The first question I asked last week when I started the Saving Face project was about gender inequality in the skin care industry. Things might be a bit different for children and preteens now, but here is a
brief summary of how I understood things in primary school:
Girls wore products and makeup as a rite of passage in our teens even if it pissed off our conservative parents and even if we were much more interested in spending time and money on things we actually gave a shit about. If we didn’t, we were tomboys and/or lesbians. If we wore a lot of visible products when we were young, we were slappers. Boys shouldn’t wear make up because it’s effeminate, so if they did they were gay. They should, however, take pride in their masculinity and buy products to look like a proper dude.
Aside: did anyone else have the playground rumour that boys having a pierced ear on a certain side made them gay?
Thank God for rock ‘n’ roll… and exposure to the Internet. Men can use products. Women don’t have to. The gender binary is actually a spectrum, and cosmetics shouldn’t be gender-specific because a man will not morph into his wife if he borrows her face cream, and a straight woman will not turn gay if she starts using men’s razors (she will, however, save a lot of money. More on that in the next post).
I’m less inclined to buy into early-2000s school gate ignorance now, but my biggest issue with cosmetics has lasted for years, and I’m not sure if it’s a gender equality issue or just me. Remember when Ellen and Isobel gave me a makeover? It was a lot of fun, but I resented hints that I should always straighten my hair, or wear make up more regularly. The way compliments about how I look get phrased always seems to be “you look great with that make up/hairstyle/clothes on, you should wear it all the time!” Wait, so I don’t already look great? I’m way too stubborn to cave into those implications (especially when it’s from friends and family who are paying me compliments that I might just be incapable of receiving) but pressure from friends and family can have a detrimental effect. Maybe it’s not just me, because someone’s even made a video about it:
This post was nearly done, but then I went on the ‘natural hair’ Tumblr tag and found this (along with some brilliant examples of afro hair):
It made me sad, because it’s true. We are all taught to be dissatisfied with what we have so we’ll pay to change it. Women seem to be targeted more, and at risk of sounding like a disenchanted radical, I reckon it harks back to that pesky opinion that men are naturally perfect and women naturally inferior. But it’s evolved into a race inequality issue, because the companies selling products need to make us all feel as though there is something wrong with our natural aesthetic, so we’ll be willing to pay for something new. We’re made to want what everyone else has while despising what we have.
The funniest part is, we can dye our hair or wear a product to express ourselves, to tell a story, to make us feel more confident. If you’ve got acne that you dislike or hair somewhere that makes you shy or insecure, you can buy concealer or get hair removal. But what they don’t tell us is that you should do it because you want to look good for you. Not for a boyfriend who wants you to shave your bikini line, not because an advert has implied you’ve got the wrong hair type or skin colour, not because friends of family have hinted they prefer one ‘look’ over another. The writers over at Rookie are doing an amazing job of explaining and demonstrating that cosmetics are a brilliant way to help you be yourself, but that attitude seems pretty limited to the Internet.
I feel like I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered. Why aren’t all women of all races, or backgrounds, or hair types or whatever, telling the media and social opinion to go fuck itself and concentrating on complimenting each other’s natural look? Am I overreacting to people’s compliments when I do my hair differently? Are men targeted by the cosmetic industries as much as women? I can only speak from experience as a cisgender girl (told you I read up on the spectrum!). I kind of feel like companies use consumers’ ignorance (and maybe indifference, actually) to sell products we don’t need, and it’s fueling social inequality.