(Opinion) Feminine beauty ideals

A model sits in hair and makeup backstage at the Christian Siriano fashion show during the 2018 Fall/Winter New York Fashion Week in Manhattan, New York, Feb. 10, 2018.

If I were asked to define beauty, I would say that it is impossible to do, since beauty is different in the eyes of each individual. Although this is true, beauty for women and men does have what I will call parameters that people are encouraged, if not expected, to follow if they want to fit in with how society and culture defines beauty. The feminine beauty ideal is a socially constructed opinion that one of a woman’s most important assets is attractiveness and is something all women should strive to achieve and maintain. In other words, women should try to obtain these ideals in order to be considered beautiful by society’s standards.

Should women wear makeup to work?

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Beauty standards are different around the world. For the purpose of this conversation, let us focus on the construction of beauty standards in the United States. Suntanned skin, a narrower facial shape, high cheekbones, longer eyelashes and fuller lips are just a few of the qualities that are considered attractive in modern, Western society for women. Whether women are conscious of it or not, most are striving to attain the beauty ideals that society perpetuates and encourages.  

Many young girls start wearing makeup during their middle school years. The progression of their makeup routines will most often change over the years depending on what goes in and out of style and how their own skills develop. Sometimes, as women’s makeup skills develop they will start wearing even more makeup. Consequently, the endless path of women’s makeup-wearing years commences to an unforeseen end.

Makeup is supposedly for accentuating beauty, but in reality it seems to me that makeup is used more to mask the person behind the makeup. Concealers and foundations certainly contribute to this argument since they are used to essentially camouflage women’s natural faces and skin by creating what looks to be a more even complexion. Wearing makeup on a daily basis can cause a woman’s natural face to be nearly unrecognizable to herself when looking at her own reflection after stripping off her makeup at the end of the day. Therefore, many women feel incomplete when not wearing makeup. Makeup accentuates less and seems to be more of a form of deception.

Some women, particularly older women, believe that women should absolutely wear makeup. These older women are often appalled and can’t grasp the idea of how women go out into public “without their faces on.” I think it is sad that we live in a society in which women feel embarrassed when they are not wearing makeup, yet at the same time I understand it.

There has been a movement of some female celebrities posting photos of themselves without makeup. Alicia Keys declared a couple of years ago that she would no longer be wearing makeup, starting a #NoMakeup movement to make her case. Keys’ reasoning for this was due to her own feelings as she would leave the house without makeup. Her insecurity is what she characterizes as the superficial but honest thoughts she was thinking. She felt that these were unhealthy thoughts, and in response she chose to stop wearing makeup.

While I think what Keys has done is incredibly admirable, it is not completely realistic for those of us who are not celebrities. Women who do not wear makeup can be perceived as lazy or unprofessional, and there is research demonstrating that attractive people tend to earn more in the workplace.

Even more interesting is a study done by the University of Chicago and the University of California at Irvine that suggests that the majority of the salary differences between women of varying attractiveness had to do with grooming, such as not wearing makeup or styling hair. It seems as though so many people say it is a good thing to not wear makeup, that it is a good thing to be your natural self. However, even research has shown that not wearing makeup as a woman can have negative effects in the workplace.

Other celebrities have also posted pictures of themselves without makeup and so many are barely recognizable. Quite frankly, some of the side-by-side photos of celebrities with and without makeup are scary because they are so drastically different. The socially constructed feminine beauty ideal has an effect on how women are perceived in the workplace and in society as a whole. To rid society of the feminine beauty ideal is not realistic. Although I don’t have the answer to the issue of combating the feminine beauty ideal, it is clear that it is not fair for women to suffer consequences in their careers and daily lives because they do not wear makeup.

Knowledge is power, beauty is a weapon and kindness is preservation. It may be sad to say, but for women, to be beautiful is to be powerful. Whether you like it or not, it is true that part of women’s power has to do with their appearance. Don’t get me wrong — intelligence is beautiful, too, but our society also values physical beauty. Beauty is a difficult subject matter because what is considered beautiful is defined differently by everyone. One thing that is for sure though is that beauty can be wielded as a weapon of advantage.