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Can You Be A Feminist & A Beauty Lover?

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The Violet Files

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We asked a few impressive women to share their personal POVs this International Women's Day about how they reconcile their love of beauty with their feminist ideals.

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In honor of International Women's Day—and the larger cultural-political moment we're in—VIOLET GREY asked a few friends to weigh in about the (supposed) tension between beauty and feminism. Like all thorny issues, the central questions are deceptively straightforward: How does one reconcile their love of beauty with one's feminist ideals? Is there a conflict between heteronormative, cis-gender beauty ideals and women's rights—or alternately, is there a harmony? The women we reached out to are all visible and accomplished in their respective fields, and provided thoughtful commentary about their beliefs and strategies for navigating this tricky terrain. Read on for their thoughts.

Founder & CEO, Girlgaze | @amandadecadenet

It’s a misconception that a woman cannot be a feminist and love beauty and care about how she looks. I don’t know who created this fallacy, probably a man. But it’s simply not accurate. However, I do see how the first wave feminists likely had to play down their appearances so they weren’t “too much”. A woman who is beautiful, or chic or smart and has an opinion has long been considered as a threat to many men and women. But in my opinion, it is inherently anti-feminist to squash or suppress any part of yourself, and that includes our looks. It’s so important to embrace all aspects of self, and outer beauty confidence is equally powerful when elevated in conjunction with internal work.

Founder, Clare V. | @clarevivier

There’s no conflict between my love of beauty and fashion and my feminist ideals. To me, feminism has always been about equality—plain and simple. I’m a feminist because I believe in equal pay for equal work and breaking glass ceilings, along with political, economic and social equality. I understand that there’s an unfairness to the fact that women are judged more harshly for our physical appearance (especially in the public eye)—it's noticed if we don’t wear makeup or have our hair done. This is bunk. Women should absolutely not be judged for not wearing makeup—but that doesn’t mean that other women shouldn't be able to choose to wear makeup and adorn themselves how they wish. People have always been and always will be interested in dressing up and making themselves up. I’m in the fashion industry and I don’t feel bad about it or feel that it compromises my feminism. The goal of what we do at Clare V. is to bring joy to people and make people feel good about themselves, and those are very lofty endeavors we take seriously with equality, a red lip, and a cute bag.

Beauty Director of Marie Claire and Co-Host of Fat Mascara | @jennedit

I think caring for your skin, applying a little makeup, and doing your hair is a sign that you’re an empowered woman who respects other women. It says to the world, “I think I’m important, and I respect you and value the time I spend with you, so I’m going to put in a little effort on your behalf.” And if anyone ever told me that they believe the jobs of the beauty professionals we interview on Fat Mascara are superficial, or that our podcast’s content is at odds with women’s rights, I’d forward them one of the many emails we get from our listeners. Here’s an excerpt from a recent letter we received (name excluded to respect her privacy):

“I have been having a bit of a depression dip for the last 18 months, and about a month ago I dove headlong into self-care (inspired slash forced upon me by loving parents and my wonderful fiancé). I used to wear makeup, but at some point I just stopped doing everything, other than washing my hair, body, and teeth. Long story short, my immersion into self-care has included trying makeup again, cleaning my face in multiple steps (my version of meditation, since I’m not a yoga person), and learning about the world of beauty, which I knew nothing about. It’s been a true joy to have you two spout beauty knowledge through my phone. More than just learning though, the guilt that I felt taking care of my body has gone. It no longer feels like vanity; it feels, as it should, like I am taking care of myself. Your podcast has genuinely helped me, and for that, I thank you. You also inspired me to clean up my bathroom, and it feels like a treat every time I go in there—so that's cool, too.”

Beauty Writer and Co-Host of Fat Mascara | @jessicamatlin

I've always been obsessed with beauty, but I've not thought about it through the lens of feminism. I've just been following my interests and doing what felt right by me. Since I was a little kid, I have been worshipping at the altar of beauty advertisements and drawing my own beauty magazines in my bedroom. I created my own world, which felt more exciting and glamorous than the one around me. Later, I worked so hard as a teenager and used that cash to immediately run to Nordstrom to buy luxury beauty products because, well, I thought I was worth it! Even as a kid, I knew that people thought my hobby—and now, profession—had this air of silliness or vanity around it, but I never really cared! Beauty for me is often about creating your own space and some kind of escape from the noise, the madness, or the dreariness of what's happening [in the real world]. It may not be "feminist" by definition, but I think it sounds pretty good at the moment.

Creative and Programming Director, San Vincente Bungalows | @punchhutton

Feeling beautiful is empowering because it builds confidence. And a confident woman is a force to be reckoned with. A confident woman gets things done. There is nothing wrong with or anti-feminist or superficial about the pursuit of beauty and wanting to look one’s best. It’s the exact opposite. It’s about owning your desires and being in control of how you present yourself to the world.

