I wear makeup. Almost everyday. In fact, I’m writing this from a nail salon, where some nice ladies are tackling my feet with a belt sander.
Now, when I say makeup, I mean just any old cosmetic. Most days, it’s just some lipstick, and long-wear stuff at that, so I don’t have to touch it up during the day; when I have to do a client visit, or am going out on the town, I’ll add some blush and eye makeup. The whole deal takes about five minutes.
I wasn’t always so minimalist. When I first began to present as female outside of my apartment, I wore a lot of makeup. Some of it was by necessity: beard shadow is tough to hide, so heavy foundation was usually called for. Some of it, of course, was just wanting to wear makeup, because most of the time I didn’t allow myself to.
Since those days, I’ve done various things (like electrolysis) to make my life easier. Yet I still wear makeup, and as I am an introspective feminist, I wonder about what it says about me that I do.
Part of the reason is definitely to avoid any “OMGITSADOOODLOLZ”. The last time I went out of the house without wearing lipstick (about a year ago) I got “clocked” (picked out as trans) rather nastily. At six a.m. Before I’d had any coffee.
Such trouble, I don’t need.
Another reason is that I actually like to wear makeup, at least some of the time. I like the way it makes me look. I like the way that liking the way I look makes me feel, just as I like how I feel when I think I’m wearing a nice-looking outfit.
This is obviously a bit more problematic.
Because there’s no doubt that doing so feeds into negative stereotypes of how a woman is supposed to look, dress, and act. There’s little doubt in my mind that most of these are patriarchalist; that many are demeaning to women; that they constitute an ongoing backlash against women who dared be more than adjuncts to male sexuality.
I mean, hey, I’ve read Naomi Wolfe, I get all that.
But in my case it’s even more complicated. Because, you see, I never had a girlhood; I didn’t spend my childhood having lessons about what is proper or popular drummed into my head; and because of that, my relationship to fashion and cosmetics is a lot less complicated than most women my age.
I’m a bit like my friend Joanna. (Not that it matters, but she’s not trans.) She didn’t spend her high school or even early-adult years worrying that much about the latest clothes, the hippest trends. But around the time that I began to become interested in finding clothes I thought made me look good, instead of clothes that just made me look like a woman, she became interested in fashion. And she’s now one of the most fashionable people I know, though not trendy or consumed with a passion for the next unattainable fashion accessory.
For both of us, our clothes, our makeup, our appearance is a lot more about the pleasure we get from it than a pressure to fit in. I won’t deny that pressure exists–of course it does; but we both feel a lot more comfortable resisting it.
Or like I said before, we dress the way we do because of how it makes us feel, not because of how we feel we have to.
Ariel Levy said something in Female Chauvinist Pigs that I think gets at what I’m saying:
Monitoring her appearance and measuring the response to it have been her focal point. If her looks were a kind of hobby–if dressing and grooming and working out were things she did for pleasure–then the process would be its own reward. But she spoke of her pursuit as a kind of Sisyphean duty, one that many of her friends had charged themselves with as well.
I guess what I’m saying is that I definitely don’t feel the Sisyphean duty part of that equation.
But by the same token, I can’t help thinking about exactly how much I’m co-opted with the use of standards of beauty to repress women, that I can’t help but think that while I may feel good for wearing certain clothes, that’s only because the patriarchal culture around me tells me that I should, that these shoes/skirts/jeans make you feel good, and those (comfortable) shoes/(not-tight) skirts/(loose enough to breathe in) jeans won’t. It’s hard to sort out and the only thing that comforts me is that a lot of other women my age struggle to sort it out too.
But I’m still going to wear lipstick. Because more than one “LOLZURAGUYYYY” is too much. Hell, one was already too much.