I was missing the blog and even more, missing my month-long challenges. So I was watching “Some Like It Hot” this week and thinking, “I did that month without makeup, but I’ve never done a full month of really trying to be as feminine (as traditionally defined in the 20th and 21st century as a white middle-class woman) as possible, at least appearance-wise.”
When I was a kid, I thought that being feminist was pretty similar to being a tomboy–that it meant that I would get to be “tough” and do the “cool” things that guys did. For a long time I resisted things I thought of as “too feminine.” Even recently, I took knee-jerk offense when my mom said to me that she thought I was plenty feminine.
Feminism is not and should not be a rejection of what has traditionally been considered girly, to the extent what we as women are doing is conscious, enjoyable, and done for ourselves rather than solely for the approval of others. What I want to focus on this month is embracing what we define as feminine. Nurturing, taking care of others, being in touch with your emotions, enjoying softness and feeling lovely are in themselves very positive things. By presenting as feminine in appearance and thinking about what it means to be feminine beyond appearance, I hope to come to appreciate more of what I rebelled against as a little girl, but consciously, not because I am “supposed” to behave in or look a certain way because of my chromosomes.
This idea came to me on January 29th, and so FEMMEbruary was born.
The rules are:
1. No going out without any makeup
2. Whenever possible, at least red lipstick
3. Whenever possible, heels*
4. First clothing resort is skirts and dresses (if you’re all out, fitted jeans and a cute top work, but bear the femme thing in mind)
5. No two days with the same hair style
6. Conscious use of jewelry
7. Copious use of lotion and daily use of perfume
8. Weekly nail polish application
We’re on Day 2, and I already have so much to share.
I got up a few minutes earlier than usual and made sure to put on a skirt and a necklace. I thought my hair looked all right down but added a side pin just to make sure it looked like I paid attention. I was going to a brunch with an old college professor, so at least I knew it was unlikely that anyone would be completely weirded out by my uncharacteristic dressiness.
I chose to put on high-heeled leather boots.
Big mistake. It was snowing, and had snowed about four inches the night before. I essentially limped to the train station and prayed that I wouldn’t fall and that the snow wouldn’t bleed through the boots too much. Not-falling was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I made up for it by making my friend Alex drive me everywhere for the rest of the day.
About five minutes into walking in heels outside in the snow, I knew I’d have to make some changes to the expectations. See the asterisk below.
My professor said I looked “gorgeous,” which was very sweet, although I have a sneaking suspicion she would have said that no matter how dolled up I’d been. She also gave me and Alex theatre tickets, and I was already dressed up enough to fit in with the theatre-goers, so I was able to hang out all day and go straight to Lookingglass in the evening without feeling self-conscious. Not too shabby.
Between my practical down jacket, fleece-lined tights, and thick turtleneck, I wasn’t too cold. All in all, a fairly successful day.
I asked a bunch of women for advice on what I could do for this experiment, and one of my favorite comments was that wearing heels and red lipstick would be pretty simple but would probably have a real impact on the attention I was getting. The social science side is what interests me most about the ways in which we present ourselves (plus I keep trying to get into lipstick but wimping out) so I’ve decided to do that.
Of course, I realized that I didn’t have a not-Rocky-Horror shade red lipstick, so today I went to Walgreens to pick up some beauty supplies. I Googled for articles about colors and brands available at drugstores that women tend to like and picked up some Maybelline lipstick which I am now wearing (above). I also got false eyelashes–another thing I am very bad at wearing–some foundation powder, and a large-barrel curling iron. I’ve had a skinny, ringlet-style curling iron since middle school, but it’s not so good for a gentle, large wave, and I wanted to try that style, plus the curling iron was on sale.
Those four items cost me about $50. And I got the $1 false eyelashes. And the curling iron was $15.
So here’s one of my biggest beefs about the cosmetic market. It’s expensive.
I’m not going to argue that guys don’t feel pressure take care of their appearances and use cosmetic products. They do, of course. Men buy razors, beard trimmers, aftershave, shaving lotion, hair gel, body spray, even occasionally concealer or foundation, mostly for blemishes.
The issue is that women buy all that (let’s substitute lotion for aftershave and tweezers for beard trimmers), and then have an entire industry of products to buy on top of that.
Want to look put-together? Put on some mascara! It goes bad in six months though, so make sure you keep buying more. Don’t forget eyeliner in black, brown, white, and maybe a few jewel-tones for parties. A basic brown or pink eyeshadow is nice, but you need a white highlighter for the brow bone and you really should get a spectrum of colors so you don’t get too boring. You need color in your cheeks, so be sure to pick up some blush and/or bronzer. And then if you want your lipstick to stay on, you’ll need lip liner that’s about the same shade as the lipstick you plan to use, lipstick, and then probably a gloss to go over that. Again, you want several different colors for different “looks” you’re going for. Make sure to pick up some hairspray, pomade, mousse, hair thickener, a hairdryer, a straightener, and a curling iron or two as well.
There’s nothing wrong with spending your money on cosmetics. I will be the first to say that putting on different kinds of makeup is fun. It’s fun to learn new styles and to feel glamorous because you nailed a cat’s-eye liner for the first time. It’s just that there can be an expectation that women will buy into this industry in order to simply look “put-together,” and I think a lot of us have other things that would make us happier to spend our money on.
Anyway, a few more observations from 36 hours of lipstick, heels, and the whole nine yards:
-I can’t not get lipstick on everything I eat or drink. Maybe some people can but I cannot. I’ve tried the “lick the inside and outside of the glass” trick and putting gloss on top of my lip color. It only sort of works.
-Once your lipstick starts to come off on your glasses and such, you really need to be vigilant about reapplying or at least have some nice gloss around. By the middle of yesterday my lips were pretty dry, which wasn’t super cute with the lipstick.
-I was weirdly proud of my feet not hurting more by the end of the day, which is sort of messed-up when you remember that the reason they don’t hurt is that they’re getting used to being held in an unnatural position that may cause permanent damage.
-That hairpin thing did not stay in or up the whole day. Listen, it’s winter in Chicago. I have to put on and take off a lot of hats. I’m not sure that pin stood a chance.
-I grew up thinking I have very fine hair, but when I had my curling iron on the “fine hair” setting, nothing happened. I had to turn it up and hold each curl for 60 seconds to get any results. It makes me nervous about burning my hair. Which is literally what I am doing when I hold it next to a hot iron for a minute-plus.
-For all that you can tell I have a bias here, I really do like this new lipstick, especially paired with dark red nail polish
-I had a hard time figuring out the right “femme” outfit for the Super Bowl. I settled on “leggings-as-pants” and an off-the shoulder baggy sweatshirt for an ’80s look, plus curled hair and makeup. My only real concern is that I sort of wish I had a not-off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. My delicate shoulders are a little chilly.
Anywhoo, it’s already been an interesting two days. Someone suggested I look at fashion through the decades, and to the extent that I can do that without spending any more money (I refuse to spend over $50 for a monthly experiment), I’ll try to do so. I haven’t been in situations that would really garner attention yet, though I did feel like more people looked at me on the train than usual yesterday. Let’s sally forth to find what of the feminine is worth me embracing, and what I just can’t reconcile myself to!
Love and kisses,
*Having had some TOUGH EXPERIENCES with this on my first day, I am allowing for snow boots but will be bringing heels to change into whenever possible. Flats when my feet are screaming for help.