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BLOG | Body Positivity: The Social Meaning of Makeup

As long as I have enough money for makeup artists, everything is okay. I feel young and very free. But one day, my face will be too old for the camera.
Sandra Bullock

The only way I’d be caught without makeup is if my radio fell in the bathtub while I was taking a bath and electrocuted me and I was in between makeup at home. I hope my husband would slap a little lipstick on me before he took me to the morgue.
Dolly Parton

I love the confidence that makeup gives me.
Tyra Banks

Lipstick Gun by sevsve from DeviantArt.
Lipstick Gun by sevsve from DeviantArt.

Is the use of makeup and cosmetics for women to adhere to patriarchal gender roles, or can it be used as a tool of self-empowerment? There really isn’t a specific answer to this question since the motive and incentive for women to wear makeup varies. Makeup is also not a new trend – there is evidence of appearance modification through makeup dating back to 4000 BCE in Egyptian culture. Nor will its usage vanish any time soon.

However, perhaps the following statistics will shed some light on the social context behind wearing makeup.

In a 2014 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, results found that women who wear “natural makeup” — which is made to look like they’re not wearing any makeup at all — are perceived to have higher competence, reliability, attractiveness and trustworthiness (all positive traits) compared to women who wear no makeup. Women who wear “glamorous makeup” (think: smokey eye shadow, red lipstick) scored equal or higher on each factor than their natural makeup-wearing peers.

Direct Selling news reported that in 2012 the US beauty and personal care industry totaled $68.7 billion, a number that is expected to continue growing. By 2017, the industry is expected to make around $81.7 billion.

According to Confidence Coalition, ninety percent of women would change at least one aspect of their appearance, and only two percent of women feel beautiful.

Based on these startling numbers, it appears that the cosmetic industry is profiting off of women’s insecurities and body image issues. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with the message that we are not good enough. The cosmetic industry is a major contributing factor to the overwhelmingly low self-esteem in women — they are not selling their products with the goal of empowering women and telling them they are beautiful. They are selling their products with the goal of making the most profits possible using a specific marketing tactic that requires their customers to feel like there is something about them that needs to be changed.

For me, while makeup is a wonderful form of self-expression as well as an art form, something about it still strikes me as intrinsically degrading. It seems to perpetuate the idea that we are not beautiful unless our bodies are plucked, painted, shined and colored in a way that matches the current social ideal.

My concern with the social meaning of makeup comes from some of the statistics mentioned above. The fact that only two percent of women consider themselves beautiful worries me — are women choosing to wear makeup because they want to add an artistic flair to their appearance, or are they wearing it because they don’t think they are beautiful?

While there is nothing wrong with buying and wearing makeup, I greatly hope that this post has increased your awareness of the cosmetic industry’s pressure on our self-confidence. The next time you look in the mirror and wish something is different about your body, or when you reach for the mascara, concealer, lipstick, blush, thinking you will look better, or when you stare wistfully at a magazine, wishing you looked more like the glossy, photoshopped model or celebrity, just remember: you are so beautiful, unique, and special just the way you are. With and without makeup.

Read Kendall Anderson’s earlier blog post:
HEALTH | Body Positivity: The Dirty Reality of “Clean Eating”.

Anderson is the founder and co-leader of Mills Body Positivity Group and a regular contributor for The Campanil‘s health blog section. Check out the Body Positivity Facebook group: