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I'm judged for wearing makeup — and that's a problem

Wearing makeup doesn't mean I can't be a feminist.
Updated Mar 09, 2017 01:21pm

I remember buying this beautiful lipstick that I knew would look amazing on me. My day was made when I applied that berry lipstick. My day was ruined when my friends asked me 'Kon milne araha hai' (Who is coming to meet you?)

I laughed and said 'No one' but they didn't stop. Perhaps they couldn't hear the irritation in my laugh, but they were adamant that I must have dressed up to meet someone (A man) and for some reason my 'Yeah, you guys! was met with 'Oh please.'

I admit to being very low maintenance in general, but I do love skincare and I'm good at applying makeup. But unless I'm talking to a fellow beauty addict, this interest of mine has always been met with confusion.

If I meet someone through my love of video games and comic books they are stunned, wondering how it's possible for someone who jokes about being a geek to be obsessed with highlighters.

And on the other side those who know me through makeup simply refuse to believe my geeky side. On many occasions, I have been told I don't look like I'm into video games. Apparently if I say 'brows on fleek' I can't say 'pwned.'

But I get the most interesting reactions when I say I'm a feminist. The surprise, the 'You're kidding' and of course, 'You don't look like a feminist.'

And since over the years I have become too unapologetic for my own good, I never shy away from responding 'Why do I not look like a feminist?' The majority will respond by commenting on my berry lipstick. Because apparently, my lipstick undermines my feminist cred.

We are now at a point where we want to say that we wear makeup but not to please men. Women are now fighting to be seen as individuals — and the struggle seems far from over.

Why is my makeup clashing with my interests and ideology?

Out of all the things women are tasked with, it exasperates me to think that I still have to answer for my choice of lipstick. We are talking about the right to a woman being in public spaces. We are speaking against sexual harassment from those who think it's their right to do so. Amidst all this we have to also speak against the stereotyping of cosmetics? Are you telling me I can't speak against rape culture in our society where the victim is blamed for the abuse she endures because of my berry lipstick?

What's my lipstick got to do with my ideology for gender equality?

A little history

The idea that 'lipstick=not a feminist' stems from certain age-old beliefs about cosmetics: We wear makeup to attract someone. We wear makeup to look good for someone. We wear makeup because we're superficial. We wear makeup because we're insecure about our looks. We wear makeup to hide our flaws.

We can't wear makeup just for ourselves.

There was a time when not wearing makeup was a statement. That time was when women were fighting for their right to work, when wearing makeup meant you're making yourself the perfect accessory to the man who's taken ownership of you.

A protest outside the 1968 Miss America Pageant - Gender Press
A protest outside the 1968 Miss America Pageant - Gender Press

The roots for this lie in the Suffragette movement where women wanted their right to vote. To be an equal member of the society. They had to be outspoken and make a striking impact to be noticed and heard. Before you mock them, please keep in mind many were imprisoned and force-fed and tortured for a privilege you take for granted.

But when women finally earned that right (with many fuming over this decision), makeup continued to be associated with looking pretty for the mister. Makeup advertisements played with themes of attraction, claiming if you don't buy the product, you'll never be loved.

From fighting against the patriarchy's demand of women dolling up for their men (by shunning makeup) we are now at a point where we want to say that we wear makeup but not to please men. Women are now fighting to be seen as individuals — and the struggle seems far from over.

Makeup's changed meanings

To associate makeup with anti-feminism is very two-dimensional, as is stereotyping overall. In this day and age, one should be able to acknowledge the subjectivity of symbolism. Makeup was a symbol of patriarchal hold at one time. Women who fought makeup back then weren't doing so because makeup itself was the problem. The problem was the patriarchal pressure on women to be clad in makeup. And not just that, it was to be clad in one specific style of makeup.

Now makeup has different meanings. Like fashion, makeup has been used for political statements. We're in a time when we don't want anything to be restricted for a gender. We even wonder what's stopping a man from wearing makeup.

Transgender activist Kami sid wanted to reach people through modeling
Transgender activist Kami sid wanted to reach people through modeling

Makeup even means something different for the transgender community. For many, after all the pain and torment they endure, makeup has been an aid to them. It helps them be themselves. And that is a completely different issue. Yet, when people think makeup, they also picture a woman. A very two dimensional woman.

I know I'm not the only one here. I know there are many like me who want to be treated fairly and believe in standing up for themselves and being their own person, yet want to wear eyeliner. I know there are many who strive to fight against the 'log kya kahenge' (what will people say) yet feel guilt in applying lipstick. There's a different type of log kya kahenge, it's mere log kya kahenge (what will my people say). Now, for a woman to be taken seriously for her feminism, she needs to not look like herself.

A woman's right to choose

Suddenly, all claims of 'My choice' have disappeared because I'm not choosing the correct choice.

It's annoying enough when everything we do is already being controlled by supporters of patriarchy. France wants women to take off the burqa. Saudi wants women to stay in the burqa. Neither looks past the religious headlines and sees how they have taken away a woman's right to choose. But if I speak against it, if I say, 'Stop forcing women to dress how you want them,' I hear 'You're one to talk, look at all that highlighter you have on.'

Their claim is that even if I say I want to wear makeup, this thought comes to me from a social need to wear makeup.

There are many who strive to fight against the 'log kya kahenge' (what will people say) yet feel guilt in applying lipstick. There's a different type of log kya kahenge, it's mere log kya kahenge (what will my people say).

I wouldn't deny that, if it wasn't too dated a claim. Those who assume my insecurities never realise that many of us makeup wearing feminists have made our journeys of... enlightenment? We recognise the socialising we have undergone which made us think makeup is important, and that realisation is what made our love for makeup authentic. We say we love makeup, not that we'll never leave the house without it. You may like painting on a canvas. My face is my canvas.

My face is my canvas
My face is my canvas

I thought being a feminist was tough because we're challenging so many social norms and conventions. I was wrong. It is tough because everything we do is met with scrutiny. Anything we say or like is overanalysed. It's already annoying having to be defensive when we speak about the patriarchy (An example is constantly repeating 'Dude! We don't hate men!'), now we have to be cautious and wonder if my love for berry lipstick is me rebelling the norm of red lipstick. It's not. I like red lipstick. Stop giving me anxiety.

It's all about choice. Women have been fighting for their right to choose. Be it choosing to work, choosing to be single or choosing to be married, it's always been about choice. But when it comes to makeup those choices are questioned.

Ads tell a story

Of course with brand advertisements constantly being called out for exploiting insecurities, one can raise the question; is wearing makeup really a choice? The decade long debate over skin whitening creams haven't stopped their existence and that existence proves the demand and need.

Brand advertisements have been deemed guilty of perpetuating these unrealistic beauty standards that many women have felt the need to conform to. Celebrity endorsements make one think this product is the way to become your favorite star. These advertisements depict a woman who is much happier because she is using said product that has made her the perfect example for society.

While we have rightly called out the repressive advertisements, we've also failed to notice the changes made in modern beauty advertisements.

Now, the focus is not on you looking pretty, but on the product. It's no longer 'This lipstick will make you so attractive' instead it's 'This lipstick has a good formula and is long wearing.'

From then to now... It's slow, but it's happening
From then to now... It's slow, but it's happening

Brands also understand our fight for choice. That's why the brands you'll find popular today are the ones with the most choices. The advertisement will show you a product and mention 'Over (enter impressive number) colours. Choose what's best for you,' and that, dear skeptics, is a victory I am happy to see.

We already have enough barriers to bust through in our struggle to be ourselves. If we want to get rid of the social construct that is gender, why would we associate make up as anti-feminist? That by default contradicts our core belief.

To me, the most feminist thing I can do is do things for myself. And trust me, my berry lipstick is for me and for those moments when I walk by a mirror.


The writer can be reached on Twitter