Morning is a battlefield.
One hour before class, my alarm goes off. I take 15 minutes to shower, 15 minutes to get dressed and put my things together, 15 minutes to go to my dining hall and eat breakfast, 15 minutes to walk to class. It’s not as regimented as it sounds, but I do have to run a tight ship in the mornings in order to get to class on time. Sounds a little crazy, but I’m not skipping over anything important, and I like to think that I don’t look like a slob. After all, I take a few minutes to look through my closet and pick out clothes that will let me present myself the way I want to be seen, as a put-together but not fashion-concerned, somewhat attractive, motivated student. So I pick out my clothes and walk over to a table upon which sits various toiletries. I take the five seconds it takes to run gel through my low-maintenance short hair, and then, just before I pick up all my books and put them in my oversized backpack, I hesitate. I linger, just a moment, at that toiletries counter. My eyes flick back and forth, glancing among the bottles of colored goo I know are in the sterile Container Store plastic container. And that morning, like every morning, I wonder what kind of person I’m going to be.
I know what my face looks like. I’m told I have nice eyes. My skin is more problematic. That’s just the way things are, the way I was born. But now, there are remedies. Medications, yes, but those are remedies for the underlying problem, and those take time and patience. But my face doesn’t look right, right now, and the remedy to that is to make it look different. That’s the point of makeup, after all, to make us look different, and right now, this morning, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. So I know what I’m moving away from, namely the vision I see of my bleary-eyed teenage visage in the mirror. What I’m moving toward is another issue entirely, and it is that quagmire of a dilemma of a tantalizingly simple question that throws me into the depths of moral quandary every morning, before I’ve even had my coffee.
I do mean every morning. Every morning I stand here, for a minute, thinking that that there are two paths, diverging in my tiny yellow dorm room, and while both of them may lead to my getting to class, there is a world of difference between them. In one, after all, I am a beautiful, composed, clean-faced lady, a true woman with heightened contrast between eyes and lips, with a shimmer of her mouth and green eyes showed to their best advantage. I am perceived more favorably, by friends, romantic interests, and everyone else. I am more attractive, more trustworthy, more competent, more normal. Because what woman doesn’t look like she dipped her lips in glass this morning?
And this opens up a world of possibilities. If I no longer have an emotional tie to my face as it is now, I am liberated from the thousands of years in which the only presentation we could give to the world is the one we were born with. But our imaginations are so much broader than that, so much more bountiful and beautiful. Anything I care to imagine myself looking like, I now can be. I can explore the playground that is the infinitude of possibilities. What care have I of coherent personal identity when the world is there to bound about joyfully, becoming someone different with each costume, each application of this or that technique. Today, I am vampy. Today, I am sweet. Today, I am professional. Today, I am a vampire. Today, I am Ophelia. Today, I am a man. I am tethered not by a broken, unfounded conception of self that limits me to a fiction of an essential self. I am large; I contain multitudes. And these multitudes stand in line, patiently giving each their proper turn, to appear on my face, to present their existential debut to the world.
And yet, it seems problema-
I’m not sure what gender traitor backstabbing false consciousness of a woman wrote this post, but she’s clearly suffering under the delusion that just because her choices feel free that they are unrelated to societal expectation and demands, that her ‘fabulous free face’ doctrine might as well be an advertisement, probably starring Drew Barrymore, for the Duane Reade makeup aisle. Holy commodification of appearance, Batman! She really thinks that no one’s interests but her own are being served by this antipolitical nonsense? It certainly has never seemed to occur to her that the makeup industry is fueled not by money or labor, but by a sense of inferiority. Sure, maybe some women put on makeup simply because they like it. But she admitted herself that every morning she wakes up and thinks that who she is, what she looks like, isn’t good enough for the world, and it’s beginning to be not good enough for her. The only solution, then, is to buy and wear makeup.
“Let not your face offend, fair-ish maiden. Let the body politic’s aesthetic sensibilities be not displeased, by the horror that is your visage. What kind of image of femininity could you be, looking like that? Don’t you know that Simona de Bovoir said, “You’re not born a woman; you become one.” So get on it, lady! Become the woman we all know you can be! That’s it, that’s the spirit, yup, just a little more eyeliner, but remember to blend; too much makeup just looks tacky and to be honest, a little trampy.”
But it’s her choice, of course, and I’m supposed to sit back and respect that. As if her choices didn’t affect anyone else, as if every time a woman walks out of her house with a natural, flushed, lively face it didn’t instill, in just one more way, the notion that that’s how women do and ought to look? As if it didn’t reify the hetereosexual male paranoia of going to bed with an attractive woman only to wake up and realized you may have fucked someone who is not, in fact, fuckable. As if it didn’t let every little girl on the street know that this is what she’s supposed to look like when she grows up. As if it weren’t exactly what the cosmetics industry wanted.
She also ignored the race issue, of course.
That’s my piece, I’m done. Back to your regularly scheduled blog.
Well hold on, now I have to say my piece, too. Leaving aside that you apparently don’t think women should be able to choose what they look like, and you appear to have fetishized how women ‘naturally’ look as some kind of ultimate good, and are also ignoring the fact that the problematic aspects of makeup you’re talking about apply far more to clothes and hair, which are even more regulated and certainly more expensive. You also totally ignored the trans issue, you remember, when we as feminists don’t constrain people’s identities to the bodies they happen to be born into? Because women have too long been identified with body, with the corporeal, the physical, and men with the mind, the cerebral, the transcendent?
Leaving all that aside, you’re essentially asking for women to be left behind, to suffer in their social lives, in their workplaces. You’re asking for naturally ‘attractive’ women to always have an edge over naturally ‘unattractive’ women. People have been using makeup for a million reasons for hundreds of years; you’re harkening back to a golden age of feminine naturality that has never existed, and frankly it’s essentialist and wrong. You’re just finding one more way to shame women. Let them do what makes them comfortable, what gets them through their day. Really, though.
Ok, now you can have your normal blog post back.
-tic. Not for the reasons you might think, but because there’s a competing image, fighting for predominance in the part of my brain that tortures me with images of who I could be, who I desperately with all my heart, want to be – fictional characters, successful women, my mother and grandmother, people I make up. That image is, as you’ve probably guessed, of the feminist I want to be. The woman who is secure enough, confident enough in her own skin, to walk out the door looking exactly how she looks, and not giving a damn what other people think. She bucks the trends, fights the patriarchy, and does a shitton of math to boot. Or business, or law, or philosophy, or building airplanes.
At some point, I have to wonder, how many perfect complete images of women I could be but never can be, because I am real and they are impossibly perfect fiction, can I fit in my head before I explode? How many ways can we tell women that they’re not doing it right? At the same time, how can we resist and fight the collective action-induced de rigueur nature of standardized appearance? What do you do when you don’t have the luxury of being overwhelmed?
I’m not sure, I have to get to class.
Beauty Secrets: Women and The Politics of Appearance, Wendy Chapkis
Pretty, Katie Makkai
Slip of the Tongue, Adriel Luis
Sex Neutrality, Mandolin
Always and forever, Ani Difranco. Seriously, go listen to her music.