think of would be with the goth and emo movements where lot’s of eye liner is worn).

    Then there’s the professional world which has a whole bunch of additional cultural expectations:
    Woman wears makeup to work – Expected in some industries, Accepted in most
    Woman does not wear makeup to work – Acceptable in some industries, Rejected in some
    Man wears makeup to work – Rejected in most industries, Accepted in far less (unless it’s 1800s France)
    Man does not wear makeup to work (but let’s not forget about shaving) – Standard in most industries

    Good thinking article though

  6. This is such a FABULOUS essay. I have dealt with a similar issue (a lot of people seem really pissed that I still wear makeup, even though I’m not looking in mirrors… argh!). Kudos for articulating this so well. 🙂

  7. Quinn, this is every kind of awesome. Great post! Totally agree. How I choose to present my body (or not) is my business and no one else’s.

  8. Excellent article. Too much of the reaction against feminism is because of the false belief that there is some handbook that say “Thou shall not…,” as in “wear makeup, dresses, heels, etc.” It’s about women having the choice of what they will do and won’t do, what they like and don’t like, without having to consult anyone.

  9. SO relate to this post!

    When I initially started thinking feminist thoughts 😉 I began to not dress pretty, not wear heels, etc.
    Then I realised I liked heels, I could not go for a jog in them but I liked them for certain occasions.

    Its so about choice and that’s it! As you said understanding the stereotyping and lies the media tells are important to then still making the choice to wear mascara or stilettos 🙂

    Thank You Thank You, for putting my complex thoughts into beautiful words for me to understand ME!

  10. I really can’t stand it when people tell me I am not a feminist because I wear makeup and heels and compete in pageants. They say, “How can you parade your body in a swimsuit for all to see and call yourself a feminist.” Ugh. I just can’t facepalm enough. Thank you for this article.

  11. I love this post! I’m so tired of hearing women saying “I’m not a feminist because I like doing this or that” – referring to something that doesn’t fit into media’s stereotype of what feminism and feminists should be. It’s bout us being able to choose for ourselves without being punished in any way, or having to be afraid of making our own choices. thanks so much for this Quinn!

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