For anyone who knows me, my defining physical characteristic would likely be ‘eyeliner dots.’ A touch ironic, perhaps, that rather than any genetic feature it is my makeup that stands out. Yet for me this is brilliant; I am in control of the image I project to the world, and can assert my identity accordingly.
For my chubby pre-teen self, wearing makeup provided a much-needed confidence boost, a means of seeing my reflection and thinking ‘okay, that’ll do’. Whilst hindsight tells me that caking my acne-covered face in Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse was not the most sensible skincare move, this act allowed me to re-assert the control over my appearance that hormones taken from me. However, in a strict all-girls grammar school this approach to beauty was frowned upon. Teachers warned that wearing makeup would diminish the reputation of the school, because why on earth would an intelligent young woman waste time applying winged eyeliner?
You only need look around Oxford to see that this isn’t the case. Rather than a marker of vanity or ill-intelligence, the wide-spread consensus is that makeup is a means of expressing oneself. Our choices of self-presentation help construct individuality that we are so ardently encouraged by tutors to cultivate. It is a talking point, the start of a conversation. I bonded with one of my closest friends in college over an admiration of her electric blue lipstick, and our friendship is founded upon a shared love of both poetry and MAC cosmetics. What is more, the choice to wear makeup can be a political statement in the face of patriarchal standards that condemn it. Oxford’s drag scene provides strong evidence of this: groups of individuals expressing themselves outside of socially-constructed expectations of behaviour, displaying facets of their identity through makeup, clothing, and performance art.
The choice not to wear makeup may be equally empowering. Once again, this decision has no correlation to one’s intellectual integrity. It is time we regard these two as mutually exclusive and hold a mirror up to the society that enforces this very principle.