Does makeup make women feel bad about themselves? We last pondered the question back in Women's Studies 101, but this week, the New York Times resurrected it for another look. "If makeup has indeed become the status quo in the public realm," its latest Room For Debate column asks, "does it ultimately damage a woman's self-esteem, or elevate it?" To explore this issue, seven writers — makeup artists, writers, and researchers among them — argue whether makeup signifies female self-expression or an oppressive tool of the patriarchy.
We're all for a good rip-roaring debate, but this particular one is about as current as, well, frosted lilac lipstick. As third-wave feminists already argued decades ago, wearing makeup doesn't necessarily mean a woman feels inadequate without it — just as going bare-faced doesn't automatically lead to radical self-acceptance.
Don't get us wrong; when women feel pressured to wear makeup, that's definitely a bad thing. But, it's also stifling to imply that if a woman chooses to wear concealer or mascara, she must have lousy self-esteem. In reality, each person is different. For every woman who resents grooming her eyebrows before heading to a board meeting, there's another who delights in lining her eyes before a date, and another who quickly covers her breakout before rushing out the door. The reasons for wearing (or eschewing) makeup are as endless as the women behind them. So how can there be one right answer for all of womankind? For such a colorful topic, the Times debate seems oddly framed in black-and-white thinking. Readers, your thoughts?