I don’t understand why the patriarchy let women have makeup. It took most of the good stuff; why would it let us have the sparkle? Actually, everyone used to wear makeup (powder, beauty spots and wigs) but it went out of fashion because Queen Victoria thought it vulgar. When she was off mourning Albert in Balmoral, a few brave women whispered, “If she’s not coming back, shall we crack out the rouge?” but the men never bothered. Now most men have to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and think, “Well, that’s as good as I’m going to look all day.”
With makeup, you can conceal, reveal, accentuate and play. The game I play at the opening of my podcast, The Guilty Feminist, is called “I’m a feminist but …” It’s like feminist confessional – a playful admission of where our actions and values don’t meet: “I’m a feminist but if I saw Priti Patel leaving a public loo with her dress tucked into her knickers, I wouldn’t tell her.” Sometimes makeup gets put into the frivolous category by feminists guesting on the show: “I’m a feminist but if I had to give away all my Virginia Woolf books or my liquid eyeliner for ever, I’d really miss Mrs Dalloway.” We’ve all been socially conditioned to think feminine expressions of gender diminish women’s authority a little and put us in a submissive or sexually objectified role.
Men have traditionally held power, therefore replicating masculinity equals command. We are proud of small daughters who want to dress as Superman rather than Elsa from Frozen – although they are both kind people with superpowers. We are trained to look at young women giving makeup tutorials as risible, even though they’re probably earning more than we are and have a wider influence than most journalists. Hannah Gadsby said, in her hit show Nanette: “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.” Makeup is simply a daily tool, for some people, to rebuild ourselves. It’s a quick-fire way to say, “What big eyes I have …” and, “What big lips I have …” All the better to stand my ground with. Every groundhog Zoom call I take, looking at my own tedious face once more, I bless makeup. Because I can rebuild myself any way I want. I can tell my own face I’m powerful. Don’t tell the patriarchy – they’ll want it back.