Feminism and the beauty industry

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Eff yeah, Roxie Hunt.

If you’ve been reading Offbeat Home for a while, y’all probably know and love Roxie Hunt (the How to Hair Girl) for her hair tutorials, and her armpit hair revolution. You’re going to love her even more when you read her open letter to women about feminism and the beauty industry.

Here’s an excerpt:

Let’s make this the year we take back our beauty. Why? Because only 4 percent of women consider themselves beautiful and it is time for us to raise that number.

In our culture, we are told that we are supposed to look a certain way in order to be beautiful. We are told that we are beautiful exactly as we are. We are shamed for caring about how we look, and shamed for not caring enough. This shit is powerful, important, and it deeply messes with our brains.

Beauty is officially a feminist issue. As women of all colors and creeds, we are the target market in a gigantic multi- billion- dollar worldwide ad campaign from an unregulated industry that preys on and profits from our deepest insecurities about our bodies. Our sense of “beauty” has been hijacked by multinational cosmetics companies led mostly by rich white men. The time has come for us to take our beauty out of their hands and put it back where it belongs… in ours.

The Women’s Liberation Movement did it’s best to call to question the double standards and injustices imposed on women — and the people who perpetrate them. Today, I call to question the industry that presumes to decide “what beauty is” without regard for the health and well-being of our bodies or our souls.

The time has come for us to take our beauty power back. I asked Alexis Krauss, writer and champion of Big Beauty Reform at BeautyLiesTruth to help me curate a list of five ways that we can take back our beauty practices, and reclaim our sense of what beauty means.

Head over the Huffington Post to read up on the five ways you can make a difference and join the movement.

Comments on Feminism and the beauty industry

  1. Thanks for posting this. Roxy’s introduction is powerful in its discussion of beauty as a feminist issue and something that women should be active participants in shaping. However, I must say I was disappointed to click through and see that the solution was to go through your beauty / makeup supplies and change the products you use and the companies you support. It’s great that she has a list of favorite products and supports safer, simpler beauty solutions. I guess I just don’t see the solution as “fix the world by buying different stuff.” If only four percent of women consider themselves beautiful, I think we have a bigger problem than which companies we’re supporting.

    • But changing who you support is something that is very actionable. You can’t change how or what other people think, but you can change how you spend your money. There’s only so much shouting from the rooftops you can do (not that you shouldn’t do it). As someone who majored in college in Sustainable Development and spent a lot of class time learning about climate change and current unsustainable economic and environmental practices, it can get VERY exhausting and disheartening thinking about all that is wrong in the world. What I’ve found lifts you out of such spiraling thoughts in focusing on what you have within your control now. Changing what you do may be a drop in the bucket but the alternative is burrying your head in the sand. Yes, you can (and should!) advocate for widespread change but in the end you only have partial control over the outcome.

      Changing what products you buy can also lead to more general awareness about the beauty industry and your own self image. It’s something that I’ve witnessed on the natural beauty community on YouTube. In my experience when I started to experiment with DIY skin care/beauty products I started to understand that I was the one that had control over what happened on my body, not outside standards or corporations.

  2. With just this excerpt, I was about to be like “Hey, it’s OKAY to like makeup and stuff, I’m not un-feminist just for having a beauty routine,” but then I clicked the link and it’s actually more about focusing on safe ingredients and calling out unsafe bullshit, which I agree with! I also agree with simplifying the routine. I can do a full face of makeup in 15-20 minutes, and it’s because I don’t wig out if I mess up some blending or eyeliner.

    I’m bad about not looking closely at the ingredients of my eye and lip products, but I DO focus on foundation and skincare ingredients pretty closely (because if I don’t, I’ll have reactions). I used a Philosophy face wash once and had a chemical burn. YES, IT BURNED MY FACE. It was marketed as being natural and for sensitive skin. I never used Sephora for skincare again. Nopenopenope.

    I’m an artist, so doing makeup in the morning is a soothing release for me, especially in my hectic workweek where I don’t have time to have any artistic expression anywhere else. But I never judge women who don’t like makeup, either, because that’s just silly.

    • That’s so interesting that you find makeup to be an artistic release for you. I actually almost never wear makeup. I don’t hate it, I just find it stressful to put it on correctly and usually don’t manage to do an especially good job. I also have fairly clear skin and an ability to ignore all the ads that I *need* this product or that product to be “beautiful”.

