Some mornings, I wake up an hour earlier in order to reserve extra time to cake my face. A process I enjoy thoroughly. I sculpt my face, highlighting features, and concealing features I dislike. Some days I can’t drag myself out of bed early enough to dress my face, at all. On those days, it’s easier to notice that my brother takes only ten minutes to get ready and I wonder why us girls have implemented makeup into our daily routine.
I love a red lipstick as much as the next girl. But to manipulate young girls into thinking that makeup is the ultimate form of liberation is direct exploitation by capitalism. Makeup is marketed as a necessity when it is, in fact, a commodity. It’s something I’m attempting to come to terms with because I’m starting to realize that the makeup industry is supplying yet new forms of sexism, and inequality, all part of the patriarchal structure.
Makeup brands are divided into three tiers—similar to a class system. There are drug store products (lower class) which are usually a line of decently affordable items that can be found at ELF, CVS, Target, Walmart, etc. Then there are semi-affordable retailers (middle class) which are usually online and sell good quality products for reasonable prices—Colorpop, Morphe, Juvia Place, etc. Then there are branded makeup lines, obnoxiously priced, and marketed as luxurious and lavish—YSL, Giorgio Armani, Tatcha, etc. Most of these products are of good quality, but not so much to be valued at such high price tags. There’s no denying that a good quality product requires more research, an expense that contributes to the retail cost, but the products that are sold by online retailers and at drug stores are of good quality as well. They are often “dupes” for products ten times the price.
Makeup is also fueling my materialism. I have more than ten eyeshadow palettes consisting of almost the same colors. Lipsticks? At least fifty, half of which are red with different undertones. And I don’t think anyone needs ten highlighters when they essentially serve the same purpose. I’m hoarding, and so is every other girl I know. There are new releases every week. The magnitude of pressure is unimaginable for young girls who seek makeup as a resolution to their unique traits, which makeup gurus and YouTube bloggers have encouraged them to see as flaws.
In addition to ridiculous advertisements techniques, makeup continues to perpetuate racist ideologies. Mainstream beauty revolves around Euro-centered features. Promoting the concept that “white” is better. Despite the constant array of new brands and products, there is a very limited range of skin products designed for women of color. The majority of foundation brands, high-end and drugstore, offers a wide range of fair and medium shades, complete with different undertones, yet no more than a handful of selections for dark skin tones. A launch of forty shades for a foundation, often has 25 light shades, 10 medium, and 5 dark.
Before I would argue makeup is a form of liberation—and don’t get me wrong it could be—but to ignore the institutional oppression, now, that exists within the makeup platform would be foolish. Women are pressured to wear makeup to work, and research shows that women who wear makeup to work are perceived as more impressionable, confident, and are more likely to get promoted. Research conducted by sociologists at the University of California further tipped the scales in this debate when they discovered that women who were viewed as physically attractive, as a result of their hairstyles, grooming, and makeup, earned more. They found that women who spend money on their personal grooming make a better living than those who do not. By judging a woman’s ability to do work based on her physical appearance rather than her knowledge of a subject is a transparent form of oppression.
Will I continue to wear makeup?
I enjoy painting my canvas, and I don’t condemn women who chose to wear makeup—for a confidence boost, or for fun. But we shouldn’t conceal or cover up the existing capitalist agenda, institutionalized misogyny, and racism that exists within the makeup industry.