I don’t think I’m alone in the opinion that sometimes getting ready for an event is the best part of the night out altogether, especially when done alongside your friends. Admittedly, I am no stranger to knocking on my best friend’s front door with an entire make-up bag, hair curlers, and three choices of outfits in tow. But now, in a world where my greatest social occasion is a weekly zoom pub quiz, I’ve started to reflect on if I have noticed a change in my relationship with make-up…
Last week, Sonia Haria detailed for The Telegraph the results of a survey carried out by Boots No7. The survey revealed that 80 percent of women feel better about themselves by continuing to wear make-up during lockdown. It can be deduced from this stat that a large majority of women are actively continuing the routine of applying make-up daily – despite not leaving the house. The question, then, is whether this instilled practice is one of choice or an indoctrinated standard we continue to follow even when limited to the confines of our own homes. It’s no secret that there’s a heavy pressure placed upon women to look a certain way, and wear makeup – thanks, patriarchy. We’ve all been asked on makeup-free days if we’re ‘sick’ or ‘tired’ – society’s default expectation is a painted face (but one that is subtle enough for men to think it’s ‘natural’).
The use of make-up can be traced all the way back to Cleopatra- but, in Ancient Egypt, wearing makeup wasn’t bound by heteronormative gender boundaries. In fact, men and women of all classes would darken their eyes using kohl. So when you are furiously trying to master winged eyeliner each morning remember that you have the Egyptians to thank. Press fast forward, to the early 1900s, make-up was worn to illustrate status within society. The women would dangerously apply arsenic powders to appear as pale as possible in order to show that they did not have to work in the hot sun to gain an income. It seems, the epitome of beauty has always been pain. Yet, at this time, women who weren’t in the upper class were shamed for wearing makeup, as it was associated with prostitutes and escorts. Here, the colour red became a way to slut-shame women. Any British school student will notably remember GCSE English lessons and the formidable Of Mice and Men in which Curly’s wife was repeatedly ridiculed for her rouged lips and nails.
By the 1940s, amidst a world war, the government reminded its female citizens that ‘beauty is duty’ and, with that, women were expected to always look their best despite the impending crisis, for the benefit of keeping the soldiers’ spirit high on the battlefield. Ah, the lovely toxic ideal that women should perform their femininity, not for their own confidence but to give a man pleasure.
“I still get pleasure from applying red lipstick, even though I’ll be the only person seeing my face.”
So, with all that oppressive history – here’s my moral dilemma: I absolutely love make-up. False eyelashes, neon eyeshadow, blinding highlighter; these things bring me *so* much joy. As I voluntarily hand over £30 for another pretty blush palette, I like to tell myself I’m doing so autonomously. To enjoy makeup, and afford it, highlights privilege – it’s another expense pushed upon women, that society tells us is part of being a woman. We are expected to pay for ‘luxury’ products (read: basic) like sanitary or contraceptive; making our wage disparity cuts even deeper (the pink tax truly is the cherry on top of the UK’s gender pay gap).
I’ve worn makeup every day during lockdown and cherished the sense of normality it brings with it. Sometimes it’s just a fun and creative way to pass a free afternoon. A welcomed break from the ever-growing screen time I’m racking up on my phone. Although I’m currently unable to get dolled up while sitting on my best friend’s bedroom floor, I still get pleasure from applying red lipstick, even though I’ll be the only person seeing my face.
I don’t think any of the men in my life would be able to tell the difference between a smoky eye or a cut crease and for that reason, I like to believe that my make-up application is a choice made for myself. Despite my own love of make-up, last year the beauty industry witnessed a significant drop in make-up sales due to the popularisation of the skincare market. With growing brands such as The Ordinary, Glossier, and Mario Badescu offering high-quality skincare at affordable prices, it appears beauty buyers have begun to prioritise buying these products. Maybe there’s a shift coming? Eleanor Morgan for The Guardian is just one of many writers who has spoken about lockdown’s effect on their own self-care routine. It’s understandable that at a time of such high anxiety, self-care is more important than ever – it offers a much needed moment of relaxation. Will we start to invest in skincare products over makeup, opting for the pampering option over the glamourous option?
“No one is entitled to have an opinion on your appearance.”
I think it is important to remember that no matter your relationship with make-up, it is vital to ignore those who say you look better with or without it. No one is entitled to have an opinion on your appearance. Nobody needs makeup, it’s not a necessary thing and it shouldn’t be made to feel like one through societal pressure. But, if you want makeup then there’s value in that – something that gives your comfort in this scary world is never superficial. Make-up can act as an artistic escape from all the global anxiety swirling around right now.
Personally, I would like to thank the women who lived before me and fought so that now I can decide freely whether to partake in performed femininity for my own benefit or spend a day barefaced and be just as satisfied. I believe there’s an empowering quality in being able to freely enjoy something that was used against women for so many years. We’re reclaiming makeup. Whether I wake up feeling grungy and want smudged eyeliner, or super girly and have a craving for glossy lips and fluttery eyelashes, make-up allows me to ground myself and remember who I am outside of the anxieties I hold for the future. In relieving these tensions, I am ultimately more productive and spend a shorter amount of time being shallowed by the dread of the never-ending news updates. I think lockdown has shown that we truly do only wear make-up for ourselves.