These days, social media is awash with posts about body confidence. Feeling comfortable in your own skin, rejecting the need to be ‘beach body ready’. Because let’s face it, we’re all beach body ready. There’s a beach, I have a body. I’m ready. Another movement I’m loving is feminism. Women refusing to conform to the societal norms that make life more difficult for us. Hair removal is a great example and it’s wonderful to see women choosing whether to remove bodily hair, rather than feeling that they have to. However there’s one thing that doesn’t sit comfortably with me in all this, and that’s makeup.
Why do women wear makeup?
A Google search doesn’t really give a definitive answer as to why women wear makeup. The Guardian sum it up as a mixture of insecurity, patriarchy, sex and fun. Other publications have similar ideas, mentioning the fact that we treat women differently based on how attractive they are. Certain features are regarded as attractive, so we enhance those features with makeup. Strong makeup causes us to view women as more powerful, leading to them being treated differently in business.
So if wearing makeup is a patriarchal norm and a mask to cover our insecurities, then why is it so frequently glossed over in both the feminist and body confidence movements?
Makeup and body confidence
The body confidence movement is about being happy in your own skin. It is encouraging every one of us to stop judging both others and ourselves on appearances. It’s about wearing what you want, when you want regardless of your size or perceived flaws. It encourages us to stop comparing ourselves to others and to celebrate what our bodies can do rather than beating ourselves up about the way we look. As with all good things, it can go too far. Donna recently wrote about her concerns that she no longer felt comfortable saying she wanted to lose a bit of weight. However, there is rarely any mention of going without makeup in articles about body confidence.
I struggle with this concept. If you were truly confident in your own skin, why would you need to cover up the skin on the part of your body that everybody naturally looks at? How can you put on a bikini and claim to be body confident if you are unable to do so without covering the shape of your face with contouring and painting on bright red lips? If you can accept your mum tum, why not your mum eye bags? If stretch marks are a sign of an amazing body that has carried children, why can’t you accept that your wrinkles are just as much a part of you?
I put hair dye in the same category. Accepting who you are means accepting your age. Growing old gracefully and embracing the grey is a sign of confidence. And yet, women who rarely wear makeup or dye their hair are frequently regarded as having given up on their appearance.
Makeup and feminism
In my research into this, I was heartened to read a piece in the Independent written by Julie Bindel, a woman who is urging feminists to throw away their makeup bags. She cites the fact that women spend on average nine days a year applying makeup. Bindel herself uses that time more wisely, in calling out sexist stereotypes including the notion that women look better if they wear makeup. Bindel also references hair dye as a blow to feminism. Noting that at age 56, she is frequently asked why she doesn’t colour her hair. Her response is that she chooses not to condemn herself to a lifetime of redoing her roots.
I can understand why people wear makeup. It’s an expression of creativity, a confidence boost and a way to be the person you want to be. However, it is also a mask to hide behind. A mask that ensures we are taken seriously because we conform to societal norms. A mask that nets the beauty industry billions of pounds a year and leaves us out of pocket. And yet my biggest concern is the environmental impact of that mask.
The argument in favour of reducing makeup use
I first became interested in the environmental impact of cosmetics when I tried to reduce my palm oil consumption as much as possible. The arguments over palm oil use are intricate and complicated. Whether sustainable palm oil is a viable alternative is equally up for debate. However, it is impossible to deny that the palm oil industry is destroying our rainforests. The hard-hitting Red Ape documentary brought the plight of the Orangutan to the public domain. But did you know that the vast majority of makeup contains palm oil?
Palm oil in cosmetics is often in the form of derivatives. These may be only trace amounts of the substance, but derivatives are frequently from unsustainable sources. I battled to find makeup that doesn’t contain palm oil and the one brand I found later admitted that they did in fact use derivatives. So the stark reality is that for every lipstick, mascara or foundation you buy, you’re contributing to the destruction of rainforest habitat.
Not to mention the chemicals contained in the products. Smothering your face in chemicals is of course personal choice. But be aware that when you wash it off, those chemicals go directly into our waterways. Then there’s the plastic packaging. Need I go on?
An informed decision
In recent years, I have dramatically cut down on the amount of makeup I wear as a direct result of my concerns about its environmental impact. However, I am far from perfect and a few times a month I do feel the need to conform by wearing makeup to go out or attend a work event. Calling out sexist behaviour and body shaming are important. Everybody should have the right to look, act and dress exactly the way they want to without fear of judgement, discrimination or unfair treatment.
However, the world we live in is important too. So if you are making a stand in the name of body confidence or feminism, please consider makeup and hair dye. I appreciate as a feminist or a body confidence warrior, the environment is not your fight. But makeup and hair dye are as much a part of your fight as hair removal and bikinis. And preserving the world for our children and grandchildren is everybody’s battle.