It used to be that making a political statement required protest signs and sit-ins – or at the very least, a hashtag. Now, apparently, all you need to do to is leave your lipstick at home.
As part of People magazine’s annual “most beautiful” issue, country singer Miranda Lambert decided to forgo make-up for her portrait. Lambert was one of a handful of celebrities – all women, naturally – who took up the “brave” challenge in People (generously sponsored by Aveeno Active Naturals, of course).
Now Lambert is basking in compliments for how naturally beautiful and “flawless” she looks in the spread. As People wrote, “scrubbed free of all makeup, she still shines just as bright.” Lambert and the other women do indeed look very beautiful – they’re traditionally gorgeous women to begin with. But there’s something very strange about praising women for daring to show their … normal human faces.
Are women’s unaltered faces really so controversial that they deserve applause for letting them out in public?
When we tell women they’re brave for simply showing us their normal, unmade-up face, the underlying message is that who they are without all the feminine trappings is just, well, horrifying. It’s the same kind of message we send when we praise Patricia Arquette for not “getting work done” over the course of the twelve years that she filmed Boyhood: it’s suggesting that she made a big sacrifice by aging normally, as if being ourselves is a radical act.
When you really think about it, it sort of is: in a culture that tells women they need to wear makeup, tweeze, wax, shave, tan and cover up greys just to look presentable, our natural state of affairs is pretty controversial. But it shouldn’t be.
Let’s be honest: when a non-celebrity, average-looking woman goes without makeup, we don’t call her brave. Instead, we say that she’s “letting herself go”. (There are whole makeover shows dedicated to such women!) The only people who will ever be gushed over in magazine headlines for their natural beauty are those who were considered beautiful to begin with– and those whom we’re sure will go back to their standard makeup-heavy beauty routine as soon as the photo/marketing opportunity is over.
At the end of the day, I care very little whether other women wear makeup. Some women love it, some hate it, and some of us feel conflicted about it. But many of us find it a necessity because very few women are immune to beauty standards – myself included. I rarely (okay, never) leave the house without at least some blush and mascara on. But I have no illusions as to why the thought of going bare-faced makes me so uncomfortable: it’s the sexism, stupid.
But it’s also sexism that makes us believe that celebrities showing their bare faces is a courageous undertaking. It’s not. They’re beautiful by most people’s estimation with or without make-up, and they’re able to avoid the cruelty that everyday women who shun make-up or don’t meet society’s beauty standards endure. None of us are going to suddenly throw all our make-up away because Miranda Lambert went without for one photo shoot; the truth is, no matter how beautiful she is, neither is she.