Makeup Microaggressions: Let Me Wear My Full-Face Makeup in Peace

Samiksha Manjani Student staff member, Samiksha Manjani, takes a deeper look at the impact of makeup microaggressions.

I normally hate getting ready to go out with girls; or well, I hate putting on my makeup in front of other girls. Instead, I’ll put it on in my own house and then go to my friend’s house to “get ready” aka just to put on a dress. I started to do this after having the same interaction time after time with various friends. It goes something like this:

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Me standing in front of the mirror, happily doing my sparkly silver smokey eye, tongue out (because you can never put mascara on with a closed mouth).

“Wow! your eyeshadow looks amazing!”

“Thank you!! I really like smokey eyeshadow looks.” At this point, I’m feeling super awesome about how I’m looking and my makeup when…

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t even know how to put on makeup. I just do whatever, you know. I don’t even wear makeup,” she says dismissively.

Aaaaaand there it is.

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Her comment may seem like an honest admission of not knowing how to put on makeup, but it’s not that simple; especially when I’ve gotten similar responses from other girls. If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, allow me to explain: this “compliment” implies that she is somehow better than me because she doesn’t wear or know how to put on makeup; this insinuates that I need makeup because I’m not confident enough to go without it. Simply put, if I wear makeup, I’m not naturally attractive enough.

What makes the situation worse is that, at that moment, I can feel the need to justify myself building up. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I also know that my decision to wear or not to wear makeup doesn’t make me any more or less of a woman, but instead I say,  

“Oh, yeah I mean I don’t really know how to put on makeup either. I barely wear it…”

Knowing damn well I’m lying. I didn’t watch countless MUA (“makeup artist”) Instagram and Youtube videos to act like I didn’t know how to put on makeup. Plus, my friend had the sharpest winged eye I had ever seen. How could she say she didn’t know how to put on makeup?

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Other times, especially when I’m talking to guys about makeup, they’ll say, “Oh! I like you better without makeup” or “You look better than girls who wear makeup, I don’t like girls that cake on.”

Am I supposed to say thanks?

To be clear, I’m perfectly happy with the way I look when I wear makeup and when I don’t. I don’t think my value is somehow better or worse depending on whether I wear makeup. Likewise, I don’t think I’m suddenly better than other girls because of my decision to wear or not to wear makeup. Some days I just want to sparkle (literally)!

After having the same exact encounter time after time, and being inadvertently shamed for knowing how to do my makeup… I stopped going to get ready at my girlfriends. I stopped feeling comfortable in what was supposed to be an empowering environment.

Why couldn’t I enjoy putting on a full face some days and having a fresh face on others?

It may seem really small or that I’m being overly sensitive, but that’s exactly how microaggressions make you feel. A microaggression is a negative statement directed at a subordinated group; it can be intentional or unintentional. Although microaggressions are essentially micro, their accumulated impact can be quite large (here’s a video to better explain). At the Women’s Center, we like to refer to the impact of microaggressions as a “death by a thousand cuts.” The first time you experience a microaggression, it may not get you down too much, but after hearing either the same one or similar ones so many times, it’ll get to you.

It’s not just the microaggression itself that hurt, the hurt doubled because it was coming from other women. Women that should have been allies. I couldn’t understand,

Why were women perpetuating these unrealistic dichotomies onto each other? Why couldn’t we both be great in whatever we were doing?

I realized that these microaggressions between women were essentially internalized sexism caused by heterosexist patriarchy. Under patriarchal norms, women’s value is dependent on their attractiveness to men. As feminist theorists suggest, when women internalize heterosexist patriarchy and associate their source of worth, identity, and strength with men, they’re compelled to compete with each other for the attention of men. Essentially, we turn on each other when our value is tied to men.

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However, we don’t have succumb to it.  Maybe instead of feeling intimidated by women who inspire us, we could feel empowered by them.

I recently came upon Shine Theory at the Women’s Center and think it’s a phenomenal way to reframe female competitiveness. Created by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Shine Theory prescribes that “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her.”’ Friedman and Sow contest that “surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

When we apply Shine Theory to the makeup debacle, we can acknowledge if our friend is better at something than us, but also that it doesn’t reflect a deficit in ourselves. Maybe I did know how to do a smokey eyeshadow look when my friend didn’t, and that doesn’t mean I have to use makeup to feel more attractive. Likewise, her decision to not wear makeup doesn’t mean that she is inherently more attractive, valuable, or confident than me. Wearing makeup skillfully doesn’t add or detract value from a person. It just means you wear makeup. 

