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A little bit of lippy does you good

Wearing makeup is a sin against feminism, according to Julie Bindel. Get a life, say I

I've been meaning to comment for some time about this article I read in the Guardian a while ago.

I don't know why I bother reading Julie Bindel at all, actually. She's one of those tedious women who think that being lesbian makes them better feminists than the rest of us, and that being feminist makes them better lesbians. The object of her scorn in this article, however, is makeup, and by extension the women who wear it. 

We all know, surely, that makeup isn't necessary to one's happiness, but really it's a bit cheeky to treat anyone who wears it as if they're some sort of unliberated, downtrodden stooge to the patriarchy.This is such an OLD argument now that women really should be yards past it and on to worrying about more serious issues like equal pay or universal free childcare.

Makeup can be fun, especially when you're young. It can create a new identity, cheer you up when you're feeling down, make the change from day to night. In this respect it is no different than clothes. One wonders if Bindel would prefer us all to walk around in black boilersuits - pretty clothes also being entirely 'unnecessary' in the grand scheme of things. However, IMHO, constant drab practicality is hardly what the average woman desires in her life - or the average man, either.

The question about makeup, it seems to me, is balance. If you daren't leave the house without your makeup, you've got issues. But if you think that wearing even a scrap of it makes you a bad feminist, frankly you've also got issues. I never saw Simone de Beauvoir without her slap - or without her haute couture either - and I think her feminist creds are better than Bindel's.

"I became a lesbian aged 15 and therefore have never experienced the 'need' to dress for boys or men" says Bindel proudly. Leaving aside the issue of whether one 'becomes' a lesbian as if it was a lifestyle choice, what makes her think any woman 'needs' to dress for boys or men? Most women who are heterosexual WANT to dress for boys or men. At least when they're on the pull they do. That is what BEING on the pull is actually about, doh. And it is, incidentally, why most women have a different face for home and for work and for going out clubbing, just as they have different clothes for work and for jogging in the park. I would hazard a guess there aren't many women who put on a full face of slap to sit at home on their tod.

"We are so scrutinised by men, and often other women, that it has become unacceptable for us to display naked faces. Every single inch of us is supposed to be plucked, coloured and hidden beneath cosmetics," continues Bindel, living in some sort of dream world that frankly, I don't recognise. Most women I know don't wear make up much, if at all, and never did, even in the gender-bending era of the 1980s. Back then, one of my boyfriends wore more makeup than I did and we regularly borrowed each other's mascara. Quite which streets Bindel is walking down, falling over women who are scared to go out without their inch-thick slap, I don't know.

"I suppose a full face of makeup on a woman helps define the difference between the sexes, making it easier for men to assert their masculinity," she adds, as if this idea has only just occurred to her. But does the corollary ever occur to her? That women do it to assert their femininity? Makeup generally makes your eyes look bigger and darker, and your lips redder - those are both sexual signals, and the larger, darker eyes are also something seen universally in mammalian young - designed to appeal, to engender protection in the viewer. We are, like it or not, programmed to respond to this. 

What bothers me about her statement is this rather snide insinuation that there's something morally wrong in a woman wanting to look attractive to the opposite sex. This is bollocks. Sex is the way the human race reproduces itself. It might be a problem if sex is your only objective in life, but most of us, I feel, enjoy being thought attractive, by the right person(s), at the right time, in the right place. It adds a little savour to the day. The late, great Jill Tweedie hit the nail on the head I think, when she said that it was not that feminists did not want to be sex objects, but that sex objects was not ALL they wanted to be. 

From my mid-40s standpoint, also, I have to confess that my immediate reaction to the Bindel piece also has a weary tinge to it - that of: wait till you're my age, love. There goes someone without thread veins or rosacea or eye bags or jowls, someone whose eyelashes aren't thinning. There goes someone who, when she doesn't wear slap, doesn't get passed by people who say: "Cheer up, love - it might never happen," or is asked repeatedly whether or not she's ill. Someone who's found that in her 40s or 50s, her 'natural' face is sheet-white or blotchy or sun-damaged, or has morphed into the face of someone who looks pissed off or constantly tired. 

Personally, I like to feel that I am not a slave to make-up. In fact I wear it maybe a couple of times a week. But I'm also honest enough to admit that I do know that I look better with it, just as I'm honest enough to admit that Keira Knightly is a lot better looking than I ever will be or was. The sad truth is, I look more vibrant and happier with makeup. I get more compliments, just as I get more compliments when I'm dressed neatly rather than schlepping around in a sack, however comfortable that sack may be.

I wish it were not the case. I wish I had naturally pink lips rather than lips so pale I look like a heart-disease victim. I wish I had naturally dark lashes instead of lashes so pale that when I lose one in my eye, I can't find it. My natural colour is ashen, and if anyone ever says I look healthy you can bet one of two things - either I am wearing blusher (which I find indispensible as I get older), or I am running a temperature.  

And so, when I go to the supermarket, or pop out to see friends, just as I often put on a jacket that I wouldn't wear in the house, I often put on a dab of mascara and a touch of lip gloss. Is that unfeminist of me? Sad? Or just making a bit of an effort?

Whether a woman wants to wear makeup or doesn't, the choice should be hers - after all, from recollection, the last people to actively ban makeup were the Taliban and the Nazi government. Interesting, that, don't you think? 

You can see the vociferous responses to Bindel's nonsense here. 

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