Sunday, 26 July 2015

Make up and feminism

My daughter is at the phase of development where every day she learns new words. It's a lot of fun. Last weekend added 'tiara' and 'make up' her vocabulary - essential terms in our all-female household.

But am I compromising my feminism by letting a toddler learn about make up?

The curse of cosmetics

There is nothing unfeminist about make up. It's the attitude with which you use it that counts.

Make up becomes unfeminist when we are trapped by it:

  • Can't leave the house without it
  • Think it masks our natural ugliness, rather than enhancing our natural beauty
  • Feel obliged to pay high prices for products before we can be seen by the outside world

It would be a better world if our appearances didn't matter. If what was on the inside was genuinely all that counted. The fashion industry would disappear overnight. Stylists, hairdressers and Maxfactor would all go out of business. we'd probably all be a lot happier. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon. And so we have make up. 

Growing up with make up

I'm a single parent with an only child. My daughter and I live, by necessity, an intimate life. She plays in the bathroom while I shower, she pats my knees while I sit on the toilet, she potters about the bedroom as I get dressed and she jabbers to herself in the mirror as I put on my make up. I think this is pretty normal.

Once she found one of my make-up brushes and expertly brushed her cheek with it. It felt a little wrong, and gave me a pang of guilt that she knew what to do so young.

But is putting on a bit of bronzer that different to putting on a bra? (This is a philosophical question, as obviously they are completely different, unless you put bronzer on your nipples before you go to work).

I can't lock my daughter out from any of these things - she always needs to be near me so I can watch her, and I think it's good for her to see what I do to get ready. This is how we learn. If I don't want her to understand about cosmetics from a very young age, the only way is to stop wearing them myself. I'm not about to do that.

As a grown woman, it's my right to choose to wear make up if I want to, and I do. I wear a minimal amount in my everyday life. But if I'm lucky enough to be going out for the evening I bring out the full works (It's a single mum thing. Trust me. We don't get out much). And I enjoy it. I enjoy buying it, I enjoy putting it on.

Stand up for make up

I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking it's shameful to go to Tesco's without mascara. Or even the pub.

My responsibility is not to keep these things from her, but to teach her to approach the feminine slalom of make up, jewellery and clothes, as stuff that you can have fun with, choices you can make.

So I'm standing up for make up. For our right to wear it, and for our right to not wear it. For our right to do whatever we please. And to teach our children the same.