Taking Back the Colors

Let’s take back nail polish and eye shadow! There’s such a strong societal association between makeup and femininity, girly girls, femmes — a certain kind of woman. Why should that be? I say, people of all kinds and genders should be able to wear makeup and nail polish without shame.

I love brightly colored nail polishes and eye shadows. I think it’s so much fun. Nail polishes come in every color under the sun (and they have such fun names), and I love how intense and dramatic eye shadow can be in shades of green and blue and purple. Unfortunately, I rarely indulge in either – it’s such a girly, femmey thing, and I’m just really not. Or rather, I know that if I wear it, people will read me as girly and feminine, and that’s really not what I’m going for. The thing is, I know intellectually that it’s just a product. It’s just a thing. It doesn’t inherently mean anything. Wearing nail polish wouldn’t make me femme; it won’t make me anything (except possessing of potentially fabulously colored nails).

I have this memory from high school – my very first time in the costume room (I was in theatre), a friend was getting his nails painted teal. Last week, I was admiring the glossy, black nail polish of a guy I’d just met and discussing the perks of a “mani/pedi” (mainly how lovely it feels with all of the scrubs and water and whatnot). Some of the people with whom I was hanging out also had an impromptu makeup application session in which a bunch of non-woman-identified people got their makeup done, complete with really bright blue eyeshadow.

All of the people I’ve mentioned have such courage. Society doesn’t usually treat people kindly when they transgress gender norms. But why should that be? And judging people on something as simple as makeup or nail polish? It doesn’t make any sense! Nail polish shouldn’t impinge upon someone’s masculinity (“‘Real’ men don’t wear that”) or assign someone femininity. It shouldn’t cause people to make assumptions about others or question their sexuality (“He’s got to be gay”).

Nail polish should be fun! Eye shadow should be fun! There’s such opportunity for wild colors and high drama. It should be for everyone who wants it! Totally not fair for it to only be societally acceptable only for women. Totally not fair that it should mark someone as a certain kind of woman or man.We should be able to wear makeup and nail polish without being judged, and it shouldn’t mark us as anything. Let’s take back those colors!

6 responses to “Taking Back the Colors

  1. Great post, Rachel!

    I’ve been contemplating make-up a lot lately, and society’s requirements of it. You know I identify as a straight woman, and it annoys me to no end that, because of that, being “put together” or “getting ready” always consists of putting on make-up. It’s so ingrained, from an early age, that women wear make-up, for many reasons: it makes them beautiful; it makes them women. Why do I have to wear make-up, why can’t I feel ready, complete, or even beautiful without it?

    To the same end, why can’t non-woman-identifying people (or really, anyone at all) wear make-up if they want to, to use it, as you say to be fun and high-drama? To make a statement? To wear it because they like it?

    I think make-up, and appearance in general, needs to be taken back from society, and made personal. Rock what works for you, and laugh in the face of anyone who tries to tell you to conform.

    • Christina! First of all, I miss you! We should catch up — skype or something — because I haven’t seen you in ages. That said, thank you for reading/commenting on my blog. You bring up a really good point (about how being “put together” for women — perhaps particularly straight women — assumes makeup) that I hadn’t really touched on. It’s definitely something I’ve also thought about and read about and whatnot, and it maybe become central to a later post.

      PS. I think “Rock what works for you, and laugh in the face of anyone who tries to tell you to conform” is going to be my new slogan. Or at least my new advice for others.

      PPS. You’re beautiful, even without makeup :)

  2. Christina: I don’t wear makeup. I did a little bit in high school to fit in, but I suck at applying it and consensus among those I care about (including myself) is that I look better without it.

    I had a job interview the other day (for a job I don’t particularly want, so it’s not really a big deal) and my interviewer kept telling me that I looked like I was in high school or even middle school. She could not believe that I was almost 23. I found this ridiculous because I was wearing my nice, grown-up looking black suit pants, a nice grey top and a turquoise pashmina that really made my eyes pop all on its own. I felt that I actually looked quite grown up. I told a female friend about this encounter later and she said that I should try putting on make-up for interviews. She said it would make me look more grow-up. Apparently only little girls are “allowed” to not wear it. Women wear make-up and if I wanted to be viewed as a woman, that’s what I had to do. wtf? I feel like when I put on make-up, I look like I’m trying too hard. I look more like a teenager trying to look grown up than like an actual grown-up.

    The point of this story is: each person needs to figure out what makes them comfortable with the way they look. I feel ready and prepared for the day with an empty face. This could be because my mom never wears make-up either…idk. Perhaps my friend feels ready to present herself for an interview or similar event when she puts make-up on and that’s ok.

    Rachel: If wearing make-up makes you feel comfortable about the way you look, makes you feel beautiful, wear it! : )

    • Naomi: I think it’s a little inappropriate for your interviewer to tell you that you look like you’re in middle school (high school too, probably – college might be okay, considering that you just graduated), especially to do so repeatedly. Also, I’ve definitely heard/read/felt the message that women/females/people who are read as either need to wear makeup in order to be taken seriously as adults (consciously or unconsciously), and it’s just ridiculous! Good for you for deciding to do what feels right for you. As for me, I don’t particularly want to feel beautiful, but I’m considering trying out nail polish again – I might start with black, as a sort of throwback to my high school days.

      Also, a blog I read (SexGenderBody) just posted today about an experiment she’s doing in which she challenges people to go a day or a week without wearing makeup, in order to explore why they wear makeup and what their relationship to cosmetics is.

  3. Pingback: Pretty In Pink: Yay For Jenna Lyons and Her Son | Beyond Bryn Mawr

  4. Pingback: Nail Polish isn’t just for women, but Alphanail is NOT what I had in mind | Beyond Bryn Mawr

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