Makeup and Makeovers: A Social Disorder?
It came as somewhat of a surprise to my mother when her makeup consultant informed her of the original intention behind brands like MAC and Mary Kay. According to her, these lines of makeup were originally meant for makeovers to give women a different look for occasions where something extra is needed to boost the wearer’s appearance. Naturally, this meant their effects would be more prominent. Hence, aesthetically speaking, the users will appear closer to societal standards of perfection. The lady went on to warn my mother against using such products in heavy doses on a daily basis as they could clog her pores and on the long run damage her skin, leaving her looking a lot older— an effect that remains invisible on young ladies until their skin loses its elasticity with age. I have tried to pass on this gospel to as many of my female friends who would listen…My success rate remains non-existent.
While the notion of addiction is usually linked with substances, sociological conditions like eating disorders have to present themselves in severe cases like anorexia before they are taken seriously. Is it far fetched to claim that our current social conditions have created so great a culture of insecurity amongst women regarding their natural appearance, that the use of makeup can be classified as an addiction born out of a dependence on social validation? I have been part of many arguments about the intentions of women using makeup. It is not uncommon to hear women say they do it for themselves, or even for other women. With feminism going through a strong revival, suggesting that makeup for women is not so different from the full plume of a female peacock can probably land one on the wrong side of the press. However, the complete denial of the effects of male attention on how women choose to appear contradicts French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who suggested the human mind reacts to an awareness of external observation. The question is how do we go about correcting social pressures so strong that besides our awareness of its existence and detriments, we remain caught in its trappings?
Historically speaking, as far as records go, the art of makeup originated in ancient Egypt, and though the concept seems almost exclusive to women today, back then, men were very much part of the makeup culture. The wearing of high-heeled shoes, which was pioneered and common among men in 16th century France accounts for another fashion trend assumed to be exclusive to females. However, this matter is a topic for another post. Societal standards of beauty currently exalt doll-like perfection that is dependent on symmetry as propagated daily in media and advertising. To meet up to these impossible standards, some magazines even go as far as digitally editing images. Indeed, the pressure to use makeup not only as an enhancer but also as a mask has never been stronger.
It has also never been more important to be wary of the dangers associated with a dependence on makeup and adhering to societal ideals of beauty from a biological and psychological standpoint. For the African woman who constantly faces criticisms that her hair, nose shape and skin color is as odds with this ideal of perfection, it is imperative to be conscious of how such mentalities can affect her psyche.
Admittedly, there is nothing wrong with experimenting with foreign looks. Makeup after all in its own right is an art form. But when individuals feel the need to deviate far off from their natural state due to discomforts or insecurities about their physical attributes, we must ask ourselves what psycho-social forces are at play, and how best we can re-educate ourselves on the notion of beauty to understand its subjective nature and our right not to conform to popular perceptions.
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