Feminism has given us a lot: the right to vote, governance over our bodies, almost equal pay. This progress permeates our everyday lives, right down to our morning beauty routines. Makeup can make us feel beautiful and confident, yes, but it can also make a bigger difference. With just a few simple acts of consciousness, women can transform their daily maintenance routines into feminist rituals that empower their lives. Here are 10 ways to get started.
1. Read up on makeup’s feminist history. You can swipe your Sephora rewards card with confidence because of the hard work our feminist foremothers did to change the perception of female beauty. Businesswomen like Mary Kay, Helena Rubinstein, and Estée Lauder did more than bring matte lipstick and shine-free powder to the marketplace. They gave women an opportunity to achieve financial solvency and the motivation to start their own enterprises.
2. Know what your brands stand for. No one wants to find out that her favorite brightener contains lead, or that her go-to beauty brand outsources to third-world countries that employ child labor. But consumer empowerment is a feminist requirement — especially considering how aggressively beauty products are marketed to women. There is power in our purchases; we ought to wield it appropriately.
3. Pay attention to the advertising. Does the ad for your favorite perfume feature a naked woman (possibly crying) being dominated by a man? Does your lipstick maker package a women’s body parts — rather than her entire face — to sell its product? Is there an overabundance of cleavage in that commercial for acne wash? These things matter. The images of women used in advertising and media write the script for our culture. Embracing the right ones (and rejecting the wrong ones) goes a long way in changing that script.
4. Find a positive beauty role model. We idolize pop culture figures for their intellect, ambition, and fearlessness — why not their signature beauty? Whether it’s Elizabeth Taylor’s smoky eyes (there are wicked smarts behind that sex gaze), or Gwen Stefani’s red lips (girl power personified), find inspiration in a powerful woman to develop your own beauty calling card.
5. Think globally. Environmentalism is feminism because of the way climate change and waste affects women in the world. Natural disasters hit the poorest citizens hardest, and more often than not, those citizens are women. Plus, finding products that don’t poison your skin or drinking water is generally a good idea. Study up on ingredient no-nos, and bookmark sites such as safecosmetics.org and cosmetic-products.net to understand those big words in the ingredient labels.
Photo: Rex USA
6. Support brands that support women. Every makeup company sells the idea that women are beautiful, which is nice, but some companies do real, activist work to advance women’s status around the world. For example, Bobbi Brown announced its new Pretty Powerful Campaign for Women and Girls this month. In partnership with GlobalGiving.org and Dress for Success, Brown is raising money for education and career-advancement. You can buy a product, donate directly or simply share the message with your girlfriends and help make beauty a powerful thing.
7. Consider the bunny. Animal testing is not necessarily anti-feminist, but most of us can agree that it’s pretty horrific. Seeking out truly cruelty-free products is an act of kindness and awareness that will likely trickle into other areas of your life.
8. Budget wisely. The amount of money women spend on makeup and skin care ($40 billion annually just in the U.S.) weakens our economic power. We make less than men, but are told we need more stuff to start the day. Ask yourself, “What do I really need?” Soap, moisturizer and a signature lip color? Yes. Three perfume scents and 40 tubes of lipgloss? Maybe not. Bingeing on beauty to the point of economic collapse? Not smart.
9. Don’t judge other women. Leave that girl with the neon pink lipstick and frosted highlights alone. Every woman is entitled to her own self-expression, no matter how it looks. So what if you wouldn’t be caught dead in blue eye shadow and a French braid? If your friend or colleague feels good in her skin, support her confidence!
10. Love yourself without makeup. Challenge: Go a week, or even a day, without so much as concealer. We should learn to love the lady in the mirror as much in the morning as we do all glammed up before a night on the town. Makeup is about enhancing the beauty that women feel within. Don’t use it to mask anything — except maybe a gnarly zit. I’m pretty sure feminists invented blemish-banishing concealer.
Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder, along with Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, of sexyfeminist.com and co-author of the new book, Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Success, and Style.