I've been seeing this post about a daughter's questions about her mom's makeup in my news feed recently, and it's made me think. Christine Burke describes how her daughter's simple question made her see herself through a 7-year-old's eyes and examine why she spent so much time and effort contouring, highlighting, plucking, cleansing and otherwise enhancing her looks.
I wear makeup. Not every day, but then, I work from home, so half the time I don't put on my clothes, let alone my face. But if I'm going out and I have time, I'll do my makeup. And I love buying the stuff... few things make me happier than finding a new brightly-colored liquid eyeliner!
But what message am I sending my kids? Am I teaching Molly that women need to correct or enhance their natural features? That her own face isn't good enough? That to live as a woman means to constantly be evaluated against society's standards of beauty and modesty, skirt *juusst* long and short enough to demonstrate that you're neither a slut nor a prude; "bare-faced" makeup that makes you look exactly like you aren't wearing makeup without looking like you do when you aren't wearing makeup...
Spoiler Alert: Unfortunately, that last one *is* true.
And what about our boys? Am I teaching Ben to idealize a particular set of beauty standards and to expect a certain level of effort from the girls and women in his life? That he should judge them by the amount of pride they take in their appearance, as evidenced by the time they spend curating it?
Intersectional or "third-wave" feminism seeks to dismantle ALL of the systemic oppressions that impact ALL people. As A. Lynn of Nerdy Feminist puts it, "When you enter a feminist space and you are only concerned about sexism, you are missing the full story." Read the rest of her fantastic post, "Intersectionalism 101," here. Go on. I'll wait.
When it comes to our society's standards of women's beauty (which are influenced by a multitude of factors, including sexism, racism, whiteness, tokenism, ablism, transphobia, fatphobia, homophobia, rape culture, slut-shaming and which are marketed through mass-media and passed down through generations) there is only so much we can do on a micro level to influence our kids one way or the other.
But we can do that much.
We can expose those arbitrary standards for what they are -- arbitrary standards. We can celebrate all kinds of beauty and focus on characteristics other than "beauty." And we can frame discussions about our bodies, hair and faces in terms of our own choices and desires rather than how other people see us.
Many of the responses I've seen to Christine Burke's post refer to "needing" makeup -- things like "I wear it so I don't spend the whole day listening to people tell me I look so tired," and, "I tell my daughter she probably won't need it until she's older."
But that's what it does for other people -- what does makeup do for you? For most people, it makes us feel happy about how we look. It makes me happy to have a pop of colur on my eyelids and or to disguise a zit on my forehead. Maybe it makes you happy to have a more even complexion, red lips or darker lashes. There is nothing wrong and everything right about choosing to wear something that makes you happy.
In the post I referenced earlier, author Christine Burke relates her reply to her daughter's question: "'I look into her clear, freckled face and simply say, "I wear makeup because it tells the story of my face in color.' And I hope my answer enough for now and I pray that she can't see the lie through my makeup."
Her words make me want to smile and weep at the same time, because her response is playful and alive and naturally flawless. I just wish she had believed it herself.
When Molly asks me, "Why are you putting that stuff on?" I say, "Because I like to." When she says, "What's that blue thing for?" I say, "To make my eyelids blue." When she says, "Can I have blue eyelids?" I say, "Sure. Hold still!"
Because what I want my children learn from me is not that "true" beauty is natural and youthful and free from artificial enhancements until you're old enough to need them. I want them to learn that true beauty is enjoying and loving yourself the just way you are -- makeup and all.