gingham, smoothies, & beauty labor

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There’s this post making the tumblr rounds positing that praising a woman’s makeup or clothes is just reinforcing patriarchal beauty standards. “[R]ather than praising beauty labor,” it claims, “we should be dismantling the system that requires it, to thus free up women for other pursuits.”*

And I could not disagree more.

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I think when people in the anti-beauty-labor camp think of makeup, they’re thinking of concealment. Of norms against displaying acne, scars, natural hair, etc. I agree that these are bad. But this argument completely ignores makeup-as-enhancement. It ignores this, and this, and this. It forgets that makeup, fashion, and costumery are art. Conflating the two modes isn’t striking a blow for women’s freedom in the workplace. It’s telling people who genuinely love makeup as a creative outlet that their devotion to a traditionally feminine art is worthless, that they need to be “free[d] up for other pursuits”. It’s hard for me not to find misogyny in that.

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Beauty labor is artistic labor, and vice versa. We could stop painting our houses and cultivating gardens and making beautiful food. This would maximize utility. If we stopped focusing on aesthetics completely, we would have more time for more practical endeavors.

But activist forces don’t encourage that, because most people recognize that we all need at least a little beauty in our lives. The only practices against which I hear this argument levied are fashion and makeup – i.e. traditionally feminine methods of beautification. To me, this says that it’s not beauty labor people are objecting to. It’s the perceived frivolity of feminine arts.

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There are certainly social norms around other forms of artistic presentation that could use dismantling – I’m thinking of neighborhoods that require painting one’s house a certain way, etc. I don’t think it’s inconsistent to oppose compulsory beauty while still affirming consensual beauty. I am hella against compulsory beauty. I’ve written screeds on it in the past. But I am also very much pro-beauty as a value in itself.

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*I am not sure whether this particular post is satire or not, which is why I did not link it. I do, however, think it makes the point well even if it is satire, and I have seen many other decidedly non-satire posts saying the same thing. This one was just most quotable.

2 Comments

  1. It’s so funny because there’s an entire movement to free up people to do what they want to do, but also in that movement there’s judgement when what you want to do does not align with how those people view the freedom to do whatever. Like, being a stay at home mom, being ultra feminine, liking makeup, wearing bras… I think modern feminists, true ones, have GREAT motives and are on the right track, however many others identify as feminists yet discriminate against the relationships, values, or life choices that align with a more traditional way of living. I was just thinking the other day that this era feels like we’re totally going through another 1970’s peace/love/burn the bras freedom movement, almost exactly. Down with women in the home, down with men being sole providers, down with societal beauty requirements…

    … except when you WANT your life to be more traditional, you like that makeup, you prefer your bra to exposed nipples, and you want your job to be staying at home with your kids while your husband goes to work outside the home, then there’s obviously something wrong with you. I’ve never felt it so much directed at me, but I do know quite a few other mom-bloggers and mom friends have gotten that backlash. (A lot through questions emailed to me or commented on my blog about how I deal with that type of negativity).

    … so that was not really about beauty, but sort of. I very much think wanting to wear makeup shouldn’t be because you feel like you HAVE to. Wear it to cover up flaws if you want, but don’t feel like you’re so disgusting that nobody would possibly accept your face bare because of zits or scars or discoloration. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with preferring your face with makeup vs without (I go through phases; I’m fine with my bare face, but hey, I do think it’s prettier with makeup, in a different way), but at the same time… beauty is your choice. Nobody should be telling you you have to do it, and nobody should be telling you you can’t because it’s against modernism and feminism to like beauty products.

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