By Riona Reeves, VI Form
We live in a world of oxymorons. There is jumbo shrimp, bittersweet chocolate, civil war, so on and so forth. These types of amusing contradictions are harmless. Yet more concerning paradoxes are becoming increasingly apparent in daily life, especially for women.
Is it really so surprising that women have been deemed “complicated,” when they receive so many conflicting instructions on how to behave, look, and feel each and every day? Society tells them to stop being so emotional, but not to be frigid. Don’t be needy, but don’t be too independent. You are a tease if you don’t put out and a slut if you do. You have to look attractive, but it is your own fault if you receive any harassment. Worst-case scenario, you should be strong enough to defend yourself from your attacker, but you are not expected to be stronger than your boyfriend. You must look, act, and be perfect at all times, even when you are just as flawed as the next human being.
Each day, we are accosted with advertisements featuring beautiful women. They smile prettily, as the camera captures their perfect bodies, showing the world that they love the product they are trying to sell. Whether it is actually the product or the woman being sold to us is still unclear.
The mindset that the perfect women we see in the media are real has undermined the dignity of women for generations. This is not a new trend; from the 1940s to the 1970s, women were told to gain weight[i]. “Don’t let them call you skinny!” one advertisement exclaimed. “Men wouldn’t look at me when I was skinny,” another proclaimed. Now, in 2014, the exact opposite is true. Female celebrities are constantly mocked for wearing loose fitting clothes, having cellulite, and entering the public without looking absolutely perfect.
Even women not in the spotlight are heavily affected by society’s demanding yet self-contradicting expectations. One girl I spoke with felt “too ugly to leave the house” without makeup, a commonly held perception by the women I interviewed. Others said that they started wearing makeup due to peer-pressure and now wished they had never begun, now feeling dependent on it for their confidence and strength. One girl said that she thought people who do not wear makeup are stronger than people who do, as they have “accepted” their flaws.
All of these responses are just the destructive results of the ideals society has pre-determined for women. By claiming that women who do not wear makeup are “strong,” they have put down every single girl who does. This “girl-on-girl crime” reinforces society’s idea that women who are not naturally perfect are lesser, thus causing girls who do wear makeup to lose confidence in their looks. The more this confidence is lost, the further women take to self-deprecation, all because society believes women must be perfect without makeup, going as far as claiming that wearing makeup is the equivalent of perpetuating a “lie.”
It does not matter how many Dove commercials show the falsity of the “perfect woman,” this image of beauty stays with us, along with the reminder that we will never look like her without a “lie.” It seems that women are left with two options: one, society could stop using Photoshop so that the idea of a perfect women would be erased from people’s mind or two, women can change the way we view makeup. While both options are equally important goals in the struggle to destroy the double standards that women face, the latter seems to be a much simpler option.
Makeup does not have to just hide our imperfections. It can be used to push back at the boundaries society has set for women. By making it obvious that they are wearing makeup and looking good while doing it, women can show society that they are tired of the double standards and are grabbing power. Women can wield blush and lipstick the same way a man uses a suit, to show that they are confident in themselves and that they demand the attention and respect of which they are worthy. Being free to wear makeup without scorn also gives women more freedom to express themselves. Makeup can be used as an art, turning the wearer into an almost ethereal creature with the many possibilities provided by bright colors and bold lines.
It is long past time for women to gain equality, and it is long past time for them to feel comfortable in their own bodies. Yet society has continued to make it difficult for them even to accept other women’s choices. If society is ever to change, women must decide to defend their own choices and those of other women. Accepting makeup may seem like a small step, but it is a necessary one for the empowerment of women. It is not just a small step for women, but also a giant leap for human kind.
We wear clothing like battle armor,
Powder like chainmail,
And Manicures like knives
Hide the flaws and imperfections,
The weak points that leave you venerable
Do not be just strong,
Let nothing touch even your mask
Wear your scars proudly,
Underneath thick metal plates,
Take your weakness
And hide it beneath a shield
Do not fear the battle
Peace means removing chest plates and chain mail
Peace means leaving yourself open to attack
War means attacking
Wear your war paint wisely,
Do not fail to defend your fellow warriors
And know your own weaknesses
Even as you put on your armor
Made of clothing and powder.
Riona Reeves is a VI Form day students from Westborough, MA, and she will be attending Cornell University in the fall. She is the recipient of the 2013 Prudential Spirit of Community Award, for her creation and implementation of the SMILE Math Project for local elementary school students.
[i]Retroart.com, accessed 5/13/2014,