Crushed Rocks? I Wish: A Response Essay on Makeup in Our Society

Lipstick Trap

Recently I saw a very interesting and read-worthy post by Ozy Frantz entitled “Other People’s Makeup Use: None of Your Business” which is itself a response to another article (I strongly suggest reading it before you read my response). It got me thinking about the role makeup plays in the socialization of women in our society. On the whole the essay is feminist-leaning, but this quote (which I originally saw in excerpt on Tumblr) struck me:

On the other hand, a lot of anti-makeup sentiment– particularly anything that starts talking about how “frivolous” and “shallow” makeup is– is also misogynistic and femmephobic. Makeup is a form of visual art. If making your face beautiful is shallow, so is making a canvas beautiful or a block of marble or a hunk of plastic. If you understand why someone would feel satisfied and happy when they make a gorgeous print, you understand why someone would feel satisfied and happy when their makeup looks perfect. I do not think it is accidental that the form of visual art almost entirely practiced by women is the one that gets accused of frivolity and where the talent exhibited by many of the artists is ignored or denigrated.

Back the truck up, we’ve got a word choice issue: “If making your face beautiful is shallow, so is making a canvas beautiful or a block or marble or a hunk of plastic.” This statement presupposes that makeup makes women beautiful thus implying that women are less beautiful when they are not wearing makeup. This might seem relatively innocuous, so let’s re-figure it in terms of race: “If making your [hair] beautiful [by straightening it] is shallow, so is making a canvas beautiful” &c. (see also Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” for a primer on the hair straightening industry). The statement is not so harmless now, is it? Now we are arguing women’s right to be less beautiful instead of the destructiveness of the dominant paradigm of beauty that exists in our society. We’re taking the wrong fork in the road and are looping back, we are making our case solidly within the paradigm, when instead we should be rejecting the paradigm outright.

Here I will say that I do not think Frantz meant us to take their statement that way at all, I believe s/he meant to imply that makeup, like art, is a form of self-expression and because of that should not be condemned just because it has some negative aspects … like body shaming, perpetuation of agism, and the proliferation of wide spread animal cruelty. S/he concludes the essay stating that “if makeup is so damn empowering men should have a chance to put it on too,” a statement which I applaud. I think a more productive step would be to allow (all) people to feel free of an obligation to wear makeup at all. That is the place where we need to get to next and from there we can talk about the empowering effects of makeup for those who choose to wear it because then the power of makeup will not stem from its “ability” to “enhance beauty.”

Now it’s anecdote time! A few months ago I was running late for work and decided not to wear a full face of makeup, just sunscreen and the tinted SPF powder I wear every day. No eyeshadow, no eyeliner, no lip color, no blush, and no under eye concealer. When I went into work my boss (who was a 70 year old man) asked me if I had a “rough night” because I “looked like hell.” I was aghast. I also never went in without makeup on again. This was not the only example I have from that job, and I am happy to say that I am not working there anymore, but I do not think that my situation is unique. In part because at my new job my new boss asked me if I didn’t sleep well because of the “dark circles under my eyes.”

When did my face become the property of public comment? Perhaps passing 30 means that men older than me now feel totally comfortable remarking on how I look, but I don’t like it in general, and I hate it at work. The only statement I am okay with in this context is if I am visibly sick and allowed to go home, anything else is unwelcome. If someone on the street said I looked like crap and needed to wear blush they would be greeted with epithets and a single finger, but at work I am in a position of powerlessness and that position is exploited.

I believe that society is largely to blame. Even Frantz, who was clearly thinking about this system, momentarily fell into the conditioned position that makeup = beauty. My employers are participating in of the system of reinforcement the society puts in place. But what about me?

In the essay Frantz states: “Women who wear makeup tend to be considered more likeable, competent, and attractive, which is rather unfair, given that the application of crushed rocks to the face has exactly zero effects on any of those things.” Crushed rocks? I wish. Crushed bugs ground together with animal fat is more accurate. Did you know that makeup expires? Find an old bottle of concealer under your sink and give it a sniff, you will detect an undeniable note of putridity. Smashing dead bugs and rotting animals into our pores on a daily basis is horrifying enough, let us not forget that our “beautiful” sisters of yore blinded themselves with Bella Donna. (Then their dilated pupils were considered stunning, now people would assume you just went to the optometrist.) I will not even being to discuss the colossal hammer of disapproval that violently descends on women who dare to wear makeup “improperly.”

