Oh gosh, where to begin.
The New York Times‘ ‘Room for Debate’ started it by asking the perpetually boring and irrelevant question: “Does makeup help or hinder a woman’s self-esteem?” and then they punished us all further by giving The Good Douche Project’s Tom Matlack the final word on what you should do with your face (Whatever you want laaaaadies! You’re all beautiful to Tom!).
The question, in an of itself, is stupid. Makeup is not the thing that will provide women with or take away their self-esteem. Makeup is a product of a culture that places a tremendous focus on women’s appearances. Women, in general, wear makeup because it makes them feel presentable (And we all know who we are trying to look presentable for, yes? The ever-present male gaze? Ok good.) and, yes, more beautiful, more ‘normal’, less sleep-deprived (i.e. more attractive), etc. The only way that makeup provides us with more self-esteem is in the same superficial way that Spanx provides us with more self-esteem — superficially and, therefore, temporarily. At large, makeup and Spanx aren’t going to make us love ourselves more, but they will, temporarily, make us feel more attractive or simply less repulsive to the opposite sex.
Full disclosure time. I love makeup and I love Spanx. I think Spanx are the greatest invention next to the Internet. And that isn’t because I think Spanx are even close to empowering or feminist or good for my self-esteem in the long run. All Spanx do is make me feel I can wear dresses I wouldn’t dream of wearing otherwise (because: insecurity) without pretending that I have time to exercise in a body sculpting kind of way or be bothered to pay much attention to what I eat.
As mentioned in a previous post, I wear eyeliner almost every day. I love eyeliner. But I don’t think it’s ‘just for me’. Clearly that argument is a whole bunch of bullshit. As if I could be bothered to put makeup on if I were living on a deserted planet after the apocalypse (Also that would never happen because I would never manage to be the lone survivor of an apocalypse. I hate camping and I assume the apocalypse would be like the worst kind of camping, i.e. no Internet or cream for my coffee). I also don’t wear makeup for my female friends. I do not give two shits whether my women friends find me attractive and — let’s all please stop lying now — we wear makeup to look more attractive.
Part of the reason I mention this is not because I think my makeup habit or Spanx-love is awesome and everyone should just blindly succumb to the pressures of presenting as appropriately feminine, but because I don’t believe that pretending that the task of being an acceptably attractive women (meaning, again, acceptable to the male gaze) isn’t, actually, a task. Women spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to ‘look their best’, via makeup, hair products, clothes, anti-wrinkle cream, etc. in comparison with men who don’t have nearly the same pressures. In fact, for men, if you have money and power you can get away with looking and acting like a troll and still have women throwing themselves at you.
So the question of “Does makeup help or hinder a woman’s self-esteem?” doesn’t really allow for us to go anywhere interesting with the conversation. It doesn’t look at the ‘why’ of the issue, nor does it allow for an acknowledgement that makeup is not going to be solely responsible for women’s self-esteem or lack thereof. Superficial beauty is temporary, albeit fun (Yes, I’m afraid I do find makeup to be ‘fun’ — in that, I’m a well-trained lady/consumer kind of way).
One of the ‘debaters’, Pheobe Baker Hyde, at least acknowledges that this question is pretty useless, saying:
This makeup question (good or bad for self-esteem?) is much like the old 70’s hair question: Should a liberated woman shave or not? Both questions prettify the harder inquiry: Why—in certain quarters– does going without mascara feel as subversive as kneeling down in front of a tank and singing Kumbaya? Why do alternate approaches to womanhood still surprise and threaten us, and why, 93 years after women gained the vote, do so many of us still feel like we are making important choices about life from down on our knees, the decorative flourishes of womanhood having become a required, yet resented, battle strategy?
Others, predictably, take the classic ‘whatever-makes-you-feel-good-momentarily-counts-as-empowerment‘ position. The whole thing, flawed from the get go, is pretty silly, yes, but the worst of all is that, for some inexplicable reason (Ha! Not really. We all know that white men are experts on what women should do in order to please white men), they gave the last word to Tom Matlack, of the MRA infested, porn-loving, rape apologist Good Men Project.
Matlack compares makeup to breast implants, admitting that “it is a less extreme form of ‘beautification,'” but going on to say:
It would be easy to criticize women who get fake boobs and men who admit to liking them. But the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Who are we to judge what someone else decides to do to her own face or body?
Of course! Of course we should make sure that women obsess over their appearances above all else, hate their bodies, and spend their lives running from aging and then pretend that this conversation is all about ‘judging women’. SHUT UP WORLD. This argument is the same one that derails every single conversation about prostitution. “Stop judging me!” ensures that every conversation about male power and sexism is personalized into an “I choose my choice!” concept of female empowerment and twists ‘choice’ into something completely personal and devoid of social and political context. Criticizing the beauty industry or plastic surgery is not the same thing as ‘judging’ individual women just as criticizing the existence of prostitution is not the same thing as ‘judging’ prostituted women. This incessant individualizing of everything is possibly the most successful derail of the feminist movement in history and it makes me want to scream.
Matlack concludes by saying:
So when it comes to makeup and self-esteem I plead ignorance other than to say women should do whatever they want. That includes my wife, by the way. As long as she knows that I love her most when she has nothing on.
So first of all: Puke. Second of all, WHY DO WE CARE WHAT TOM MATLACK’S OPINION IS ON ANYTHING? Asking Tom Matlack what women should do with their faces, only to have him respond by saying, essentially, “I’m such a progressive and open-minded guy that I think you should all do whatever you want because I promise to objectify you either way” is the equivalent of asking white people what people of colour should ‘do’ to make racism go away. “Oh just do whatever makes you happy, you guys! Just ignore little old me — I’m just part of the group that runs this sexist, racist, capitalist game anyway!”
I wear makeup as part of my performance of femininity and, yes, because I want to be perceived as attractive by men. This is not great, but it is, and I have absolutely no desire to give up my eyeliner.
I’m not going to pretend that this is what I look like when I roll out of bed in the morning and I’m not going to pretend that I am either doing it ‘for me’ or for other women. I like wearing makeup, yes, but I don’t think it’s insignificant that no men I know wear makeup or Spanx and that I ‘choose’ to indulge in both.
Women learn these things and that doesn’t make women who wear makeup or Spanx bad people, it makes us products of the society we live in. A society that Tom Matlack benefits from. What I wish is that we would just stop asking his opinion on anything. Because since when is fucking TOM MATLACK, of all people, an expert on women’s lives?