Looking good

27 January 2019
A recent opinion piece in The Independent rehashed a well-worn premise: that wearing make up is anti-feminist, that choosing to wear make up is conforming to the desires of the patriarchal system that dictates how a woman should look.

I don't agree. And whilst the article's writer, Julie Bindel, did raise some important points about the chemicals in one's makeup and the potential for lifetime harm (although everything in modern life is synthetic chemicals, and you can get paranoid trying to keep up with it all, or you can just sort of try to get on with things). And whilst we are constantly pounded with messages from the media about how we should look (and what we should spend money on to get that way), everyone wants to make themselves look better.
If you really eschewed make up because it's uncomfortable and you won't conform to media images of how a woman should look, then surely you'd apply the same principles to your clothes, wearing only the cheapest, shapeless and comfortable garments you could find. But I've never met anyone who does that. The most intense anti-makeup feminist will still throw on some necklace she likes that goes well with the top she's wearing. Make up, to me, isn't much different from that. 

I'm not a liberal feminist who believes any choice a woman makes is a feminist choice; our liberation is all tied up with each other. And I don't believe my choosing to wear make up is a feminist choice. But it's not anti-feminist either. It's not really connected to my feminism at all. It's something I choose to do, cause I like it, for two main reasons. First, as a kid I was fascinated by paints and colours - still am - and make up is an extension of that. I enjoy the process of painting my face, I like getting in with the liquids and creams, squishing everything around. It soothes my sensory issues, it's a pleasant part of preparing for the day.

But I also do it cause I don't like the way I look without it. I'm mildly aware of how others might see me, but I'm mostly concerned with how I look to myself. When I look in the mirror, I want to see pretty. My skin is very red naturally, I have thin lips, and when I see these things in a reflective surface, it ruins my whole day. As the line goes, I'm not doing this for some man who doesn't know the difference between Ruby Woo and Russian Red (although I'm really into matte lip creams right now, and anyway my MAC lip colour is Diva). I'm doing it so I look good for me. I'm not doing it to attract a mate, but so when I look in the mirror I get as close to the cross between Victoria Frances model and porcelain doll thing I go for.

These photos are from the day of my uni graduation. 40 minutes of make up, and I think it was worth it (although it took me only a few days to work out that short fringe was a mistake I shan't be repeating). I stopped wearing make up unless I was going out for the night for about ten years, but I'm back on it now, and the hell with it, it's just what I do.

There's been a pretty major shift in my wardrobe lately, too. For reasons too complicated to delve into now, about 2012 I seriously looked into conversion to Judaism, which being me involved reading everything I could find. And although I was never looking to convert Orthodox, I was intrigued by the Orthodox notion of tziniut, the laws of modesty, intended to "protect our souls from assault from a coarse world". The laws themselves cover a great deal of issues of mindset and behaviour, but for women the jist of it is skirts only that must cover the knee when you sit down (experience will teach you this means calf-length), tops that cover the collar bones and elbows, and for married women, covering their hair. reserving sexuality for the home, reserving a woman's body for her husband

As grossly anti-feminist as this no doubt seems, the idea struck a chord with me. I'd had many engagements with a coarse world before I met my then husband; this seemed like something I could give him now, that now my body was reserved for him. I modified the guidelines slightly for the Australian climate; but for many years I dressed only in skirts that covered my knees and tops that covered my shoulders and cleavage. That was it. No sleeveless tops, no shorts or short skirts; even at the beach I wore a long sleeved swim top and a swim skirt (I saved a fortune on sunscreen).

It was only recently I came to two realisations. I was shopping for clothes and automatically applying my mental filters about too short, too low cut etc, when I thought why the frilled hemline am I doing this? We've been separated for 3 years and I've seen other people; who am I saving my body for? But more importantly, whilst it's been a relief in many ways to cover myself and all my problem areas - which is basically all of them - I realised recently I have quite nice legs. They're not spectacular, and they only go up as far as where the abdominal fat begins (which seems to get lower every year - no wonder I'm terrified for the future; every year sea levels rise and my love handles fall). But I walk quite a lot, over 5km almost every day and usually carrying stuff, and my legs are reasonably firm and a nice shape and anyway, I like them. Why was I covering them? I should show them off. I'm not quite ready for shorts yet, and modesty aside I'm not much of a shorts person. But I wasn't doing myself any favours cutting off one of the nicer parts of me in dowdy long skirts, so I've been venturing into skater skirts lately.

Not that it's been easy. I don't know what it is with me and retail. Sure, I could shop online, but I'm impulsive and shopping online in Australia often means waiting 1-2 weeks even for items which you bought for Australian retailers that purportedly had them in stock. This is why malls in Australia continue to thrive even as dead malls scar America. Saps like me keep going there. So I hit H&M in the vain hope they'd have something in my size. They did; I saw one size 18 item in the store, a pair of cream trousers I'd never ever wear. That was it. One size 18 garment. And I looked through lots and lots of racks after that, hoping they might have clothes I would wear in a size 18 but they didn't. I suspect the trousers were a decoy they put in to get my hopes up. 


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