When I first became interested in makeup, I didn't see it as a way to alter my looks or hide my features, I saw it as a way to further express my creativity. Similar to my interests in fashion, dipping and dabbling in makeup just seemed like something I would really enjoy.
The satisfaction of finding the perfect red lip or the perfect bronzy eye shadow was analogous to finding the perfect pair of boyfriend jeans ---gratifying, rewarding, in other words, sweet.
The feeling was so satisfying that although it took me YEARS to figure things out in the makeup department (and I think most of us know why,) I kept pursuing it, and I still am.
While I realize that there are many existing societal pressures making women feel the need to wear makeup, I also believe that the beauty world is changing into a place that helps many utilize makeup as a tool to express their creativity. It helps many come alive in ways that little else does. It's an underrated art form that often gets more flack than it deserves. That's why comments like those of Zadie Smith, and others often rub me the wrong way.
When speaking about raising her daughter, Smith felt disheartened when she noticed she was "spending too much time looking in mirrors." She promptly implemented a "15 min rule," for getting ready in the morning.
She mentioned things like:
“You are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a shit if you waste an hour and a half doing your makeup."
As a prominent Black British author, Smith's comments carry a lot of weight and were covered my major news outlets. But I found her comments to be extremely problematic. And I'll tell you why.
1. Women should have the autonomy to decide how they spend their time.
If little Jaimie or Joelle or John wants to spend an hour and a half on makeup, maybe, just maybe, that interest and that talent can be fostered into something that can eventually turn into a career. (And even if it doesn't, but it makes them happy, who cares? As long as they get their other shit done. 🤷🏿♀️) Apart from the obvious makeup artist route, practicing makeup artistry teaches one about color theory just as much as it does about patience + perseverance.
Why is something that has been pigeonholed as a "woman's activity," automatically given a negative connotation? Do we tell boys to stop playing video games because "girls aren't wasting their time doing it." No, we don't.
I firmly believe that feminism is not about being equal to men, its about women having the access to choices without meeting violence and prejudice in the process.
The choice to pursue a career in engineering, without meeting the sexist environment that world brings. The choice to wear short skirts and crop tops freely, without having to worry about the wandering eyes of men looking to take advantage. The choice to pursue a career in makeup artistry, without facing any stigmas about it being frivolous or superficial. Its about autonomy, its about choice.
2. Conventionally attractive people should check their privilege before telling someone how to be.
Smith's comments were annoying, but, ironically the impact of her words were crushingly coupled with the way she looks.
Whether she likes it or not, Smith is conventionally beautiful, especially for a black woman. Her light skin, narrow nose, and loosely coiled hair makes her a prime candidate for Jet Beauty of the Week in the black community. As someone with this bit of privilege, Smith's words on beauty come off harsh, uninformed, and out of touch.
Instead of criticizing her daughter, or anyone else for the matter, for being worried about the way they look, why not take a look at the societal pressures that make one feel this way. It's almost like victim blaming in a sense.
It's why I also took issue with Alicia Keys, #NOMakeup Movement (which she didn't launch until after she got her acne and skin issues under control btw.) I believe our time would be much better served tackling the reasons why someone with hyper-pigmentation needs to wear makeup in an interview rather than judging her for putting some concealer under her eyes. Our time would be much better served exploring why someone like Lil Kim, who was a gorgeous mahogany successful female rapper, felt the need to alter herself to the point where she is no longer recognizable, instead of placing the blame and onus on her for doing so.
In the past, society has told women that we need makeup to get jobs, or to get the attention of men, and then we wear it and are somehow we are wrong for it? Then all of a sudden our patriarchal society decides that being "natural" and wearing ones real hair is of the upmost importance, and "you gotta take her swimming on the first date." 🙄 It just doesn't make any sense.
Instead of criticizing the way people respond to societal pressures, maybe we should work on ways we can try to change society and alleviate those pressures.
3. Shallow pieces of advice do little to combat the depth of beauty issues that stem from today's society.
Our society is deeply flawed and has placed value on certain skin tones and facial features. This isn't groundbreaking news. This phenomenon goes back centuries and is marked with racism, imperialism, and anti-blackness. While I am the first one to say I love a good inspirational quote or meme, simply telling those, for example, with darker skin, who don't feel beautiful to "love themselves," or "value themselves," isn't going to fix this wicked problem.
Does it help? Sure. When it's delivered in the right way, from the right source, messages of inspiration encouraging self love and self care can help someone begin to see value when they look in the mirror, especially if that message is coming from someone who looks like them. (which is why representation is SO important, but let me not make this article hella long)
But we need to do more. In addition to presenting more diverse representations of beauty standards in the media, we need more spaces where people feel comfortable and safe being their authentic selves; which is why I can stan for the beauty community on social media. Although it is definitely flawed in many ways, the beauty world on social media has allowed so many people to find a creative outlet that makes them feel beautiful by their own standards. The beauty of something like YouTube, for example, is that people feel amazing emulating makeup looks inspired by everything from an album cover to a candy bar to potato chip packaging. (seriously.)
The amount of innovation I see on the daily is truly mind blowing, and is just one way many are reclaiming the beauty industry and redefining it in a way that works for them.
One of my favorite quotes is by Steve Maraboli (although side eye that this is coming from a man.)
Let's create spaces where we can be unapologetically ourselves, whether its with makeup or otherwise.