What Is #Feminist-Makeupping?

Going beyond the hashtag to discuss the politics of makeup IRL.
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Going beyond the hashtag to discuss the politics of makeup IRL.

Two months ago, a friend and I hosted the first #feminist-makeupping event in Wellington, New Zealand: An afternoon of makeup, snacks, and conversation in a safe and fun space.

colorful sticky notes on a mirror

I forgot there are two Ps in "makeupping."

What Is #feminist-makeupping?

Coined in 2012 by "rgr-pop," and elaborated upon by Arabelle Sicardi (a blogger and xoVain contributor), #feminist-makeupping is an active tag on Tumblr. Both Sicardi and "rgr-pop" have extensive archives that make for great obsessive reading until it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve got 35 tabs open and are re-evaluating your existence as a person who puts makeup on their face.

In essence, #feminist-makeupping is about makeup and how it relates to the politics of feminism: how we present our body and selves to the world, and how we engage with the beauty industry and patriarchy’s ideals on gender presentation.

The Internet has some awesome safe spaces, but it can be isolating. When I saw Vee (my event cohost) talking on Twitter about bringing the ideas behind #feminist-makeupping into a real-life setting, I was really excited. At that point, we lived in the same city but hadn’t met. Vee’s a makeup artist and I’m a blogger, and we motivated each other to make something actually happen.

promotional art poster for event

Our promotional art was done by Pinky Fang.

The event took place in a community dance studio on a Sunday afternoon in August. There were vegan snacks, a whole lot of makeup, and about 30 enthusiastic feminist makeuppers of all genders and persuasions.

women laughing together

Growing Up Around Makeup

We talked about our individual histories with makeup, and found that mothers and other female family members were mentioned again and again. Those with with old-school feminist mothers remembered hearing "feminists don’t wear makeup." Meanwhile, others came of age with lessons on how to wear lipstick and mascara, and were introduced to a very rigid idea of what "pretty" means. 

One attendee, Laura, shared the first time she felt her face was somehow inadequate. 

"Just after my sixth birthday party, a family friend looked at a photo of all us girls together and gasped, pointed at one particular friend, and said, 'Oh, what a doll, none of the others come close to her.'"

yellow eye shadow

Laura’s face is an excellent face.

women applying makeup

These feminists wear makeup.

Who Do We Wear Makeup For?

We all agreed that, in today's world, it’s hard to escape the perception that we’re wearing makeup for someone else--generally, men. 

The beauty industry sells us the patriarchy’s ideas of who we should be, who should wear makeup, and how it should be worn. 

They teach us that cosmetics should be used to make you look like a cis-gendered straight white woman, for men to appreciate. 

Contouring tells us to aspire to a slim, symmetrical Caucasian face. Natural or "no-makeup makeup" is based around erasing your flaws and giving the illusion of perfection.

On the flip side, you have this meme about taking a girl (popular vlogger Makeupdoll) swimming on the first date--so that her makeup washes off and the smug beau sees her true imperfect face before he wastes too much energy. I think the idea of makeup as deceit is particularly toxic.

electric blue eyeliner

You think George’s eyelids aren’t always bright blue?

Makeup For Empowerment 

Another attendee, Sophie, loves wearing unusual lip colors "because they're about more than enhancing natural beauty, and are more like face paint or war paint." Laura agrees: 

"I love how powerfully visible I feel when I'm wearing bright or dark lipstick, and I like how completely for myself it is when I wear makeup that might be considered risky or different."

holding group discussion

My name is Morgan and I am a feminist.

I definitely call on bold makeup to make me powerfully visible when I’m at work, especially on occasions when I need a confidence boost. Megan, who works in a male-dominated industry, says she uses makeup to intimidate, but she also finds power in "softer looks [as they can] cause people to underestimate you."

The event was like a big daytime sleepover, where Vee and I trusted everyone with the makeup we’d brought along and we tried to maintain hygiene with disposable mascara wands and plenty of isopropyl alcohol. At one point I was showing a woman the basics of filling in eyebrows in the dance studio mirrors while the people next to me were experimenting with glitter on theirs.

women applying makeup in mirror

How do dancers get anything done when they have such great mirrors at their disposal?

Hosting A #feminist-makeupping Event

After the success of the Wellington #feminist-makeupping afternoon, we’re hoping to take it to Auckland. There’s no reason why others can’t make it happen in their cities, too. We did our best to make the event as inclusive as possible. Vee and I don’t claim ownership of the #feminist-makeupping concept, but we’re happy to give you some practical advice about running an event like this.

In saying this, #feminist-makeupping doesn’t mean meeting up with people at a specific time in a specific place and talking about feminism and makeup for three hours. 

It takes place with your friends as you get ready for a night out; in your workplace bathroom as you overdraw your lips with orange lipstick before a big meeting; when you wear blush without foundation, and red eye shadow because it makes you look sick.

red eye shadow

"I decided to go for red eye shadow because it's garish. It makes you look angry and tired and high and sad and demonic. And I am all of those things," --Vee 

  • What's your take on #feminist-makeupping? 
  • Would you go to (or host) a feminist makeupping event?