Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Late Blooming

Last time I wrote here, I was writing about makeup, right? I was astonished by the change that's become a part of me, the idea that, like a Kate Chopin short story in Cosmo, I've undergone some cosmetic awakening that's freed me from bonds under which I was previously burdened. I've been thinking about this a lot--how it could be that a change like this takes place in me, what circumstances allow me to feel good about doing a complete 180, and what makeup is in the world today, how it relates to beauty, etc. I've discovered a lot of haters, but that's mostly on the internet, and let's be real, the internet is crawling with haters, right?

This morning I was checking out TheRumpus and saw this video.

Okay. I am not going to spend my energy hating on this girl. I am not going to turn this blog into a feminist (or even biological) commentary about the relationship between makeup and mate selection. I want to point out that this girl is exactly the kind of girl I was talking about in my last blog: a girl who thinks about boys and how to snag them, and who thinks about what she does with her body (examples from the video include showering, brushing your hair, and you guessed it, wearing makeup) in order to attract a boy.

This attitude is so pervasive when it comes to makeup. Lots of women, and many men, suspect that the only reason a woman would wear makeup is to snag a man--there's little to no discussion of men wearing makeup in the small amount of online "research" I'm doing (almost exclusively YouTube video at this point, and some nominal book research), so we're working with a pretty heterosexual paradigm here. Men are bitching about what women do to themselves to be found attractive and heralding the wisdom and beauty of the natural look, and saying some really mean (ahem, misogyny?) things in the process. On top of which, some women are saying, "gee I wished this feature of my body was different so I looked better" or they're also saying hateful, hurtful things about women who like wearing makeup. But so many of these people are positing that the reason women wear makeup is to attract the attention, affection and provision potential of men.

So I said that this wasn't a biological treatise and it's not. But I do want to point out that for many of the other species on our planet, when choosing a mate, it's the males who adorn themselves, who go through battles of strength and supremacy, who preen and parade and primp, in order to win the affections of the females. Lions, babboons, rams, deer, peacocks--and those are the only ones I can remember from 9th grade science and Wild Kingdom videos. I'm no scientist.

I can remember my mother encouraging me to wear shorter skirts, to wear my hair down, in high school and college, in order to look more attractive. "You have great legs," she'd say, "you should show them off more." I always wondered why she never said that about my studies-- "You should take a creative writing class; you have such an aptitude for language." The more I reflect on my mother's influence on my upbringing it's clear to me that she thought she'd be doing the best for me if she encouraged me to have the life that she wanted as a youg person: if she prevented the pain and mistakes she encountered in her own life and helped me attain the things she wanted, and maybe never got in her own. I can't fault her for that--every parent wants that for her kid--except for in the places where she pursued her own agenda for me and sacrificed my agenda for me. But being cute, attracting boys, it was just not a part of my world.

It bums me out that so many people perceive makeup this way, as a tool in the box of feminine wiles that women use to trap men. It simply does not exist in that space for me. I can dig that I sound ludicrously naive, but so what? It's a shame to me that for so many, makeup exists in the space of a necessity in order to alter the perceptions of others--and I get the irony of this statement, given the reality of things like concealer, which are supposed to reduce appearances of qualities of your face, and foundation, which is designed to even out skin tone that may be several shades to begin with. But what if it's not about trapping a man? What if it's not about making others thinking you have perfect skin? There's a lot that we do for other people, whether they know it or not, but maybe makeup can live in the space of something that we do for ourselves. We choose how we want to look based on how we feel and what we want. If a woman has the right to her safety despite wearing a miniskirt, she should have the right to her intellect and wisdom despite wearing eyeliner.

I'm obviously still figuring this out. But the vitriol, the defensiveness (including my own) around this subject is both interesting and puzzling.


Julie K. said...

So interesting... you have me thinking so much about why I wear makeup and why I started. Probably there's an intertwined effect on my confidence and what I think others think of me... But sometimes, it's just really fun to play with makeup. A couple of times during my maternity leave my husband came home to find me in scrubby clothes but a full mask of cosmetics. Somewhat ridiculous... but it can be fun to experiment! Even in one's 30s.

Jessica Young said...

I've been wanting to talk to you about this, too. I can't figure out what I was doing--studying, clarinet-ing, probably--when all the rest of the 14-year-olds we knew were learning how to apply eyelinter.