There is a concept, deep in the recesses of second-wave feminism, that to be a “good” feminist, one must eschew patriarchal beauty standards. I understand that, I understand the principle of rejecting beauty ideals set up for us by men (and women!) for profit and pleasure. It makes complete sense to me that we should not have to exemplify these standards, especially when nobody is telling men to wear makeup and spend an hour curling their hair in the morning. And yet, I just can’t do it. I love my makeup and my hair straightener and my designer clothing, even though I know it’s just a show.
Now, my politics tend to fall much more closely in line with second-wave and radical feminism than third-wave and liberal feminism, minus some contentious issues of course. I embrace intersectionality, and I don’t participate or condone the trans* hate. However, as I’ve noted before, I don’t generally play the fun feminism game. I’m a little too angry for that. I don’t want to buy into the disturbing industry that says I need to have a certain type of body, wear certain clothing, and paint my face. And yet, here I am, writing makeup tutorials! I’ll just go ahead and say it: I perform femininity, and I like it.
I’m really not the most feminine person. It’s not like I’m wearing heels and floral dresses all day long, though I certainly like both those things. I rarely wear heels; when I do, they can best be described as “angry.” I like aggressive, ugly platform wedges and architectural shapes. Most of my dresses are drapey, asymmetrical, or floor length, though some fall into the “edgy but classic” style. I spend my time in black, white, and gray with touches of subdued colors like navy or pale pink. My boyfriend tells me I dress like a supervillain, which pleases me. But girly isn’t feminine, and my style, while aggressive, is decidedly feminine. I follow fashion, I follow trends (or start them, in my sartorially devoid city), and I stay current with what the hip kids are wearing. I follow the beauty standards, at least to some extent. Like I said, I favor what most people would call ugly or odd, but I’m still industry-brainwashed.
Oh, and makeup. I love makeup. I have some major cognitive dissonance surrounding this. I’ve even made little compromises so I don’t feel like I’m betraying my cause. I have a ten-minute cap on hairstyling. I have a five-minute cap on makeup, unless it’s a special occasion or I’m going out, and then it’s ten minutes. While I blow dry and straighten my hair, as I normally do, I try not to use any products. I have oodles of designer makeup (I’m a NARS addict), but I try not to wear a lot on a daily basis. I give a fair amount of money to an industry that makes their way by creating unreasonable beauty standards for women, and I have a lot of guilt about that. I feel like I’m being a bad feminist if I feel self-conscious leaving the house with just powder on, but I have to go through the motions of filling in my eyebrows (use mascara, it’s a great trick!), putting on a touch of blush, and swiping on some powder. Maybe I’ll add some liquid eyeliner on my top lids. My mother always taught me, from even the young age of about seven, that a “lady” never leaves the house without at least powder and lipstick. I don’t care for lipstick personally, but the message has stuck. I can’t shake it, despite my ragey feminism. I feel like I have to do these things, and it almost takes the pleasure out of them, depending on my mood or time constraints.
Here’s the thing though–I don’t do this for anyone but myself. I suffer from almost debilitatingly low self-esteem. Hell, I’m recovering from an eating disorder brought on by that low self-esteem. I feel like if I can make myself feel better in a non-destructive way, then I should. Wearing stylish outfits makes me feel good about myself. I don’t care if some guy thinks I look hot, not that most guys are generally attracted to my edgy, non-sexy style. I do tend to get a lot of attention, however, when I go edgy classic, which generally means that I’m wearing very fitted outfits. And see, that bothers me. I am not candy for men’s eyes. I don’t want to be. I just want to wear what I love and feel great about looking good, because I think I look good.
I think there is some truth in those horrible lady mag articles that declare that women don’t dress up for men, they dress up for women. The truth is not, mind you, that we want all the other ladiez to be omg totes jealous, like they seem to think it is. Inspiring jealousy does nothing for us as a sisterhood. But I do like looking good for other women, and it’s because I know that women like me enjoy seeing style out on the streets. I have been accused on several occasions of “checking out” a girl or guy at the grocery store or at a restaurant. In reality, I was giving them the up-and-down because I loved their style. I wanted to take in what they were wearing, get some inspiration! However, I’ve recently tried to move away from the look over bit, because I realize that it might make that person uncomfortable. They don’t know I’m not checking them out, after all. So yes, I do dress up for other women in part, but not because I want to be envied. Stupid lady mags, always trying to create conflict”¦
I’ve struggled with this issue quite a bit over the past couple of years, and I don’t think it really gets easier. One part of me says I’m just rationalizing liking all of that “girly” stuff. The other part of me knows that I am navigating my life within a patriarchy. It can be a little of both, or just one, or none of those. That’s okay. We don’t have to make excuses to anyone for liking what we do. But it is undeniable that we as women have it easier when we play the game, and if I’m taking the easy way out, then so be it. We all make compromises. You can’t do everything all the time, as all those Pinterest inspiration boards say.