Co-Founders, Sakara Life | @sakaralife

I think the notion that one has to reconcile [them both] is completely counterintuitive to what it means to be a feminist. I choose to feel beautiful and sexy because it makes me feel good, not so I can cater to a masculine ideal. The thing we must all be careful of, as the world shifts to the feminine and we tread new waters, is to remember that the only feeling we want is to feel empowered and limitless. Trying to quiet a love for something (whether it be beauty, fashion, etc.) means we're right back where we started from: living a life where we don't feel free.

Founder & Creative Director, LPA | @piaarrobio

For a long time, I felt selfish about working in the fashion industry. I felt intense guilt that I was using my education, skillset and charm to convince people they HAD to have a certain product or article of clothing. Those feelings went away a few months after I launched LPA, and have completely lifted now that I have grown into an engaged, 31-year-old woman. In the beginning, I was preaching for women to feel good, using it as my brand ethos and writing taglines like “this will get you laid” on LPA labels—but didn’t feel that way about myself. I was overworked, and didn’t take time or money for myself.

The change started with a few simple messages from customers saying, “You were right! Your dress did get me laid!” and has continued to grow as I have shared my very open, and at times, very insecure journey. It was positive feedback and support from other women that initially gave me a surge of confidence. I had to practice what I preached and invest in self-care in order to really be the woman I wanted to be. This started, naturally, with some therapy, meditation and hot yoga. It has developed into a daily routine that I am semi-obsessive about, and one that is important to my physical and mental well-being.

The conclusion I have come to is this: being a feminist is whatever the fuck you want it to be. It is whatever makes you the best, most well-rounded version of yourself. Being a feminist shouldn’t be a trend, it should be your truth. I am more of a woman than I’ve ever been because I am myself—a process I couldn’t come to without respecting my mind, body and my heart. For me, being a feminist is being inclusive; being your best self according your own needs; being nice to yourself; being nice to other women; and sharing beauty tips.

Creative Director, Brother Vellies | @aurorajames

When we allow our standards of beauty to blossom and become more inclusive, the concept of beauty will—by nature—become a feminist manifesto.

Activist, Writer & National Organizer, Women’s March on Washington | @sarahsophief

The truth is, there is a tension that has always existed between beauty ideals/business and feminist ideals. Much of how we are taught to see ourselves is a reflection of the male gaze, right? An all out rejection of beauty, however would probably be a doubling down, or upholding some form of misogyny though wouldn't it? If we agree that most things coded as "female" are summarily dismissed, seen as frivolous or at worst, lacking value, then emulating standards coded as "male" or patriarchal structures, doesn't seem like much of an answer does it?

Perhaps all we can do is answer these complicated questions for ourselves. I ask myself, what image of myself do I want to put out in the world and why? Do I love beauty because I crave admiration or attention? Do I do this for myself? Do I love beauty because I fear aging and the sexism inherent in that? Am I culturally appropriating with the image I put out in the world? As a somewhat public person, can I own the privilege that subscribing to a certain image of beauty inherently bring? Can I enjoy the ritual of beauty without judging how other people choose to engage in their own image? How can the culture of beauty and fashion be made accessible to everyone? Where does my satisfaction and joy come from in the daily act of doing my make up or washing my face? These are just a few questions. As I get older, the answers become more satisfying, mostly because the beautiful thing about aging is, for me at least, I just give fewer fucks.

My truth may not be anyone else's and I figure, as long as my truth does no harm, is a true reflection of my values and beliefs, and brings me some enjoyment, then I can feel good about it! Whether we choose to reject or embrace a ritual of beauty, adornment, self definition, and identification, these choices must be personal and unique. The moment we are in brings me a lot of joy, whether it's attending a BeautyCon convention, with young people of all genders, finding community in the joy of of self expression, or the more inclusive tone of fashion, our kaleidoscope of beauty is growing. As it should.

Editor-in-Chief, NewBeauty | @emilydougherty

The majority of beauty products—everything from that favorite neon red lipstick to those painful wax strips—have been designed to help us mimic the visual cues that indicate our bloodstreams are rich in estrogen, [in order to] broadcast to all that we are feminine and fertile. UGH. Red lipstick doesn't seem as fun or luxurious or indulgent when viewed through this lens. But I still love red lipstick! And, even more than red, I adore seeing people wearing blue and black and green lipstick: shades that are less about faking a hormone level and more about art and self-expression. It's thrilling that finally society is starting to celebrate beauty across the spectrum of gender and breaking the monopoly that these boring fertility markers have had on our industry. I love you, estrogen, I really do! We're cool. But I want Pat McGrath designing my lipstick shades, not you.