      I like the premise that we should feel beautiful just how we are, but I don’t think that draws a line in the sand that makeup should or should not make us feel a certain way. If wearing it or the process of putting it on makes you feel beautiful and creative, then you should wear it. If it stresses you out or makes you feel worse about yourself, then maybe you shouldn’t wear it. It’s the same with tattoos, piercings, wearing certain clothing, or any other body modification.

      I do think that as humans we should question our own motives, and understand why we make the choices we do. But if it comes down to, “I like it and I like how it makes me feel” + “I’m not hurting anyone else by doing this”, then I think we should respect each others’ choices. If in that self examination, you come to “I’m doing this because it’s what my mother/my friends/society told me to do and I don’t really like it” then it’s okay to stop doing those things.

      • I totally agree! Like you, I don’t wear makeup (except for the occasional mascara when I’m feeling fancy), but I know tons of women who do and there is a very clear divide among them.

        Some of my friends, like the previous poster, love it as an artistic expression. They enjoy the act of putting on makeup, they love the results, and it’s an all-around good experience for them. I think that’s awesome!

        Unfortunately, though, even more people I know wear makeup daily but hate it. They feel bored or rushed when putting it on, they hate having to take it off, they get frustrated trying to get it to look right, and then they often still don’t feel “beautiful” with it on, yet they won’t leave the house without it. I’ve heard more than one person, including my mom, refer to themselves as merely “presentable” once they had their makeup on. That is the scenario that I definitely have a problem with and I see it far too often.

        I see makeup as a style choice and perhaps an enhancement of the beauty we already possess, not the thing that makes us beautiful. Like anything involving our bodies, it should truly be a choice whether or not we want to participate.

    • Leslie, that’s good to hear. I am “an artist” (who works in an office) except all my art is perpetually unfinished. I have to wonder if I spent less time in front of the mirror, would I spend more time doing the face of a woman on canvas? I’ve genuinely had this concern for a while, but am not giving up my beauty routine. I have slimmed it down a LOT and stopped being obsessive about every aspect, and am now only spending about 20 mins doing makeup, including moisturizer and oils. Maybe that question for myself is really just another excuse for my inability to complete things.

      That aside, everyone always says I look better without makeup but I just can’t get on board with that view. I think when I am older, and makeup stops hiding, and starts accentuating flaws, and when the societal pressure to look 25 at any age finally becomes a joke, I will feel much better about myself. I really look forward to old age, deep wrinkles, and grey hair (as another aside, I find the 20-something grey hair dye trend fascinating and rebellious).

  3. This bit is good, but I was sad to see that the article was about organic makeup and an advertisement for a non-shampoo product. When did beauty become synonymous with makeup?

  4. I feel like the thesis statement here would include something along the lines of:
    More women should feel beautiful and shouldn’t have to risk their health to do so. We shouldn’t trust major corporations with no interest in our well-being to tell us what beautiful or “safe” is.

    I agree with the sentiment that we should gravitate towards smaller brands that are in line with our values whenever possible. Generally, large brands that seem to mean well and seem to push “good” beauty standards have parent and sister companies that spout the opposite. By supporting one, you help support the other. Indie companies have much more to lose if their customers feel alienated by marketing or experience bad reactions to products.

  5. I think the opening lines of this piece hit the nail on the head much more than the Huff Post 5 things. Most of us know how to choose products that are in line with our views. The more important issue here is: “We are told that we are beautiful exactly as we are. We are shamed for caring about how we look, and shamed for not caring enough. This shit is powerful, important, and it deeply messes with our brains.” Let’s talk about that.

  6. I really like (most of*) Roxy’s message, but I don’t think it’s for me, if that makes sense. I don’t really associate beauty with the products I use or the clothes I wear. I don’t even know if I want to *be* beautiful, in either a conventional sense or a radical one. I’d rather be interesting, polished, funny, or disarming.

    *I’m a bit skeptical of the part about “ingredients you can pronounce.” I think that’s a really lazy and sometimes dangerous shorthand to talk about safe chemicals vs. unsafe chemicals. It just buys into the marketing behind beauty products. Renaming an unsafe chemical, like, “bee’s butter” or something to appeal to a nature-seeking consumer doesn’t make it safer. Calling water dihydrogen monoxide to appeal to a clinical beauty consumer doesn’t make water less safe.

