I consider myself a feminist. I’m going to get that out of the way early. There are many people* today who consider feminism to be “the other F word”; afraid to apply it to themselves because of the years of baggage and stereotyping that come along with it. But that’s a discussion for another post.
*I say “people” because feminism is by no means exclusively female.
At times though, I can also be quite vain. That’s a more difficult acknowledgement for me to make, but it’s true. I often spend more time than necessary fixing my hair, worrying about my skin, applying makeup, and dressing and undressing in pursuit of the perfect outfit. I inadvertently check my reflection in mirrored surfaces (I’m sure to the amusement of anyone behind said mirrored window). I’m acutely aware of the way my body looks, feels and moves and I hold myself in different ways when I want to be perceived differently.
Unfortunately, a degree of self-consciousness seems to be part and parcel of being a young woman. Developing some form of insecurity about our appearance is a rite of passage.
But there are aspects of beauty and fashion that I don’t just indulge in out of habit. I really enjoy the artistry of well-applied makeup, the coordination and style of a unique outfit, or the time and dedication put into an intricate hairstyle.
I enjoy beauty. I like wearing things that make me feel pretty or elegant or edgy or cool. I like wearing winged eyeliner and red lipstick. I like dressing up.
I wonder sometimes though, whether this enjoyment clashes with feminist ideals. A part of me thinks that to engage in such a superficial activity is undermining entirely the belief that appearance is not the most important aspect of a person and that women are placed under enormous pressure to conform to a particular aesthetic.
Feminism doesn’t have to mean burning bras and growing out underarm hair. But is every stroke of my eyeliner brush a betrayal of my fellow lady? Am I brushing away my beliefs with my hairbrush? Am I covering up the issue with that new jacket? Am I just conforming?
It jars with me that one one hand I can champion the importance of denying societal pressure to look a certain way; and on the other hand I can revel in painting my face and getting dressed up.
I guess the point is that I do these things mostly because I enjoy them. There are always going to be days when I feel I shouldn’t be seen in public for fear of frightening small children, but for the most part, I will happily leave the house without makeup, or just wearing trackies and a t-shirt. But when I choose to, I can also get dolled up, put on something pretty and enjoy the attention with which my efforts are rewarded.
And in the end, it’s about that choice. As long as I’m playing with my appearance for my own sake; to make myself feel good or to have fun, then I don’t think I’m insulting the work of the feisty feminists who have gone before me.
I’d love to hear what other women think about body image, beauty and feminism. Why do you get dressed up – because you want to, or you think you need to? Am I alone?