Still at Netroots, but wanted to take a moment before going to see Elizabeth Warren speak to address this:
Apparently, this is just the most famous of a trend of young men writing signs extolling the joys of “natural” beauty and taking photos of themselves with these signs, complete with wounded expressions conveying the pain they feel because the women of the world get dressed in the morning without thinking first of the preferences of these guys’ specific cocks. It’s just the latest manifestation of a multi-decade long trend of men, who are invariably self-satisfied to an alarming degree, holding forth on why they hate make-up and think women should choose a “natural” beauty path instead. This sort of thing tends to be polarizing amongst women. The weak-minded amongst us buy it hook, liner, and sinker, swooning over these guys for their supposedly feminist-ish ways. The rest of us fly into a sputtering rage, because we know that this is just some more bullshit oppression dressed up as liberation.
It’s not just because it’s these guys don’t get that the problem is that they embrace the paradigm that holds that a man—any random man—has the social permission to appoint himself The Judge of All Women. It’s also because these guys are committed to an even more stringent and oppressive beauty standard than the one they’re denouncing. We know that when these guys imagine that women imagine the natural beauty of women, they aren’t actually saying they think your frizzy hair, pit pubes and zits inspire them. In their fantasy, the “natural” beauty rolls out of bed, fluffs her hair and walks out the door with every hair in place, exuding a natural dewiness that accentuates her naturally bold features and naturally smooth skin and naturally hairless body. In other words, they want you to be a woman who doesn’t exist.
Even for those women who are the rare ones genetically blessed with hair that’s manageable without cutting it super-short and perfect skin and giant eyes and perfect lips, this “natural” look takes work. You have to shave, if nothing else. And god knows every gym-goer is acquainted with the depressing picture of yuppie housewives who throw themselves grimly into their workout as if it were their job, because projecting the image of “natural” unadorned and youthful beauty to keep your husband’s eye from straying kind of is their job. But most women aren’t even genetically blessed in this way, and so the “natural” look requires hair appliances, skin creams and masks, and…..wait for it….make-up. The kind of artful make-up that hides itself, which takes a lot more work than the more fun make-up that you can tell someone is wearing. If you’re with someone who is one of those guys who grouses about women spending time on their beauty, and prides himself on loving “natural” beauty, you have to take the additional step of hiding how much work you put into the illusion of natural beauty. It’s way less oppressive to be with a guy who accepts the existence of your make-up kit and hair dryer. Needless to say, the oppressive image of the natural J. Crew beauty has largely excluded women of color, though I do think that’s changing slightly, creating its own new wrinkles in this problem.
Men who say shit like they hate make-up don’t actually hate make-up. They’re just too up their own asses to notice that Zooey Deschanel refuses to be photographed without false eyelashes. And she’s exactly the sort of woman that guys who rant about the evils of make-up are thinking of when they think of their fantasy woman who they imagine rolls out of bed looking that way. Dude, false eyelashes are no joke; those motherfuckers take work. I’m not willing to go that far to be a natural beauty. I’ll stick to my eyeliner and mascara instead, even if it draws the scorn of men who are hoodwinked by the more artful deceptions.
The worst part is that this image of the so-called natural beauty isn’t just implication-free, either. The image of the dewy natural beauty is associated in our culture with virginity, innocence, youthfulness, naivete, etc. When you encounter a guy who’s insistent on it, you usually find out quickly that he’s a little afraid of bolder women, and he takes that out on women who wear bolder make-up. You get the feeling when guys rant about hating make-up that they’re kind of calling you a slut for wearing it. And you know how I feel about that.
When looking for feminist wisdom on this subject, I instead prefer Dolly Parton playing Truvy in Steel Magnolias: “There is no such thing as natural beauty.” I think accepting that what we think of as women’s beauty is an artifice is much more liberating, and it allows for the possibility of accepting—god forbid—that maybe, just maybe, it’s okay if women aren’t expected to be beautiful all of the time to be accepted members of society.