Wednesday, May 02, 2012

In defense of garish

Makeup is an implement of the patriarchy if you're 13, a necessity for a woman give or take a decade older.

To the Prudie letter-writer: Your boyfriend "offered to pay for new clothes or some makeup and makeup application lessons." Think of all the Sephora-addicted women who'd be happy to trade Birkenstock clogs with you. Also: dude's sudden concern for your appearance isn't about how hot you are to him (your own guess) or his concern for your career trajectory (Prudie's guess), but rather how you will look at his work functions, or in a more general sense as the significant other of a dude in whichever job he's been promoted into. A key detail in your letter.

To the mom: permitting a 13-year-old girl to wear subtle, natural-look makeup, but nothing too garish, is not the sensible middle-ground, but is, instead, completely missing the point. The line can be tough to draw, but artifice tends to be either about looking pretty or about looking interesting/different. 13-year-olds, especially, should, if interested in artifice, go with the latter. Consider the difference between a 13-year-old with tasteful highlights and a 13-year-old with blue hair. A touch of mascara and lip gloss - for whatever reason, the consensus on what can be worn pre-high-school - is arguably less appropriate on a 13-year-old than bright purple eyeshadow paired with crimson lipstick.

Grown women tend to have fewer options in this regard - no need to ask the parents' permission, true, but this is cancelled out by desires such as not getting fired and using whichever anti-aging serums Andie MacDowell is peddling. But when we the adult women wear lilac nail polish, this is not out of self-hatred rooted in our not having been born with naturally lilac fingertips.

As for the patriarchy question... I'm not quite on board with the oft-repeated claim that women primp for other women/for themselves and not for men. A man might not be able to pinpoint that the reason a woman looks particularly good that day, but the reason could well be mascara. But for a great many women, shopping for and wearing makeup is fun. The same would be tough to claim for, say, dieting. Self-expression through artifice is an enjoyable part of many of our lives, and it's sad for them, in a way, that in our culture, men hardly have access to it. Men are basically stuck with what they've got, for better or worse. Is it a privilege to be allowed out barefaced, or to have the option of messing with what nature gave you? Is it oppression to feel socially pressured into putting mildly toxic chemicals onto your face, or to feel as though you must reject your gender identity in order to do so?

And please, don't tell her that makeup will "mar her natural beauty with unnatural products." The concept of "natural beauty" is far more damaging than whichever variant of face-glitter is sold at the local CVS.

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