    • “I don’t even know if I want to *be* beautiful, in either a conventional sense or a radical one. ”

      That really resonates with me. I’m not even sure that weather I think of myself as beautiful means I have or don’t have self confidence. I’m even uneasy about telling my daughter she’s beautiful because I don’t want her to need that reinforcement or to feel defined by her appearance…

      I also am a woman who enjoys makeup and clothing and how they make me feel. I see beauty everywhere I look.

  7. I agree with the comments already posted here. The “5 ways of taking back beauty” are mostly about organic skin products, a little make-up shaming, and the mistaken notion that these “simple, DIY, all-natural” products work for everyone. I think it can be good to learn about what’s in the products that you use, but unfortunately I’ve found that a lot of the information out there is scare tactics based on bad science. Some chemicals are legitimately scary, but some are harmless or even beneficial. After my hair started reacting strangely to my shampoo I Googled what could be causing it and I fell down into the rabbit hole of the Skin Deep site. I got scared and tried to make sure that everything I used was rated as safely as I could manage, but I also found that I was allergic to most of those natural products. I got rashes, had horribly dry skin, broke out in acne, and spent a lot of money in the process. I have eczema and very sensitive skin and all the coconut oil and shea butter in the world doesn’t help like my chemical laden Curel lotion and Dove soap does. I did learn some things and eventually found some new products that I like and am even experimenting with washing my face with hemp oil (adult acne sucks and I’m allergic to acne creams). But now every time I slather on my lotion I can’t help but worry that it might cause cancer, or that my deodorant will lead to Alzheimers. Women have enough to worry and feel guilty about when it comes to beauty without the added pressure that their beauty products be “OMG! So organic and minimal and pure, pure, PURE!”

    Maybe just question what you think about beauty. I stopped using hair products or heat styling my hair and realized I prefer it clean, air dried, and up in a bun. I stopped using makeup when I started working from home and realized that I like a little mineral foundation on during the day, but that I really enjoy makeup and prefer (but don’t need) to wear it when I’m going out. I stopped shaving my legs and armpits and found that I like the way it feels much better than the rashes and infections I had with shaving, but that I like the look of my legs better when I bleach the hair a few shades lighter and when my armpit hair is trimmed. I let my (head) hair grow back to it’s natural color, thought it looked boring and now have henna red hair.

    Question beauty, experiment, have fun, but don’t take on the added guilt and stress of researching every single ingredient on every single product you use. That is crazy making. My idea of beauty looks different now. In my twenties it was natural looking makeup, blond highlights in perfectly done hair, and smooth skin. Now I’m a visibly tattooed, messy-haired red-head with eyeliner for days and hairy legs. I’ve never felt more beautiful.

    • Thank you for writing this!! I have been down that rabbit hole of what ingredients are “good” and “safe” but hadn’t thought of it as another external pressure placed on women (or primarily women) to be pure.

  8. I teach. I wear sunscreen to work because I live in OZ and the sun is crazy here (it’s Autumn and Friday it was 34 degrees (93ish to the rest of the world))… but rarely make up. I hate little girls getting the idea that their face isn’t good enough to be seen in public without applying make up. I think it’s important that they see both made up and not made up faces on the women they see at school.

  9. I also do not wear make-up on a regular basis mainly because if I try I’m so scared of being judged for troweling it on like a 14 yr old (when I’m actually 37 and should probably “know better” by now) that I overcompensate, don’t put enough on and then don’t notice a difference for all my hard-work so it doesn’t seem worth it. As a result I really only wear make-up when I go to weddings and often pay a professional to put it on for me so don’t really have any control over what products are used. Then again I’ve been blessed with relatively clear skin so never felt the need to cover-up in that regard.

    I also wonder about the statistic at the beginning of the article. Do all of the other 95% of women say that they’re not beautiful because they really think they’re not pretty in any way or because as a gender we’ve been taught not to “boast”. Maybe some see it as uncouth/ bad manners to state out loud that they feel beautiful? Maybe we’ve been taught that it’s only right/proper to be TOLD you’re beautiful and saying it yourself is being “arrogant”?

    Or maybe beauty has been so explicitly linked to happiness by the media that they only feel beautiful when they also feel happy which may not be all of the time. Maybe the survey people caught them on a bad day?

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