You may or may not be aware that I’m an avid follower of Sali Hughes’ beauty column on the Guardian every Saturday. I stumbled across it in the search for the elusive smokey eye, and it was all downhill from there.
Sali, and most of her fans, are feminists. I’m glad to call myself both. The online column is frequently suffering from trolls, baiters and vitriol – a sorry sign of one’s popularity. One comment this week particularly riled me, courtesy of a reader named “Oldfeminist”:
Solve the problem and save money by not using make up at all. Our own beauty is enough…saves time too. We are beautiful as we are. Don’t accept other people’s ideas about how you should look.
My response, in lengthier prose, follows.
As a note to an old feminist from a young one: Why, exactly, should we save money by not using makeup at all? I love the colours, I love being able to change my face if I feel like it, and I love being able to cover up spots. I love getting compliments like, “your eyeshadow looks amazing!” or “you look different today”. I love being able to express myself through makeup.
Isn’t that what feminism is about? Oldfeminist was partly right on that account: “Don’t accept other people’s ideas about how you should look”. I don’t wear makeup for anybody else and they’d get told where to go if for one moment they expressed a view that I “ought” to wear it. I really dislike these views that if she’s a feminist then a woman shouldn’t wear makeup, or take pride in her appearance because “that’s what feminists do”. It’s just as bad as being told that one ought to wear eyeliner, red lipstick and stockings whilst washing the dishes, because “that’s what women do”.
I heard in a snippet on the radio this afternoon that the majority of young women feel divorced from feminism. This is especially sad because I think they have become estranged from the concept of feminism, which is that a women should be able to do as she chooses without being dictated to by The Man (I employ a smidgen of sardonicism in using that term). Instead, it seems that a young woman associates feminism with being dictated to by The Woman, with bra-burning and its sign-waving sisters, and being told not to shave her legs.
Not that (ingrown hairs aside) there is anything wrong with not shaving your legs, or shaving them, as a woman (or a man) pleases. I shave mine purely because I like the feeling when it’s done. But being told that you shouldn’t? Or that you should? That’s just not feminism. Or cricket. Or, er feminist cricket.
I feel lucky, now, in that I’ve always called myself – sometimes even proudly – things that aren’t always quite the norm, or even well-received by society. “Gay”. “Clever”, at school. “Fat”, at times. “Ginger”. “Feminist” is just an addition to the list of my oddities.
For those who have always been pressurised to fit in, to be blonde and slim and appear to fancy the jock and be good at sports and not try too hard at school, I can totally appreciate how hard it must be to a) break away from being told how to fit in, and b) gravitate towards something that’s, at best, an unpopular concept. The misconception that being a feminist means dictating to others how they should behave is just the icing on the cake.
Being a feminist is (amongst very many other things) about having the choice and the freedom to wear what she pleases and look as she chooses, and to not be dictated to. So, to conclude with a note to any tentative feminists out there: Do as you like. Because I bloody well shall.