Flawless Eye-liner and Flawed Feminism: Where are you on this debate?


I was listening (and zealously nodding along) to Alessia Cara’s Scars To Your Beautiful on my way to work this morning while beating myself up over having forgotten to apply, AND carry my eye-liner today… You’re probably thinking that my taste in music, which acutely corresponds to what I preach as a feminist writer, does not translate into the everyday choices I make. Ironic, isn’t it? Or, is it really?

What if I told you that there’s nothing hypocritical, or even remotely bipolar, about a girl demanding equal treatment while donning a luscious red lipstick? My flawless eye-liner skills don’t make me a flawed feminist. Contrary to popular belief, make-up and feminism can co-exist in a woman’s consciousness in utter and perfect harmony, Sirs, thank you!

Make-up isn’t the only weapon in patriarchy’s armour that is designed to put women in their places

But, unfortunately, with mansplaining being one of the primal instincts of your run-of-the-mill dudebro, this phenomenon — marinated in double-standards before being garnished with dollops of patriarchy and male-entitlement — looks like it’s here to stay.

The norms of appearance dictate that a woman must look immaculate and unblemished — but naturally so. What are these unrealistic beauty standards? If a woman wears too much make-up, the natural conclusion to be drawn is that she is vain, vapid, shallow, insecure, ugly and has low self-esteem. On the other hand, when a woman ditches make-up completely, the spectrum of reactions she evokes range from being asked whether she is sick or depressed, to being called “a bra-burning feminist”, to being advised to add a little flush of colour to her cheeks and lips. Sigh. There’s no pleasing this world, is there?

It is argued that make-up is an instrument employed by patriarchy to oppress women. Sure, I agree with that. But, make-up isn’t the only weapon in patriarchy’s armour that is designed to put women in their places. Marriage, motherhood, job opportunities, media, entertainment, and now, even the trappings of feminism itself (through dedicated mansplaining) — have all served as tools of subjugation. So, make-up isn’t really the villain here; in fact, it barely even qualifies as the stooge.

When a woman ditches make-up completely, the spectrum of reactions she evokes range from being asked whether she is sick or depressed, to being called “a bra-burning feminist”

Having said that, I admit that body image is something I grapple with everyday despite being considered conventionally attractive. Within the confines of my anxiety-riddled mind, it can assume the proportions of a monstrous tornado wreaking havoc on every fibre of my confidence till it’s tattered away completely. Body image is something that has had me (and most other women I interact with on an everyday basis) in it’s shackles for so long that despite delivering the occasional sermon criticising the gendered double standards perpetrated by pop culture and society, I don’t even know what it would feel like to break free of it. Basically, I have no concept of what existence would be like without body image issues.

The beauty industry thrives on convincing women that they look like shit. And, trust me, it takes time for one’s confidence to heal from such blows — if at all one succeeds, that is. For instance, I still can’t walk around confidently in shorts because one of my exes had convinced me that I have ugly thighs that must never be unleashed into the world. Feminism might be many things, but it isn’t a booster dose of confidence that feminists religiously administer into their veins every morning.

My unhealthy dependence on eye-liner — whose absence elicits emotions ranging from being upset and feeling under-confident throughout the day to refusing to step out of the house because how-can-people-see-me-like-this — concerns me, yes. Sometimes I feel that my self-esteem is rooted in a tiny, glass bottle of black liquid. But, that does not make me a flawed feminist. It merely makes me a flawed human being struggling to undo the nuances of the unconscious proclivities engendered and engineered by years of social conditioning that idealized a specific body type, a specific skin colour, and basically, very specific and unattainable standards of attractiveness. In short, I have issues.

But, I can be a feminist, and I can also legit give as many f… as I want about how to present myself to the world. My mind isn’t black and white; it is made up of more colours than the rainbow and I want my face to reflect that!

feminism flawless flawsMake-up is often an extension of self-expression. Time and again, make-up has lent one the paraphernalia to experiment with one’s identity, and embrace one’s sexuality. In the roaring 1920s, flappers used make-up to flaunt their disdain for acceptable standards of feminine behaviour — yes, make-up symbolised rebellion against patriarchy!

Make-up isn’t merely a tool of objectification by the male gaze. Make-up is voice, make-up is opinion, make-up is art, make-up is identity and make-up is empowerment. And much like marriage and motherhood, (whether or not to) make-up is a personal choice — an extension of personal autonomy over one’s body. Or, at least, it should be.

Because make-up isn’t the arch-nemesis of feminism, patriarchy is. So, if it’s not on your face, it’s not your problem. My make-up is none of your business!

Views are the author’s own.