Now, come on – what exactly is one supposed to ‘accomplish’ before eight in the morning besides getting ready for the day? I was struck by how completely clueless it is to think that putting on a full face of makeup is the same as getting nothing accomplished. But then I realized that it’s not necessarily cluelessness; it’s the way we talk about and think about teen girls in general that makes someone think that putting on makeup is a worthless task.
First of all, it’s completely unproductive to shout at a teen girl for her makeup without first questioning the society that’s made her feel like she has to put on makeup. I mean, look at all of the perfect-looking girls on television and the endless ad campaigns that imply that you too can look perfect if you’re just willing to put the time, effort, and money into your beauty routine. Then look at the consequences society imposes for not putting that time, effort, and money into your appearance: for instance, the way that tabloids treat women who they ‘catch’ without their makeup and accuse of – god forbid – ‘letting themselves go’.
(I was going to post a picture or link to one of those ‘celebrities without makeup’ posts but decided not to give them traffic.)
I don’t know anything about this particular father-daughter relationship, so I’m not commenting personally on his behavior. But their exchange – and the fact that he felt so justified in disparaging her decision to do her makeup in the morning – made me think about the way we devalue teen girls and anything that has to do with them.
Like, we roll our eyes and laugh at girls whose lockers and bedrooms are plastered with posters of One Direction, but not at boys who put up posters of their favorite football stars.
A girl who knows everything about her favorite celebrities, including which designers they prefer, what makeup looks they favor, and their favorite childhood anecdotes is seen as vapid, while a boy who knows everything about his favorite car manufacturer, including the specs and details of the latest model, is just indulging a hobby.
A boy can spend his allowance on baseball cards (do people still buy baseball cards?) and it’s normal, but a girl spending hers on lipstick is vain and shallow.
Claiming that things like celebrity or makeup have less worth as interests than sports or cars is falling into the same kind of casual misogyny I talked about above. Seriously, pretty much EVERY SINGLE media and cultural message that girls receive teaches them that they need to be obsessed with their appearances at all times. (This Verizon commercial did a pretty good job of demonstrating how subtle messages throughout childhood can shape a girl’s interests). This is not a free choice.
However, let me make it very clear here that I’m not implying that wearing makeup makes you some kind of helpless victim of the patriarchy. There are as many different ways for girls to relate to makeup as there are girls themselves.
For some girls, putting on makeup in the morning is a necessary hassle, while some girls take pride in their ability to look ‘polished’. For some, makeup application is a skill learned through years of trial and error; for others, makeup acts as a coat of armor against the stresses of the day.
Furthermore, a lot of girls and women see makeup as art or a form of self-expression, studying YouTube videos to learn about new products and discover new techniques.
And it frustrates me that these skills, along with the time and effort put into developing them, are seen as less worthy than others, especially when the society seeing them as less worthy is the same one who told them they needed to develop the skills in the first place!
It’s like society pressures girls into specific cultural roles and tells them that there are certain ways they need to behave in order to be considered acceptable, then mocks or dismisses them when they embrace these roles and behaviors.
So the next time you want to say that someone is acting ‘like a teenage girl’ or roll your eyes at someone’s Harry Styles obsession, take a minute to think about what you’re really saying any why you think that those things are any less valid than anything else.
PS: later in the day I happened to run into the daughter. I gave her a big smile and told her that her makeup looked amazing.
Because it did.