Fresh Faced and Make-Up Free? – Feminism Masked

Lauren Steele

Fresh Faced and Make-Up Free? – Feminism Masked

To be writing a feminist article about the oppression of make-up tugs at my conscience and makes my stomach twist and churn. I am a feminist and I wear make-up. A lot of it. The stereotypical ‘feminist’ look often embraced by the ignorant masses is a braless-washed-out-clean-faced-flower-power-woman-but-wearing-man’s-clothes-with-her-fist-in-the-air – kind of feminist. Yet, I consider myself a feminist and I wear make-up. My friends often tease and cheekily provoke me in arguments suggesting, “Yeah, but you can’t be a real feminist, you wear make-up”. I often feel the two beliefs clash – can I be a ‘proper’ feminist and still wear make-up?

I would like to be able to consider myself naturally beautiful enough to confidently stride down the street full of shoppers or attend a drinks party make-up free, or at least, almost. Having struggled with acne since I was 13 and the majority of my teenage years spent in a girls’ school caused a deep-rooted insecurity about my skin and my appearance. Growing up among girls, even surrounded by close friends and the ‘give a shit’ attitude towards appearance in school by sixth form, during the ‘pressure period’ of 13 to 16, I became neurotic and obsessed with foundation. Having been through antibiotics and then put on the pill at 15 to combat the skin problems, it relieved a little when I was 18 but is by no means clear. I am fair skinned and conscious of any natural redness or blemishes anywhere on my face. For the entirety of my life since the age of 13 I have plastered foundation on almost every day – I couldn’t leave the house without it, I couldn’t see any friends without it apart from the moments I would quickly use a facewipe before bed at a sleepover. Or I would just leave my make up on overnight. And I still do all these things. With my boyfriend I have always left my make up on overnight. It has always been something no one can change about me. Friends would tell me to wear less, boyfriends would ask me to take it off and wear less, but nothing could break those inbuilt, deep-rooted insecurities. And it is a habit, so much so I cannot imagine taking part in anything social with no foundation on.

I am aware I am victim to the overwhelming pressures of the media to look beautiful and have perfect skin and perfect features. And now a feminist, I still am, and its something I find out of everything the hardest to shake. Why is that? Why does the way I look naturally, affect my self-worth and self-esteem in such a drastic way? The fact that I have skin troubles has made it more personal than it can be to others, who wear a full face of make-up only on more special occasions; but now it is so normalised, it makes me feel awake, confident and ready to be productive that day. But what I secretly wish more than anything is that I could step out the house with not a smudge on and feel beautiful.

I feel I truly would if my skin cleared up, I could take those steps. But on a day to day basis, girls feel pressured to appear attractive and beautiful in comparison to their peers or to attract the opposite sex. I remember in Fresher’s Weeks and the first few weeks following I felt I had to pile on the make-up to go out – look attractive to make new friends and meet new people. I remember I made a significant bigger effort during my first term than I ever have for such an extended period, and much more than the rest of the year. But this was not necessary, and in fact just wastes time and sets standards for yourself to have to keep to.

What concerns me even more than make-up is accessories that have become increasingly popular – especially among my friends from home – fake eyelashes, fake tan, fake nails, hair extensions, extreme hair removal. I have seen girls spend hours and hours preening, gluing, brushing, back-combing, fake-tanning, plucking – the list goes on – yet it’s extreme in a different way to my extreme compulsion with foundation. It’s an obsession with make-up in an extreme way – fake eyelashes for every time you go on a night out, fake nails every day, fake-tan every day.  I have a friend who despises her natural nails and refuses to not wear long fake nails every day – an accessory designed to prevent women from doing everyday tasks or to make them difficult purely for beauty. Fake eyelashes – applying glue to near your eye, sometimes accidently gluing your eyelashes together by accident, a hassle that can take ten minutes to apply just this one accessory – a waste of time for an extra which simply makes you look like a plastic Barbie. Hair extensions – buying hair from impoverished people in underdeveloped countries or from the deceased, purely in pursuit of luscious-looking locks. Not only do these items encourage trivial vanity and self-indulgence but also causes a pressure on other girls to reach the same standards if the items are widely approved and accepted. They are expensive and impractical. Setting back women in cash and time, not to mention an overwhelming feeling of pressure and anxiety.

While I cannot preach about wearing make-up as I wear it myself – I, of all people, understand the pressures put on women from the media and the pressure to wear make-up and to conform to the conventional idea of beauty to fit into an all-girl environment at school or in Fresher’s first term, to make friends or feel attractive. However, today, tone down that eyeshadow, the glitter, the blush, wipe off the caked and crumbling foundation and escape those fake eyelashes. Fight the oppression and confront Fresher’s Week with a Fresh Face.


  1. Ray Filar

    I really, really enjoyed this. It is so refreshing to read an analysis of the politics of beauty that doesn’t mention choice or empowerment.

  2. Clare WG

    Thank you for being so candid about a subject that is frequently trivialised – and good luck with a fresh-faced freshers week!!! xx

  3. Lilian

    I was exactly the same in my early twenties – I saw the problems with feeling obliged to wear make-up, but was so unhappy with my appearance that I felt extremely uncomfortable without it. Luckily, age, increased laziness and failure to care about the opinions of people who judged on appearance (i.e. PLENTY of them) eventually conspired to put a stop to that. 🙂

    The notion that women are failing if they’re not confident enough to go without it is so utterly counterproductive. We’re told that it’s important to look beautiful from the moment we’re old enough to understand; it’s hardly surprising that so many girls struggle with self-image in light of this. At the end of the day, it’s all well and good to want to change the world, but the fact is that we still have to live in it.

© 2024 Gender Agenda

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