In it, Rachael Ray showed a video of women who are so addicted to their makeup, they feel completely naked without it. Paralyzed. Unable to go about their daily lives. One woman said that her now-husband didn't see her once without makeup before they were married, and when he saw her for the first time without it, he barely recognized her. Another said that her best girlfriend has only seen her without makeup once, and that's when she was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section. Yet another woman said that when she goes to the hospital for surgery, she ignores the request that the patient wear no makeup, because she is so self-conscious at the thought of the doctor looking down on her face without it. They spoke about how their makeup makes them feel better about themselves. More powerful, more confident, more self-assured. While these stories were not the least bit surprising to me, they were still unsettling. As unsettling as that old expression women use for applying makeup: "putting my face on".
It ended up that the whole point of the segment was to have a makeup artist and designer share tips on how women can use less makeup and still look pretty, rather than an intervention to help them to kick the habit altogether, but it was fascinating all the same. A few of the women from the video came on the show without wearing makeup in order to be "made over", and Rachael tried to reassure them by telling them that they all looked lovely without their usual paint jobs, and how brave they were to appear on television in a state that made them so uncomfortable. Each woman on the show seemed to have the attitude that everyone else looked fine without makeup, but that for her, it was necessary.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not trying to argue that no women should ever wear makeup. I realize that a big part of navigating our way through a patriarchal world involves choosing our battles. It's not the makeup itself I have a problem with. There's nothing inherently oppressive about cosmetics. It's the fact that makeup (along with thinness, hairless bodies, smooth skin, styled hair, fitted clothing, shorter clothing, low-cut clothing, accessories, purses, uncomfortable shoes, etc.) are considered a requirement for women. These are all components of an entrenched system of compulsory femininity for those members of our society who are born without penises.
I also realize that, as women, most of us never frame our choice to wear makeup or to shave our body hair or to wear feminine clothing (or to do more than our fair share of housework or to be the one to stay home with the children or to put our partner's career before our own) as "choosing our battles" or as complying with the system. Instead, we hold firmly that we do these things becuase we derive enjoyment from them. Or, at most, we may regard these choices as necessary evils -- especially when we acknowledge how much valuable time, money, and effort we exhaust in maintaining our feminine look -- but it is rare to hear someone actually question why any of this is necessary in the first place. (And I suppose the whole world would come crashing down if anyone in the mainstream media ever admitted its connection to patriarchy.)
The point of this post is not to criticize women for their choices. But without actual alternatives, "choice" doesn't even exist. It is dangerous for us to vehemently defend our most compliant and normative behaviors as arbitrary "choices" without truly examining our reasons. Doing this perpetuates the false notion that making the opposite choice would be just as easy, and it furthers the "othering" of those who fall outside the norm. If expressing femininity was truly a free choice, how many women do you think would actually do it?