Wearing make up has always been one of the most radical things a woman can do.
In an article penned for the Independent this week, journalist Julie Bindel claimed that women getting rid of their make up is a ‘far more radical’ statement than burning your bra. To that I ask, what is more radical than not doing what you’re told?
Makeup has existed almost as long as modern-day humans have. Egyptians used red ochre to colour their lips, ancient Greeks dusted powder over their cheeks and Romans used fruits as skin dyes.
And as long as women have been wearing it, they have been criticized.
By reducing make up to ‘slap’, Bindel vastly underestimates the exact power of makeup for so many women across the world, and across the millennia. The confidence, control and power that so many people gain from it cannot be ignored. For her, there may be power in going without it, but for many women make up has a different name; ‘war paint’.
If Bindel was truly a transformative feminist, she would have read about how the suffragettes fought against sexist depictions of prostitutes by wearing and reclaiming the famous ‘whorish’ red lipstick during their protests. Or about how a few short decades later, the arrival of large quantities of the same red lipstick to the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp became the first step to returning humanity and hope to the starved, abused Jewish women who had had everything stripped from them by Nazi soldiers. That tiny slither of femininity and body autonomy made a huge difference.
Makeup has been a feminist weapon for decades. Whether women have been choosing to wear it, or to not wear it, it’s the choice that has always been debated and fought over. A call for women to throw theirs away isn’t revolutionary, it’s incredibly anti-feminist.
Whilst we disagree on some things, some parts of Julie Bindel’s article are true. The pressure on women to look perfect, to be constantly working on their appearance and to buy more and more products to do so is a worsening issue in the 21st Century. According to Statista, the market value of the beauty industry in the UK has increased by over €2000 million since 2013 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/491298/beauty-and-personal-care-united-kingdom-uk-market-value/). Making women feel insignificant is a very profitable business. But attacking women for exercising their right to free expression is not a good way to target this.
Women wear makeup for a wide range of different reasons. To feel confident, to feel powerful, to feel beautiful. To feel as though you own your body in a world that often likes to remind you that you do not. Makeup has always been deeply ingrained in human culture, and probably always will be. Any feminism that tells women what to do is not really feminism at all. So, wear as much or as little makeup as you want; either way, the fact that you have a choice is what is important.