“Cosmetics advertising”. I’ll just group that phrase with “Sex”, “Youth” and “Exclusionary.” As a make-up junkie, I can attest to the fact that, walking down a make-up aisle at any drugstore or department store, the amount of sheer advertising that occurs is overwhelming. At every turn, on the front of every precariously balanced display of lipstick or fragrance, is a picture of an overly made-up, ridiculously youthful, and obviously outrageously happy woman. She beams down from billboards, smiles from behind the lip gloss, and peeks flirtatiously from over her shoulder, luring you in with her overly- long eyelashes (probably fake). Her body, particularly her face, is dissected and displayed in various places throughout the makeup aisle. Here, her lips are the prominent focus, luscious and dramatically colored, shiny and juicy like an overly ripe piece of fruit. Above purple and pink tubes of mascara, her eyes watch you, piercing you with their photo-shopped clarity and whiteness, yet drawing you in with the clouds of eye shadow that swirl beneath her perfectly arched eyebrows. Her cheeks are tinged in an oh-so-virginal blush or a bolder post-orgasm flush. Acne is a foreign concept and dark-circles belong here as much as a rocket ship would in a pony race. This woman looks nothing like me and everything like “sex on a stick”.
This woman is what cosmetics industries promise me I can become. In fact, she is what I SHOULD become. If I take care of myself, and buy into, not only their products, but the message they perpetuate, I can become beautiful too. What they don’t want me to catch on to, what they go through huge, expensive gymnastics to hide from me, is that this woman doesn’t exist. She is the end-result of the perfect storm of photo-shop, set designers, lighting technicians and stylists. And just like a perfect storm, it takes a serious amount of time for conditions to come together to enable her existence.
“Wait a minute,” I hear you say. “What about spokespersons like Drew Barrymore for Covergirl or Beyonce for L’Oreal?” In light of this I would say, it’s not that the women themselves are at fault , it’s that their appearances and messages are co-opted and changed to reflect, again, this ideology of beauty that companies have built. Just this summer there was a huge fallout over L’Oreal allegedly lightening Beyonce’s skin in an ad for hair dye.
(link here, decide for yourself: http://www.tmz.com/2008/08/06/loreal-beyonce-whitewash/)
Ads like the one below just reveal again the overt sexualization of makeup and in this case, Barrymore. Better get your slinky black dress ready and perfect those pouts, oh and don’t have acne, or bad hair, or any “extra” weight on you either. Then you can be beautiful too!
Now read this sentence carefully. This is not a post about the terrible harms of makeup and how using makeup turns you into a supporter of patriarchy and oppression. No. There is nothing inherently wrong with colored pigments that you may spread in a rainbow of colors over your face however you please. What IS wrong is that the companies that sell you these products are actually selling you something much more than makeup. They’re selling you ideologies about what beauty is and what it looks like and who should be allowed to DEFINE it. This is a big deal, trust me. Because when someone else gets to define beautiful, odds are, you and many others, will never be it. Odds are also increased that those groups, individuals, etc that don’t fit into mainstream society, are all going to be carefully crafted out of these definitions of beauty.
Let’s also just pause and consider that this is also ALL aimed at women, advertised with women spokespersons, and yet there are men who enjoy makeup and beauty products as well. The complete silence from the major makeup industry on this subject is simply disappointing and exclusionary. It reinforces “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus!”. Gender norms? I think yes.
Slogans like “Maybe she’s born with it” (Maybelline) or “Enhancing Women’s Lives” (Mary Kay), imply that 1. She probably isn’t born with it so she needs help from Maybelline to look beautiful and 2. Her life isn’t that great without some serious help from Mary Kay. Ridiculous.
The anti-aging campaign that occurs is likewise ridiculous. Since when is aging so bad? Why is it something that women have to hide? I thought that aging was, like, a natural process? Again, another walk down a makeup aisle or look online will reveal the enormous amount of effort that goes into spreading the message that aging is a terrible thing that must be hidden in order to be beautiful, at any cost. An even darker message is that there must be something terribly flawed with being older than twenty and not trying to hide it.
If you can stomach it, watch this video from L’Oreal by their anti-aging spokesperson Andie MacDowell.
Keep in mind that she can feel and say all these wonderful things about aging because the first thing that happens when she wakes up in the morning is she looks in the mirror and sees that her skin still looks young. No joke, she claims that “Having beautiful skin makes me feel that I’m worth it.” Well geeze, why have I been looking for inner self-fulfillment all this time? I feel so silly.
Normativity is waving hello from the makeup aisle, why don’t you just wave back?