HOW MAKE-UP EMPOWERS ME | Ellie Poole explores her nuanced relationship with eye-shadow and mascara.
by Ellie Poole
My relationship with makeup is a complicated one. As is the case for many a woman living life in this patriarchal PAC-MAN machine, I started using makeup as a teenager because I wanted to feel ‘prettier’. And I did feel prettier right away, even if in hindsight my cosmetic skills were those akin to a toddler flinging paint onto the walls. Eyeshadow? Put on tastefully? No, 15-year-old Ellie isn’t using a brush and is just going ham with that sweet, sweet, purple glittery eyelid paint.
And of course, this newfound ‘prettiness’ that enhanced my confidence was just little old pubescent me playing into gender roles that had at that point, unknowingly been forced upon her. Now I am painfully aware of the patriarchy and sexism in all their suffocating glory, and feel conflicted every time I pick up my admittedly beloved mascara wand, and it’s a more sophisticated love-hate relationship than just wanting to be more outwardly, traditionally beautiful out of insecurity, and acceptance of the sad reality that complying with the societal expectation of wearing makeup will increase my ‘luck’ in terms of charismatic social exchanges and job opportunities and not being yelled at by men.
However, I have a genuine affection for makeup that goes beyond the benefits of hating myself enough to want to look a little ‘better’ – as deemed by structural male approval. The idea that makeup is an art-form is an idea I firmly believe to be true. It allows me to be creative in a way that is less taxing and daunting than, I don’t know, actually sitting down at my computer to write. And like anyone else, pretty, shiny things catch my eye.
My eyeshadow skills have only marginally approved since I was a young teen, but my appreciation for a tasteful eyeshadow palette that includes both matte and glitter shades has increased tremendously. Additionally, as someone with near-unrelenting anxiety that runs especially rampant in the morning, putting on a full face of makeup provides both a tactile, grounding distraction and one that requires my focus and mental energy. It also feels soothing in that it has simply become a part of my routine now, and I find it comforting to have constants from day to day.
“My eyeshadow skills have only marginally approved since I was a young teen, but my appreciation for a tasteful eyeshadow palette that includes both matte and glitter shades has increased tremendously.”
Though I desperately wish the benefits of makeup I find outside of gendered expectations of beauty cancelled out makeup’s inherently evil, patriarchal roots, they do not. Each day that I put on makeup, which is most days, I am still making a decision that inherently falls in line with what is expected of me as a woman that is not expected of a man. This decision, while not a feminist one, doesn’t, however, negate my identity as a feminist. As women, we have to pick and choose which conventional displays of femininity we comply with and which we do not. Our choices have real consequences, and I am not going to judge anyone for wanting the added confidence, respect received, job consideration, and more that comes with choosing to wear makeup, especially if they exist in a more marginalised body than mine.
This does not mean that I do not feel deeply conflicted about my usage of makeup. I recognise that it inherently sends a message to myself that I am not good enough as I naturally am, though I do strongly believe that the boost of self-assuredness it bolsters me with significantly reverberates in my productivity and boldness, which in return leads to me feeling good about myself in ways that have nothing to do with my physical appearance.
Ellie Poole is a 22-year-old humour writer based in the Washington DC suburbs who specialises in satire, absurd premises and injecting the existential anxiety and dread permeating American millennial culture into even the most benign of pop culture happenings.