So what’s the point of all this? To illustrate that even thoughtful people like Frantz, who are working to critique the system, are also inside the system, and it’s a damn hard system to get out of. I am struggling within this system. I only started wearing makeup at all in my very late 20’s, but thanks to the shaming I’ve received from older men in positions of authority, I am now hesitant not to wear it to job interviews, work, or other places where I want to be perceived as “competent” or be “respected.” For me, however, makeup is always performance, because I am always in costume. My authentic self has neon blue hair. My authentic self is perceived as “unemployable.” Still, I will hesitate as the eyeshadow brush hovers over my eyelid this morning, even if it is framed with sandy blonde hair, I have to decide how much I will let society dictate how I look: we all do.

Image Credit

Image found uncredited online, please let me know who it belongs to so I can properly credit it.

Update: Links removed because they no longer work.

11 thoughts on “Crushed Rocks? I Wish: A Response Essay on Makeup in Our Society

  1. ozymandias42

    Man, I was thinking of “beautiful” as “in line with the person who applies makeup’s idea of beauty”– I was specifically thinking of goth and other kinds of non-natural makeup. Evidently that did *not* come across. XD

    1. Ms. Bee Post author

      Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for your essay. It sparked some thoughts that I wanted to follow and my quotation was more for reference than critique. It’s something I enjoyed contemplating so I thank you for that. Your blog is really impressive by the way! I’ll definitely be back :)

  2. yourothermotherhere

    One of my sisters does not wear makeup. She also feels that women past a certain age shouldn’t have long hair. I do wear makeup and I do have long hair. Whenever she makes a remark about my makeup, I tell her anyone is free to wear makeup or not. When she makes a remark about long hair (and interestingly enough this is ALWAYS done in front of her husband who has stated he likes long hair) I ignore her.

    I wear makeup because I like to wear makeup and I do it for myself. I enjoy the ritual of applying it. I like how I look with it on. I don’t consider it a mask or something I need to hide behind.

    As for my hair, a tiny part of me does keep it long just because I don’t think it is anyone’s business how I wear my hair – even my sister.

    1. Ms. Bee Post author

      I have no problem with makeup at all (some I actually quite like) – which I probably should have stated – what I don’t like is feeling obligated to wear it or bullied when I do not; much like your sister with your long hair. I have to ask, has she ever explained her thinking? I find it so curious that someone would feel that people should/n’t have a certain length of hair based on age. I’m intrigued!

      1. yourothermotherhere

        I understood your position. I was just adding my thoughts. I’ve never asked her why she thinks women past a certain age shouldn’t wear long hair. I think it’s just because she doesn’t want to be bothered taking care of longer hair herself so she doesn’t want anyone around her to have long hair either especially because her husband finds it attractive (our youngest sister also has long hair about halfway down her butt). Without fail, every time I see her she makes a comment about my makeup and\or hair. Every single time. It gets wearing, but we are too old for me to kick her ass, so I put up with it. (smiles)

        1. Ms. Bee Post author

          Very interesting. It’s got to be something along those lines. I don’t think I could resist the temptation to lash out.

        2. yourothermotherhere

          She cries easy which I’m never quite sure if it’s real or manipulation, so I just avoid it.

  3. Theresa Kappel

    In the job market makeup can be a huge issue. There are literally places where you are required to wear makeup and have a manicure. I don’t wear makeup daily. When I do put on makeup, I go so over the top that people usually stop me and say “Are you in a Play?”. I’ve always felt this is a personal choice. And there are people who look beautiful in their makeup AND people who look way better without it. Makeup does not guarantee beauty. A few of my makeup designs I did specifically asymmetrical as it bothers most people on a subconscious level. Even standard makeup styles applied with asymmetry adds a strange and eerie effect to a costume….Also, yeah makeup made from some weird things! Check your expiration dates, and for goodness sakes never share makeup – especially things that go in eyes and on lips!

    1. Ms. Bee Post author

      I started wearing it daily when I worked in a bank. When you are handling people’s money they get so freaked out, I wore it after hearing about a study on NPR that suggested that all people perceive women who wear makeup as more competent. It was my attempt to get freaked out at less, ha!


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