I’m going a little bit beauty-crazy these days, playing with pigment pots and clear mascara and highlights and navy blue eyeliner. In high school and college, my beauty routine was a lot simpler–some concealer, some eyeliner, and out the door. Maybe a touch of shadow for a party, especially if there were people to help me out beforehand. At one point I made my friend Annelise draw me a diagram of where on the eye different shades of eyeshadow were supposed to go for contouring. I figured, What’s the point of having more than one color on there?
I’m having fun. It’s kind of like having my own chemistry lab; yesterday I put an entire egg in my hair, and this morning I turned foundation into nude lipstick with some cream, powder, and gloss. My fingernails have crossword puzzles on them. It’s like a new game with socially acceptable results. And I’m starting to wonder–why didn’t I try this stuff earlier?
In sixth and seventh grades my friend Kathleen and I would do “spa days,” sure, but mostly that consisted of mashing up avocados and then getting too grossed out to put them on our heads. For the most part, after about the first grade, I ran headlong away from such “girly” interests as makeup. Sure, part of it is also that I now get up at an hour at which I’ve a) gotten enough sleep and b) still have time to come up with something to try, beauty-wise. And the advent of sites like StumbleUpon Beauty and Pinterest help too. But there’s a sadder reason why I didn’t do much of this earlier: There’s a part of me that has seen “feminine” as inferior to “masculine.” Or, put in the way my brain operates, “girly” is weaker than “normal/down-to-earth/natural.”
There’s nothing wrong with not seeing the point in wearing makeup, not wanting to show the world a face that isn’t really yours, etc. I had an entire summer where the most complicated part of my getting-ready routine was shampooing my hair. Towel, put on sweatshirt, go out. Rinse, repeat. But I’m finding threads in my own mind of prejudice against the pretty, as though to be soft or lacy or pink or anything else stereotypically feminine is worse than to be tough, all-purpose, or brown.
One moment that clarified my bias to me was when, not so long ago, I said something to my mother about…I don’t even remember the context. What I remember is her response. She said, “I think you’re plenty feminine,” and my gut reaction was, “Eugh. No I’m not.”
That inner voice was the voice of the tough little girl who wanted to fence and read books about knights and combat and taught herself not to scream or cry out when surprised or afraid because it showed weakness. She was a perfectly cool kid. But to her, “feminine” meant “damsel in distress,” meant reinforcing everything that she didn’t want to be. If she were “feminine” then clearly people wouldn’t expect her to be smart or to take care of her own problems or to be brave.
What I realize now is what that says not just about me but about culture at large. See, I don’t think I was the only kid to internalize that dichotomy. Too often we associate “femininity” with an obsession about looks above everything else, with weakness and fear and helplessness. But if “feminine” means “having attributes common to women,” then it means a lot of things, and no woman really escapes it or should feel like she needs to. If we defined it correctly, “feminine” would mean tough in the face of pain, emotionally aware, empathetic, caring, socially conscious, and brave. And really, “masculine” could mean the same thing.
I’m jumping around from gendered looks to gendered attributes and assumptions now, I see, and muddling things up in the process. Anyway. What I’m trying to get at is this. When I didn’t have much time for clothes that weren’t multi-purpose and no-nonsense or for special beauty products or makeup, that was completely fine. And now that I do have time to have fun trying these things out, that’s completely fine, too. Could my time and money be better spent, helping the needy or something? Yeah, probably. But nearly everyone making a comfortable living has some area in which they dabble that takes time and money and has no social merit other than making them happy (viz. video games, books, movies, gambling, detailed miniature construction).
I’m learning to see “feminine” as just as desirable as “masculine.” It might take some internal term re-appropriation. I’m just now realizing that a lot of what gets lumped into “feminine” actually stems from power dynamics and is meant at some level to convey passivity and neediness and other things that come with having unequal status in a culture oh my gosh if I don’t stop this post now it will never end. To be continued, maybe. Forgive me for scrambling everything up. You can look at this post as a stream-of-consciousness figuring-out, because let’s face it, that’s what these posts tend to be.
Back to the important things–making my own self-tanner.