On Beauty and Feminism

I recently finished two books about beauty and make-up – Sali Hughes’ Pretty Honest and Lisa Eldridge’s Face Paint. I find these books very easy to read. I have always seen beauty and make-up as something fun, probably beginning when my grandma gave me a box of blue eyeshadow when I was eight (which I then used to emulate Victoria Beckham (!) when we put on a Spice Girls performance for our entire street, but that’s a different story. I wonder what I looked like…). I understand that many people have a problem with make-up, and I certainly do like to go bare-face because Patriarchy, but I love the glamour and fun in make-up. I go through phases with it, not being bothered sometimes and then lusting after fancy products. But then I think about capitalism and am put off again. But I like painting up my face and isn’t that what feminism should be about? – is the point of this paragraph.

So! To Pretty Honest. I love Sali Hughes’ writing for The Pool and The Guardian so was eager to read this. It’s no-nonsense advice – telling you who makes the best and worst particular products. She tells you what you really don’t need, and which products are a con, which was enlightening and is rare in beauty writing. Everybody seems so intertwined – products are highly praised and forgotten about when they have sold their quotas. Hughes really knows her stuff – which method of hair removal is most effective / painful; which brands make the best certain things. If you enjoy makeup but want to experiment or learn more, this is the book for you. Also, since following the advice in here, my skin has never looked better.

Lisa Eldridge’s Face Paint was also amazing. It detailed the history of make-up, from pre-history to Hollywood to now. I found it interesting that (obvious) make-up was frowned upon when women had little to no rights. Red lipstick was worn by suffragettes in defiance of men who wanted them to look natural. I went through a vintage Hollywood-obsessive phase in my teenage years, so loved the chapters about those eras. The history of brands we know and love and popular brands that disappeared. Prior to a certain point, as well, men wore make up. People all over the world have painted their faces throughout history. It deserves to be explored.

I found it interesting that both of these books emphasise women. They are written by feminists who both love make-up, something that feminists (including me) seem to feel the need to confess. Surely, the more preferable thing is what Eldridge and Hughes are already doing – unashamedly basking in their love of make-up. Traditionally feminine things, such as make-up, are often ridiculed as being non-intellectual, as if that is important. Traditionally feminine pursuits are not bringing feminism down, internalised misogyny is. We all care about how we look to other people. Why ridicule people for it? It seems an old fashioned thing to do.


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