Thursday, 14 May 2009

Beauty vs The Beast

In last week's G2, feminist writer Julie Bindel wrote about how she had never felt compelled to wear make-up , and preached to us moronic L'Oreal-loving traitors about the terrible conformity of having to 'dress up for male approval' with a face full of slap. Now, I am of the opinion that in a perfect world, we would all have flawless, glowing, evenly-coloured complexions which self-moisturised and accentuated our cut-glass cheekbones. In planet reality, I am firmly convinced that the average woman is never 100% happy with her bare face, and that make up is mostly for her, not Him. Some of us don’t even have a Him to impress. And I’m pretty sure that not many (past that teenage preoccupation with how boys are viewing you) are bothered about random builders and barmen analysing their features.

It is a pleasure and a pastime to play with colour and enhance your face; like some women are attracted to gaudy costume jewellery or sharp, bold hairstyles, I am a magpie for beauty products. Little dreamy pots of luscious creamy substances that highlight cheek and brow bones, buttery-soft balms that transform my less-than-generous lips into a Hollywood pout, powdery pink blush for that healthy glow even after four hours’ sleep, and mascara, that wonder product, the path to impossibly long, feathery bambi lashes.

As a romantic when it comes to style and beauty, I resent the hard-nosed accusation that ‘people like me’ are betraying the sisterhood with our desire to entrap men and hide our true character. I have never described myself as a feminist, because women like Bindel have made it an ugly preference (no pun intended). There is no middle ground with these women, you either shun all modern enchantments in favour of becoming hairy, disgruntled and plain (not to mention preachy and outspoken), or you have no feminist leanings at all. What Bindel is essentially saying is, even after years of feminist study and political campaigning, any would-be fish without a bicycle can ruin it all with one slick of a Juicy Tube.

What hope for fairly independent, forward-thinking women who also want the little indulgences that make them happy? I know that personally my make-up habit is for me alone; I like playing around with it and improving my skills, I like the glow certain products give me, and I like it when people say I have nice skin (translation: YSL's touche eclat). Most of all I know it's for me because my boyfriend dislikes cosmetic overload and is constantly hinting that he likes me best first thing in the morning, fresh faced. If anything I'm resisting male pressure by continuing to choose make-up.

When reading the article, I respected her effort to try what she was condemning, but hated the scathing treatment of anyone dabbling in a little Elizabeth Arden. She links stupidity with cosmetic appreciation unnecessarily; the women getting furthest in many industries are the ones who realise that people with the whole package are much more likely to be promoted and valued. People react well to those who make an effort, whether that be the well groomed, fragrant smelling, neatly attired or immaculately manicured. It is subconscious, and yes, perhaps a bit misogynistic. But why is it so wrong to want to be successful and admired? I find it hard to take women like Bindel seriously when they are so ludicrously intolerant of the mainstream.

One of my favourite writers, India Knight, has a completely contrasting ode to cosmetics in her wonderful memoir/gift guide The Shops . If given the chance to make your eyes bigger and brighter, your skin gleam and your lips look plump and alluring, she wonders, why wouldn’t you take it? Knight is fairly mistrustful of make-up-free ladies, which is a little unfair, but what she is basically saying is that those sharply opposed to looking their best are not her type of women. Incidentally, she comes across throughout her writing as a total woman's woman, with sisters and girl friends filling the pages, her books aimed at women who want to treat themselves. Bindel’s only acknowledgement of her fellow femmes seems to be feuds with other prolific feminists such as Julie Birchill, and her constant censure of ‘them’, these terrible normal women who don’t share her views. I know who I’d rather have coffee with.

Bindel and Knight: Not hitting the Clarins counter together any time soon


  1. I completely agree. All that today's so-called feminists seem to be doing is creating a stereotype about feminists themselves, as hairy and angry! I have the greatest respect and admiration for the 'original feminists' who really challenged the inherent misogyny of our society, of literature, of the media etc. and I think women still get the short straw when it comes to equal rights and expectations (unequal City pay and the 'size 0' issue, for example). But would I call myself as a feminist because I have these opinions, or because I find the early feminist writings and readings inspiring?

    No, because I don't want to be stereotyped as a man-hating lesbian! So much for breaking down gender stereotypes!

    I read a comment on a forum recently that said Carol Ann Duffy should not be Poet Laureate because she was not a good role model for lesbians, being a butch, man-hating feminist. If we're going down this road and criticising her ability to do the job according to her private life then hello? Ted Hughes? Adulterer, womaniser, anyone?! Just another example of the misconceptions people hold about feminism. Incidentally, I also find it supremely irritating when people confuse feminism and lesbianism, or think they come as a pair!

    I have to say, I think it's often the case that feminists such as Bindel bring these misconceptions on themselves. I think this make-up idea is completely ridiculous. I don't remember ever, even during my most impressionable young teenage years, applying make up to impress boys! For me, make-up is about feeling more confident in my own skin and experimenting just as I try to do with clothes. This blog reminded me of a girl I went to school with, who used to proclaim suggestively at any opportunity that she 'didn't weat make up or straighten her hair because God didn't care what she looked like'. Right. Okay. A part of me admires people who have the confidence to go without 'war-paint', but this is a very small part! I think they are not only missing out on something, but actually going against the feminist / Christian polemics they apparently abide by. Surely saying women only wear make up to impress men denies these women the opportunity to indulge in something which most women would consider part of being a woman: wearing make-up and looking attractive and feminine. Equally, surely saying that we shouldn't wear make-up because God wouldn't want us to contradicts our God-given free will?

    Anyway, enough of a rant!
    Love the blog Lucy!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Freya, excellent points. I totally agree and think the Christian anti-cosmetics reasoning is even more hilarious than Ms-No-Fun-Feminist.x

  3. Also, by going on and on about evil men, powerful men, oppressive men all the time, aren't feminists just giving them more airtime than they need?? I certainly don't go around harping on about men half as much as these women do. Bizzare. xx

  4. Remember that you're from a younger generation. You can recreate feminism for yourselves because what felt relevant 20 years ago often just isn't anymore. I think that younger women just assume equal rights with men, so there's not the same need to prove's a wonderful place to be, but maybe we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the more radical stance of older feminists. It's over to you twenty-somethings now.You can rewrite the script however you like!