Make-up and Feminism Can Go Hand in Hand

Jasmine Andersson
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It’s really hard to listen to passersby discussing their beliefs in moralistic vitriol and not being able to do anything about it. If I were in a coffee shop (like I was), I cannot pick a debate with the loudest group of contenders in the sofa area although I am able to listen to every single judgmental word they have to say. Safe in the confines of mob mentality, the conversation swiftly turns from the wide gulf of education to finger pointing fury. The main victim of this conversation, which admits a range of thirty somethings to seventy somethings, is the teenage girl.

‘It’s bad enough when the boys swear, but when the girls do it, I just can’t take it,’ one contributor declares.

‘They’re always swearing and I’m sorry, girls just shouldn’t swear.’

If the casual sexism wasn’t enough, whispering the words ‘fuck shit wanker,’ under my breath consoles me. I listen to the conversation unravel, angry and dismayed.

‘If I had my way, not a single girl would be allowed into school wearing make-up,’ one elderly male suggests.

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‘YES!’ they all shout in unison, fervent in their didactics. Every woman around the table wears at least mascara, foundation and blusher.

They leave the scene bonded in their hatred, whilst I remain, pissed off, dissatisfied, and pondering.

Why is it that teenage girls wearing make-up bothers so much of the population?

Looking back at my teenage self, make-up saved me. I understand that for many, its foundations (excuse the pun) belie themselves in patriarchal orchestration. However, for me, putting my face on was nothing short of liberating. I suffered with severe acne which littered my face with reckless abandon. Violent, red, and always bleeding, my face became game for every classmate and every enemy, the insults ranging from the simplistic ‘pizza face’ to the far more hurtful ‘with that face, I wouldn’t touch you if you were the last girl on earth’. At that age, I was an inoffensive, talkative, happy-go-lucky sort of individual. It took me a matter of weeks in secondary school for that confidence to be completely shattered.

Admittedly, I was on the youthful side when I began experimenting with make-up. My mother is a brilliant one, and I took on her advice that ‘lipstick is a tool of bravery’ in my first years of secondary school. Left with plaguing, scarring pustules and a remedy at hand, I started to dive into the make-up bag at the age of 12. Foundation and concealer didn’t just paint over my skin, they repaired the cracks in my confidence. Years later, I still wear make-up on a near-daily basis, now a minor sufferer with little chance of it going away thanks to the spectre of even more flailing health conditions. Do I do it for anyone else? No. I do it for me because it makes me happy.

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Of course, during this time I was met with a lot of comments even in my own social circle. Some frenemies boastingly declared that they completely agreed that there shouldn’t be make-up in school. In 100% of these cases, these girls had reached their bloom, spot-free and confident in their appearance. Several males still pass comment on girls wearing make-up in school. I find it about as invasive as a male passing comment on the regularity of my periods.

There is undeniably, irrevocably, a sinister side to picking up mascara. Teenagers are the product of a society that teaches women that their first and foremost intrinsic value is to be beautiful. Beyond any of their academic achievements, sporting efforts or general personability, they are taught in every scheme of life that they will be held back if they don’t look the part. That prejudice cannot be tackled by simply demanding that a girl has to say goodbye to her eyeliner, especially when for the most part that comes from a make-up laden adult.

In my school, girls were humiliated for wearing make-up not to the taste of their elders. One of my religious studies teachers once insisted that a girl wiped just half of the make-up from her face, leaving the rest to reveal what he determined ‘a tango-esque glow’. In a class of thirty immature thirteen years olds, this insult went down a treat. Now I am older I realise that he should have known better.

Another time, one of my best friends came into school with hair with a brunette/purple hue, wearing a skirt slightly above her knee and wearing a minor amount of make-up. Declared a ‘slut’ by a Geography teacher running the peer mentoring scheme we were attending, she was sent home because ‘she was asking for trouble looking like that’. Later on, her and the assistant headteacher, also a female, lined up the form my friend was part of, shouting at twenty odd girls that wearing make-up suggested promiscuity, lasciviousness, and unemployability. So much for a Catholic education of morality.

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I am not saying that make-up is the long-term solution to dealing with problems in female confidence, but teachers, and other members of the education system, should be the ones to listen to the patriarchal dialogue around us without looking to judge. As much part of the formative process of development as some of the insensitive teenagers that are the rhetoric of growing up, they need to take a tone of responsibility and nurture the confidence of those who decide to wear make-up – whether male or female – and desist this age-old, failing tactic of victim blaming. Class wide humiliation tactics are not the answer. Letting bullying taunts fall on deaf ears are not the answer. Insisting that make-up leads to a hellish gateway of sexuality isn’t the answer either. Educators should take responsibility for the jungle of secondary school education, adolescence, and the impossible expectations of beauty that modern society teaches teenagers. After all, they are in one of the best positions to stop it.

So, next time I hear ignorant voices of those who should know better preaching the delights of a pure face and girls possessing the traits and looks of porcelain, I have a response at hand.


About Jasmine Andersson

If Jasmine Andersson can’t be found scoffing a bag of crisps while laughing at the latest YouTube viral animal video, she’ll probably be writing about news and music for lifestyle magazines. Described as a "staunch, left-wing feminist" by her university newspaper two years ago, Jasmine has been using the same words to describe herself ever since.