Is Makeup a Necessary Evil?
As I write this article, I can hear screams of fury from girls (and guys) everywhere who swear that makeup is not inherently bad, that they wear it because they like it. Until relatively recently, I felt the same way. To be fair, makeup can be a great tool for self-expression, and it gives a lot of people confidence. That being said, there is a rich history of bias and even blatant misogyny that lead us to the way we look at makeup today. Let’s talk about it.
It all started in ancient Egypt, where makeup was used by men and women alike to communicate status. It was used this way for millennia, right up until the mid-1800s. Attitudes toward makeup shifted when Queen Victoria I, alongside the Church of England, declared makeup to be “vulgar” and “an abomination.” The combined influence of the crown and the church led to makeup’s association with vanity and femininity as society’s definition of masculinity grew more narrow. These perceptions are still reflected in mainstream views on makeup today, with cosmetic products being seen as inherently feminine.
Makeup’s roots as a feminine pursuit are outdated and sexist, yet the majority of women still use it. The reason why is complicated. In recent years, many people have pushed back against societal pressure for women to wear makeup. Most men actually dislike it when women wear makeup or at least claim to. In modern society, the choice of whether or not to wear makeup is a personal one. Unfortunately, it is not a choice free of consequences. Research has shown that women who wear makeup on the job tend to earn higher salaries. Choosing not to wear makeup can also decrease employment opportunities because it is seen as unprofessional.
From a young age, girls learn that society as a whole defines their worth by their attractiveness. Many girls combat their insecurities using makeup. They see it as empowering, and sometimes it is. Personally, I feel infinitely more confident in bold lipstick and a little mascara. The problem is that girls who rely on makeup to feel good about themselves often struggle with self-esteem when they take it off.
Many people see this issue as an argument about whether or not girls should wear makeup. This point of view is flawed because by focusing on choices made by individuals, it neglects the systemic issues at the root of the problem. Individuals who wear makeup are not to blame for the societal pressure to do so. There is no denying that the makeup industry is harmful to girls and women everywhere, but there is no quick solution to the problems that it has created.
While it may not be possible to suddenly make the negative impacts of the makeup industry disappear, there are definitely steps that can be taken to move away from the misogyny it perpetuates. Examining the history of why we view makeup the way we do and acknowledging the unfairness in our viewpoints is a huge step toward reducing bias. It is also important to be aware of how companies and the media manipulate people into believing that they need to buy certain products. We cannot eliminate makeup from society completely (at least not right away), but we can start by recognizing it for what it is.