I have complicated feelings about cosmetics, specifically in regards to its supposed necessity in the eyes of many women, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I always find myself in a defensive position, debating in favour of them. it’s always exhausting to have conversations on this topic, considering they are almost entirely conducted opposite men, because this particular physical application of beauty standards is something that is so uniquely enforced upon women. and as with all of our unspoken, largely disregarded societal structures, its practice is illogical, systematic, and seemingly indefensible on a moral scale.

good intentions have never amounted to much, so I have little regard for the men who have even the purest intentions when they sprout platitudes such as; “you would be so beautiful if you wore less make-up,” or, “you don’t need make-up,” or, a personal favourite, “natural beauty is the best.” none of those statements are necessarily harmful, but it is my experience that they are oft said in the expectation that an admittance of insecurity will soon follow. they are not saying; “you don’t need to be beautiful.” they are saying, “I need you to be beautiful in my way.” and I am wary of saviour complexes. I am wary of compartmentalization. I am wary of men telling me what I should be, or look like, as a woman, so when I hear such things being said, I do not feel flattered, or encouraged, or reassured. 

it would be misleading of me to say that women don’t use cosmetics to repair what they believe are flaws, or to enhance their best features. of course that’s what it does. of course that is their intended, utilitarian purpose. of course certain women are uncomfortable being out in public without some level of maquillage, but when a man says that a woman is beautiful without makeup on, he is still grading her on a base value of beauty, which in turn plays exactly back into the labyrinthine domain of how inherently harmful beauty ideals are. it’s based on a hierarchy that by definition involves degradation, harmful competition, objectification, and a whole bunch of other -ations that make it really hard to be a woman.

the cosmetics industry is virulent. it reinforces this hierarchy and reaps an absurd profit off of the backs of women who have little choice but to live within it. I do not pretend to be superior; I exist inside this infrastructure as much as any other. I understand I am playing into larger hands, and I understand that in doing so, I am participating in its efficacy. but I also think about my unyielding self-love, and how impossible it is to reconcile that confidence with the fact that what I believe to be beautiful doesn’t belong to me— that it is, in actuality, the praxis of enforced patriarchal hegemony and capitalist compliance.

something I've learned is that one should set ideals, understand those ideals, utilize those ideals in a way that fortifies one’s moralities, but concurrently, recognize the reality of the world one lives in. the power that is imbued into appearance— that’s not an ideal. however, living in the world that we do, why should we be expected to give up what make us feel powerful? why, when we are able to subvert an order of oppression into something that charges our selves? why should we compromise with an uncompromising world, when we can take the knife, and use it to carve our own weapon?

cosmetics do not necessarily have to be tools of oppression; it could be the opposite. and it is up to the women who use them to adjust their own mentalities accordingly. it is not true that all women who wear make-up feel as though they need a mask, but it is true that confidence sometimes only arrives in the form of a tube or a compact. I do not feel as though I have the right to obscure any woman’s method of achieving confidence, in this life, when it’s so hard to come by. no, it is not an absolute. it is a choice.

I am incredibly proud of women who feel beautiful with nothing in the way of ornamentation. I feel equally proud of women who live their lives, conscious of the framework of toxic influences that affect them, but doing what they do to live their days with strength, with boldness, and with an ever-growing sense of self-reliance. what I am ashamed of are the ideologies that have created so many ways for women to fail.

a useless tautology: but beauty is unimportant, except when it is. I can only hope that women continue to see themselves, to value themselves, and to criticize the methods under which they have been attacked for so long. I can only idealize that when beauty survives, it will take on infinite shapes, infinite perspectives, and it will be impossible for anyone to use it against us.

shelly shan

hi, my name is shelly. I do a thing where I make words into unnecessarily emotional composites. I don't know why I'm allowed on the internet, but I like it here.