Makeup has become so deeply embedded in our society’s culture as a normality for women. We don’t ever question why women wear makeup, that’s just the way life is. Society has constructed the idea that using makeup is an activity women do because it’s inherently a product of being female. Even though no one is born wearing makeup, but only their natural skin, society has redefined the “natural” female as makeup enhanced. Women might not think twice about applying makeup because it is just a part of their everyday routine, but the irony lies in the fact that something technically unnatural has become a natural phenomenon.
Firstly, I have no problem with using makeup; it acts as a form of expression, is an art in itself, is fun to use, and can help with self-confidence. My issue lies in the fact that society has normalized makeup as a natural feature of being a woman and continually stigmatizes makeup-free women. Women who don’t wear makeup tend to be scrutinized and are expected to wear makeup because they are supposed to look like society’s version of a woman. Makeup-free women are criticized in the work environment, Hollywood, sports, and all aspects of life. Women who choose to be makeup-free are pressured to look “normal” or there are consequences.
In applying for a job, makeup is a huge make or break factor. A New York Times article discussed a study which showed that women with makeup were seen as “more competent than barefaced women, whether they [participants] had a quick glance or a longer inspection.”
Makeup is a marker of power and competence for women, turning makeup into a necessity rather than a choice of expression. Makeup is associated as a way to match the skill and authority men inherently possess in a patriarchal makeup-free world. Makeup should not be the basis in determining a person’s ability to be powerful, but rather we need to put value on the individual self.
The patriarchal standard ultimately creates a disparity when it comes to granting men greater amounts of freedom in the job market. Men are not overpowered by the subconscious pressures women face in looking blemish-free 24 hours a day; men can go to job interviews and feel less apprehension that their work ethic will be judged by their appearance. However, women will feel compelled to wear makeup for a job interview just so she can compete on an equal playing field with a man who has the same qualifications, background, and education as her. A woman without makeup might seem less professional because she doesn’t look like the “natural” presentation of a woman.
There is also a tendency to criticize women who show natural signs of aging. For men though, this is welcomed, as it connotes toughness, knowledge, and wisdom. On the other hand, women who age are confined by society’s expectation to look young and beautiful, yet sexy and sophisticated. Wrinkles, pimples, scars, and bags under the eyes are not permitted for women and can even hold them back from moving up the career ladder.
Our society has an incessant fixation with keeping women looking as young as possible. For example, in 2012 a photo of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went viral when she made a speech makeup-free. It resulted in harsh criticism from the media, with the Daily Mail stating “the Secretary of State appears tired and withdrawn.” While Clinton deserves the same amount of respect as her fellow male politicians, she is still subjugated to scrutiny over her appearance due to being a woman, shown by the fact that according to the Huffington Post, “as many people have searched…for a photo of the Secretary of State without her makeup on, as have searched for any information related to her leadership on dealing with Iran.” Clinton’s policies are taken less seriously than her own appearance.
In Hollywood, the media obsesses over women doing mundane everyday tasks without makeup, “exposing” female celebrities who choose not to wear makeup going to the grocery store or working out. This relentless and unyielding attention creates a shock factor, making makeup-free women appear as abnormal and lazy.
With articles using words like “shocking” or “caught,” it gives the impression that these women are an oddity and should be ashamed and embarrassed for not wearing makeup. Seemingly, even going the gym isn’t safe, with ET making comments like “Britney Spears hit up a gym…without wearing a stitch of powder.” According to society, there is a logical rationale behind putting effort into wearing a product that will eventually sweat off your face anyway during a workout.
This is also prevalent in women’s professional sports, with athletes feeling pressure to present themselves as “real” woman even during a rigorous tournament where makeup might actually hinder their performance by getting in their eyes and obscuring their vision for example. Women should not have to worry about their appearance being analyzed while they are competing.
If women want to look natural, natural makeup products exist. Ironically, the natural skin a woman is born with is not considered acceptable in a world defined by society’s perception of female beauty. However, makeup that makes you look “natural” is completely suitable. A COVERGIRL commercial uses the slogan “I want to look natural, not naked,” basically stating it is inappropriate to actually wear your naked skin. This paradoxical understanding of natural beauty continues to plague the media and consequently women feel entrapped, as if they have an obligation to apply makeup but still look like they aren’t wearing any. Going au natural is belittled since it is not performing gender “correctly” in accordance with society’s expectation. Society has created a new definition of natural and it doesn’t include a single flaw.
Makeup has developed into a natural feature of being female while subsequently erasing the actual natural women from society’s image. The constant pressure women feel at work, school, the gym, and day-to-day life undoubtedly stems from society subconsciously disciplining women into feeling like they have no choice but to wear makeup. Rather than advocating for the annihilation of makeup, society needs to stop holding women to the expectation they only look like real woman if they are wearing makeup. We need to redefine what society deems as the “natural” female body and judge women for who they are as people, whether it is with or without makeup.