Rants For Thought

Oppressive Beauty Standards Go Both Ways

It’s pretty obvious, once you get to know me, that I really am not much for traditional beauty standards. I rarely wear makeup; it’s mostly a sensory thing. (The feeling of blush and foundation on my cheeks makes me want to scream.) I don’t know how to do much with my long hair, so I learn a few easy tricks and then do them when I feel like it – otherwise it’s in a ponytail. And I’ve heard a lot about my choice not to wear makeup much or to keep my hair long but not really do anything with it. Trust me – I’ve heard it, from family, friends, and even some significant others.

And I’m on board with not telling women what to do with their bodies. I agree that if you don’t want to shave your legs, you shouldn’t have to. I agree that high heels can be bad for your body, and I also think that if you don’t want to wear dresses or jewellery, then no one should be able to tell you anything about it. But now I’m seeing that same judgement coming from the other side. I’m seeing women who don’t do these things looking down on those who do.

A happy medium - I felt beautiful here, with minimal makeup and natural hair.
A happy medium – I felt beautiful here, with minimal makeup and natural hair.

Listen. You should be informed. I’m in agreement with that, and I support informing women about health issues or how to better take care of their bodies, if that’s your method in sharing scaremongery articles about high heels or certain types of makeup. I also support telling women that they have a choice. Some women grow up being told that the only right way to look is to be thin, “properly” dressed, and fully made up with shining, perfect hair. It is important to let women know that they are the owners and arbiters of what goes on their bodies and how they choose to look beautiful.

What I don’t support is looking down on women who want to wear dresses, heels, and makeup. I’ve been seeing a bit of that in the feminist sphere lately and it’s annoying me. It’s okay to want to wear those things. It’s okay to want to shave. I shave regularly and get my eyebrows plucked and waxed. I do it because it makes me feel beautiful as a woman. There’s nothing wrong with that, even if you do feel like it supports the patriarchy. When I do those things, I do them for me, not for any man.

There’s also judgement towards women who want to look good for their significant others. As problematic as those feelings may be, and as much as they may support something that you personally find damaging (and I think we all can agree that the patriarchy is fairly damaging), you do have to look at it from the point of view of the woman. Is she being told that she has to keep her hair a certain length and wear certain things? That’s a problem. Is she doing it because she knows that these things please her significant other and she wants to make him or her happy? That’s a completely different issue. The thing is, you just don’t know until you speak to her what the story is. And to judge based on what you see makes you as bad as women who look down on those who don’t follow beauty standards.

Feminism increasingly seems to be a battleground between women, with marginalized sides not being heard or being shut down. This doesn’t have to be a topic in which this happens. Beauty takes so many different forms, with people from different cultures following their own ideals or rebelling against those to become unique individuals. With impossible standards set for us by the media, we don’t need to set them for ourselves.

Fuck beauty standards however you feel like doing that. Be who you want to be, and who is most comfortable for you to be. Just remember to extend that same courtesy to fellow women. Don’t be as oppressive as the folks who told you it wasn’t okay to be who you are.

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7 thoughts on “Oppressive Beauty Standards Go Both Ways

  1. A great post, and I totally agree! I class myself as a pretty massive feminist, but I’m also makeup obsessed (I mean, I run a fashion and beauty blog, hello?!) and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I love makeup, because I love the way it looks. I don’t wear it for anyone but me, I don’t shave for anyone but me. My boyfriend couldn’t give a toss if he can see my spots, and feel my bristly legs! I see a lot of people shaming women for wearing makeup, as if it lessens them, and also, a lot of superiority (“Oooh, I don’t wear makeup, because I just don’t neeeed it”), and it’s really quite upsetting, especially those with low self esteem, who use makeup to boost their confidence.
    So yeah, you made a fantastic point! Also, if you don’t mind me complimenting you, you have super pretty eyes 🙂

      1. I just really love experimenting! I mean, sure, there was that one boy on my school bus in high school that told me no amount of makeup would ever make me look good, and perhaps I sort of maybe started wearing makeup well to prove him wrong, but I’ve evolved from that now, and now I just love playing around with colours on the face!
        Don’t even get me started on clothes…

  2. Ooh, big topic! I wear makeup – not a lot, but I always have on blush, eyeliner, brow pencil and a bit of concealer. I also pluck my eyebrows, shave and probably do all sorts of things that conform with beauty standards. So obviously I support doing whatever the hell you want to do, and I agree that women looking down upon others is super annoying… The only thing I would add though is that our decisions about beauty aren’t made in a vacuum. It’s clearly easier to conform than to not conform, better to feel ‘pretty’ than to not. Our ideas of what look good are so enmeshed in cultural ideas. Would anyone really pluck their eyebrows if it wasn’t a cultural trend to do so? So saying “fuck you” to beauty standards does involve a bit of questioning WHY women want to wear makeup and do these things as part of questioning normative beauty standards themselves. But first and foremost the questions should be personal – “Why do I do this? What ideas do I have about ‘being beautiful’? What would happen if I didn’t wear make up?” rather than coming from anyone else. It’s really about awareness that we are not totally free agents, even though we choose to wear make up or to go without.
    And hey, if you question beauty assumptions and still want to go ahead and wear makeup, then more power to ya.

  3. Great stuff! I was raised to look down on women who wore make up and now that I am an adult I wear makeup. I don’t do it all the time or to meet someone else’s standards. It’s fun! It gives you an outlet to express yourself. It’s no different than parting your hair on a different side. Whatever floats your boat and makes YOU happy!

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