Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. —Edgar Allan Poe
Beauty is big business. In the United States alone, cosmetics companies rake in over $60 billion a year. Proctor & Gamble and L’Oréal alone have a combined global revenue in excess of $115 billion. That’s not even starting to figure in on what is spent at salons and spas. People want to look better because, more than anything, it helps them to feel better about themselves. Perhaps it is a little vain, but as long as the individual is doing it for themselves, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to spruce up one’s image a bit.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of people running around who think we all should look better than we do.
No, scratch that, they think women should look better than they do. Just try to find an employee handbook that tells men they need to come to work with makeup. I’d offer to wait but I already know you’re not going to find anything. Beauty is sexist because society is sexist and the biases and attitudes that were encoded in the 1950s have never really gone away, no matter how advanced we like to think we have become. Women are still expected to wear makeup, to make themselves “look better” than they naturally do, and an entire industry depends on women buying into that concept that they just don’t look good enough.
Men have never been taught that they need to do anything to their appearance beyond, depending upon social trends, maybe shave occasionally. You don’t see ads for men’s wrinkle cream. You don’t see ads telling men they need longer lashes. You don’t see men telling them they need to look “flawless.” Yet, women are bombarded with those very instructions every day and if they don’t succumb to those expectations, they can sometimes lose their jobs.
The battle between women and society over makeup is not a new one, but it may be reaching a fervor. Last year, actress Demi Lavato started a trend using the hashtag #NoMakeupMonday. About the same time, the hashtag #Iwokeuplikethis began appearing. By the end of the year, the two hashtags had appeared on Instagram over 10 million times. The craze caught on and big name models and stars such as Taylor Swift, Cindy Crawford, and Gwenyth Paltrow have all posted bare-faced photos of themselves. Of course, they then went immediately and put on makeup.
The latest volley from the #nomakup side came last week when singer Alicia Keys announced that she’s not wearing makeup. Ever. In her article for the magazine Lenny, the singer says:
In one song I wrote, called “When a Girl Can’t Be Herself,” it says,
In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don’t want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I’m made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem
No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe. But the truth is … I was really starting to feel like that — that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.
This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy.
Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn’t put on makeup: What if someone wanted a picture?? What if they POSTED it??? These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me.
The cover art for her new album is a picture of Ms. Keys, straight from the gym, no makeup, no styling, nothing. Of course, she’s beautiful.
But is that all it takes to undo decades of chauvinistic attitudes toward beauty? And, isn’t this expectation that everyone needs to be running around sans makeup just as bad as one that says everyone needs makeup? If someone else is setting the standard, isn’t one just as bad as the other?
Back in December of last year, Flare magazine published an open letter to Demi Levato that addresses that very situation. In that article, they raise the issue that there cannot be just one standard of beauty that magically fits all the women around the world. About halfway through the article, they make this statement:
It’s not the tyranny of makeup that women need to fight back against, but the tyranny of appearance. And when we post #nomakeup selfies, we’re replacing one beauty standard with another. Scratch that—we’re actually upholding an almost identical beauty standard. We’re just making it a lot harder to achieve by telling the women of the world that not only are they supposed to look like Goop or Rih-Rih or the ethereal goddess running across a field in your J.Crew catalogue—now they’re supposed to do it without the assistance of makeup.
And here women find themselves feeling as though they can’t please anyone. If they wear makeup, that’s feeding a negative stereotype. If they don’t wear makeup, they’re still feeding a negative bias that says they have to look a certain way. When does a woman get to choose how she looks because that’s how she wants to look?
Last April comedienne Amy Schumer took on the issue by parodying One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” and in doing so makes the point that pushing a #nomakeup standard is just as superficial as insisting that a woman must wear makeup every day for every occasion. Both are wrong. Both need to stop. The video is hilarious, so of course, I had to share:
Whether one likes makeup or not, what ultimately matters is that you look the way you want to look. Society has no business defining what is best, or preferable, or even professional. We haven’t even touched on the topic of modifications such as piercings and dermals. The only person who can define your beauty is you and if that includes makeup, that’s fine. No one has any room to criticize what makes you feel like the best and most beautiful you.