Haute Off the Press: A Choice Debate on Makeup
Each week our no-holds-barred contributor Grace Gold picks apart a hot beauty topic. It’s our version of an op-ed—with hair, eyeliner and lipstick.
To lipstick or not to lipstick: that is the question. Or is it?
The New York Times recently ran a “Room for Debate” feature on whether the use of makeup helps or hinders self-esteem. Jezebel responded with a claim that before you even discuss self-esteem, the “fact” remains that women are socially required to wear makeup for professional and personal acceptance.
The claim’s author, Jenna Sauers, suggests women who say wearing makeup is a choice are likely fooling themselves. “Sure, I can imagine there are women who wear makeup truly and only ‘for themselves,’ who would continue to do so even absent any the miasma of social programming and cultural pressure…because it’s their choice,” Sauers writes. “It’s just that I don’t think I’ve ever met any of these women.”
Well, I’m Grace Gold, and I am one of these women. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Sauers.
Let me make it clear that I agree it’s challenging to determine the boundary between socially programmed aesthetic ideals and personal expression. We are all certainly bombarded with notions of beauty from the moment we are born. How much these images shape our subconscious and creative thoughts is virtually impossible to measure.
Yet women who truly love makeup often embrace trends that run counter to cultural standards. Think of cutting-edge looks like bright blue eye shadow, neon-orange lipstick and nail art. Makeup girls could care less that wearing them might raise a few eyebrows because they’re experimenting and indulging themselves artistically, in a similar fashion to women who perhaps use clothing, hair color or tattoos to explore personal expression.
Women who embrace the entire gamut of cosmetics also do it amid professional and personal criticism. How many times have women read or heard flack that such-and-such a beauty look is bad because another look is the best and only way to go, particularly if you’re a professional woman who wants to be taken seriously.
I still remember painting my nails mochaccino merlot in middle school (long live the ’90s!) and explaining to my perplexed father that I didn’t care if he said the boys at school would hate it. I wasn’t painting my nails to get a date. I just thought chocolate-dipped nails looked real rad.
And while the study referenced in The New York Times debate (and which we’ve also covered) revealed that people perceive a woman wearing a light application of makeup as more trustworthy and competent, the same study showed that the woman who wore bolder choices was thought of as less intelligent and morally suspect.
As with so many other areas that have complicated social implications for women, makeup can be one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t precipices.
Instead of taking a side and making the opposing perspective wrong, I think women would benefit more as a whole if we refrained from judgment and instead respected one another’s choice to paint or not to paint. Then we could collectively turn around and tell the world to get over it (that’s the PG choice of phrase), and continue on our merry way.
Photo: Getty Images