So the next time you’re around a powerful woman that you perceive is rocking something better than you, befriend them instead of feeling self-conscious.

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Feminist Road Tripping

A reflection written by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers, tag-teamed with friend, Priscilla.

A few weeks ago, my dear friend, Priscilla, and I headed out on a road trip of a lifetime through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. And, because we both solidly identify as feminists, this, my friends, was a Feminist Road Trip™. We had a blast hiking through four national parks, camping under the stars, and being amazed by the vast beauty of nature.

As the mileage left on our trip got smaller and smaller, in addition to reflecting on our favorite moments, we began to reflect on our journey and what specifically made it feminist. We compiled quite a long list and what we each uniquely brought to our trip as intersectional feminists. For example, I wasn’t as conscientious about ensuring we were making an investment in the local economy when we booked our lodging and Priscilla wasn’t aware about the $5 a day campaign to ensure hotel workers are being fairly compensated for their efforts. We challenged each other along the way to think more critically about our feminist values and what that looks like in practice. For example, getting your truck stuck in the mud doesn’t have to be a women-only experience in getting un-stuck and accepting help from men doesn’t have to be un-feminist (even if you have to “uuuuggggh” it out together when you get back to the safety of your un-stuck truck – which by the way, we affectionately named Carol).

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Here we are in Fort Collins, Colorado on Day 1 of our road trip with Carol!

Most importantly, though, this was a feminist road trip to me because it provided a special opportunity for me to be with my friend. A friend who helped me cultivate my feminist and social justice identities. A friend who marched by my side at Take Back the Nights and took me to my first feminist collective art performance (shout out Vox Feminsta). A friend who helped mend my broken heart and stood by me as my coming out story unfolded. So, how lucky was I to realize that this trip fell during the same month we met ten years ago and became instant friends. Not only was this a Feminist Road Trip but it was our 10 Year Anniversary Feminist Road Trip! The way we remember our first meeting was as if it was love at first sight – and it was! Only, I don’t think the culture we live in always provides the space to talk about friendships in that way. I am thankful that our days of traveling together was our unapologetic way of honoring and celebrating each other and our rad feminist ladies friendship.

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At the Grand Canyon taking our official 10 year anniversary celebration photo complete with a handmade heart.

So, in no particular order, here’s the highlights from our list:

♥ Learn the history of the place and space you’re traveling through… and then dig deeper. Honor who came before you and learn about the native and indigenous people who first called these places home. Where the story of women are not present, ask why, and when their stories are present, pause to read and reflect with each other. We particularly enjoyed the story of Sharlot Hall and the Vermillion Cliffs in AZ.

♥ Support local businesses. Tip your guides and servers generously and leave at least $5 a day for your housekeeper for each day you stay in your hotel/motel.

♥ Encourage other women on the trail and on the road.

♥ Share your growing edges with each other and then keep reflecting and constructing a counter-narrative. For example, a theme throughout our trip as women traveling without our significant others was being mindful of saying “I” instead of “we” when recounting personal stories, goals, and hopes and the importance we hold in maintaining our individuality in a long-term relationship.

♥ Gracefully accept help as needed.

♥ Be body positive and affirming. Don’t judge other women for taking selfies. You never know what it may have taken for another woman to get to that summit.

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Four Corners selfie with a selfie stick!

♥ Travel! It was amazing how many people were surprised before we set on our trip that we were traveling “alone” or with “just the two of you??” That was followed by a sense of fear that two women shouldn’t be out on the road alone *gasp* without a man. Prove them wrong. Make space for your experiences.

♥ Play excellent women-empowered playlists and sing your hearts out (for some great ideas, check out NPR’s Turning Tables: 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women)

♥ Honor your friendships with women and celebrate your milestones. Friendships can be just as valid and important as our romantic and/or blood-family relationships.

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Here we are at Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona. We had the best the guide who took this awesome photo of us.

What would you add to our list? Leave your comments below or on the Women’s Center social media pages where you find the link to this blog.

For those planning your next feminist road trip, here’s some of our favorite travel blogs and hashtags (links do not represent endorsements) we used to prepare for our road trip state of mind:

  • On She Goes: Travel Stories for All Women of Color
  • Bearfoot Theory: Outdoor Adventure for the Everyday Adventurer
  • #brownpeoplecamping
  • #FatGirlsHiking
  • Field Tripping – a bi-weekly column in Baltimore’s City Paper written by UMBC’s very own Dr. Kate Drabinski

Happy traveling to all our feminist wanderlusts out there!