By Ariana Javidi, Age 19
It’s no secret that women face unfair and impossible beauty standards.
Yet I don’t think that most women realize the true cost of their “getting ready” routine each morning. Last year, the Today show found in a survey that women spend an average of two weeks per year working on their appearance, while in 2013 the finance website Mint estimated that the average woman spends $15,000 on cosmetics during her lifetime.
Since childhood, we have been inundated with images in the media of gorgeous women with blackened eyelashes, red lips, flawless skin, and luscious hair. Around these images we have built our conceptions of beauty and femininity, in such a way that physical attractiveness has been irrevocably tied to the use of cosmetics. Growing up seeing our mothers, sisters, friends, teachers, and all the other women we loved wearing makeup, we quickly learned that it is the norm and expectation – that femininity can only be achieved through a brush of eye shadow, some mascara, and lipstick as opposed to the expression of self. Studies have shown that women who wear makeup are considered more attractive, come off as more likable, and get higher paying jobs.
A few women argue that makeup gives them confidence, even that it’s empowering – and as a girl who likes wearing makeup, I understand that. Yet I have to wonder whether that feeling of confidence comes from an autonomous declaration of identity or relief at fulfilling social expectations.
The double standard is hideously apparent. Attractive people of all genders are at an advantage, but unlike women, men don’t need to wear makeup to be good-looking. Not only unfair, the makeup debt of time and money takes a toll; the diversion of immense amounts of energy and resources in pursuit of an unattainable ideal of physical beauty broadens the achievement gap between women and men. In other words, women spend so much of their life (literally) trying to meet society’s subjective beauty standards that they are at a mental, physical, and emotional disadvantage to men when it comes to work, family, and other measures of success. By continually striving for physical perfection, we are our own oppressors, limiting ourselves to a shell of appearance instead of striving for excellence in the things that really matter – like our careers, relationships, and legacies.
But it gets worse. The industry itself is highly problematic, perpetually propagating a white, cisgender, heterosexual, thin, ableist norm. Not only do cosmetics models predominantly possess these characteristics, but makeup companies only offer products for consumers fitting this narrow category, largely refusing to include other groups. People of color tend to be most affected as products typically only include colors and palettes designed for white consumers, a racist standard that stretches across the beauty industry. In an effort to appear inclusive, a company will use a token model of color, known as “the black model”, or “the Latin model”, and so on. Like so many other institutions in which white is a default, they are left out of the equation completely – after all, in the beauty industry only white is beautiful.
Not only racist, makeup and beauty companies also encourage toxic cultural ideals of hypermasculinity and hyperfemininity, which is bad for boys as well as girls. Hypermasculinity is destructive for a number of reasons, but most importantly forces traditional gender norms onto individuals to whom they may not fit or apply. Regardless of an individual’s gender or sexual orientation, the application of a rigid structural framework onto that individual’s consciousness is detrimental to development of self, and can have disastrous consequences to that individual’s psychology.
So what do we do? Some say to stop using makeup altogether, but as The Atlantic rightfully points out in “The Makeup Tax”, it’s not that simple. For one, not wearing makeup elicits reactions from disgust and repulsion to concerns about health. Furthermore, good-looking people – or rather, those adhering to social beauty norms – have more privilege, and more material success. So unless all women stopped wearing makeup simultaneously (which is unlikely, to say the least), no significant change would be likely to occur.
To be honest, I don’t have a definitive answer – I don’t know how to magically fix the cosmetics industry, or change society’s horrible and impossible beauty standards. Yet what I do know is this: The fundamental problem with the makeup industry is not that it is racist, homophobic, fat phobic, ableist, or generally despicable. These issues are all emblematic of something larger, which is the problem of how we as a society conceptualize beauty itself – the absurd fact that we judge ourselves by external standards of beauty set by others. We have let an entire industry dictate to us our self worth instead of following our hearts and loving ourselves, strengths, flaws, and all. True beauty cannot be defined by an industry, cannot be exemplified by some arbitrary standard, but must be claimed by individual women. And for me, as a strong, happy, energetic and optimistic woman, I dare anyone to try and tell me that I am not beautiful.
Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.