Oh, makeup. Oh, fashion. How I love you.
I can’t start this off in good faith without admitting wholeheartedly how much I like the things that often serve as traditional markers for being feminine. Makeup was there for me at a time that nobody else was; cooing at me with its sirens call of facial transformation. As a young girl I devoured magazines and bought entirely into the idea of the slim-bodied, glossy-haired supermodels that I saw plastered across every advertisement being some kind of supreme bodily ideal.
I did my best to replicate that on my own body, and failed miserably. Yet, with pathetically dogged determination, I persisted in attempting to moulding my own growing teenage form into something that bared less resemblance to the “before” shot in a makeover.
To me, femininity was tied into constantly striving for aesthetic perfection. Femininity seemed to be long eyelashes and flawless skin, long hair and a perfectly curved body that looked nothing like my own chubby arms and thighs. I never felt truly feminine unless I had on a dress, makeup, and was trying to make myself look smaller and more petite. I spoke less, took up less space, and tried to restrict my diet so that I could fit in with the weird idea that “women eat less”. I often didn’t eat in front of others and instead stuffed my face when I was alone to try and maintain a graceful “girly” image.
That ideal of beauty, that golden grail of unattainable hotness: I was addicted to it. And somehow, also loathed it. I hated being beholden to it, hated the way my pre-foundation skin was so different to the airbrushed dewiness peddled by magazines and advertisements, hated the way my own body seemed so grotesque next to them. I often preferred to cover the mirrors in my house with towels, rather than look at my naked un-make-upped body.
When I realised I liked girls, what little self confidence I had plummeted.
As a young girl, I unknowingly absorbed popular stereotypes about girls who liked girls. It seemed to come hand in hand with being being predatory and ugly. I fell further and further into a pit of self-hatred.
In an attempt to put as much distance between those stereotypes and myself, I created an ultra-feminine aesthetic. I swore off jeans and dark colours, and bought myself a whole range of flowery dresses with peter pan collars. I was preppy, girly and only interested in putting it on my body if there were pastel colours involved. I became far more feminine a person than I was comfortable with, taking my legitimate love of dresses, skirts and makeup up ten notches. I didn’t want a single soul to “guess” my secret, and I felt like this was the most effective way to do it.
Not only did I need to “defy” these stereotypes by being as girly as possible, I also tried to maintain my attractiveness to men while doing it.
It’s interesting, feeling like you need to be attractive to men while also desperately not wanting them to act on that attraction. We’re taught that having men think you’re attractive is the ultimate validation, but not returning that attraction makes stuff confusing and scary. I wanted every boy to find me attractive, but every time one of those boys showed their interest in me, every part of my body would scream “run”. Not because I was worried about dating for the first time, but because I genuinely wanted nothing to do with them.
I was a young lesbian trying desperately to pretend she was not a young lesbian. It was a confusing, terrifying time.
It was a while until I unlearned this weird idea that being a lesbian means you can’t also be feminine, and that you can be a lesbian and also be traditionally masculine and be no less of a beautiful woman. This realisation changed my life.
There is nothing wrong with being a feminine presenting lesbian, just like there is nothing wrong with being a masculine presenting lesbian. But one is definitely less accepted by society than the other. Straight or gay, women are expected to be feminine, and anyone who strays outside that is subjected to derision and hatred. On top of that, liking girls makes people hate you more. Thanks, homophobia.
We are subject to a myriad of influences when creating our own individual looks, and there is often no way connect the dots between how we dress and the reasons we do it. Nor is it always necessary – if you’re comfortable and happy in what you’re wearing, then that’s all that matters. But for me, and I’m sure a lot of girls out there, it took me a long time to embrace my lesbianism and, as a result, my femininity in a way that primarily relied on my comfort over anything else.
It’s also important to remember that as far as being fucked over by the makeup and fashion industries goes, I’m not too badly off. I’ve already had a leg up over a lot of women, being white, able-bodied, middle class and cisgender. I’ve had it a great deal easier than a lot of women who are held to a standard of beauty that seeks to alienate them while profiting off them. It’s all very well for me to stand here and talk about how much I love makeup and fashion, but the truth is, the societal markers of beauty and femininity can be an insidious evil for those who don’t fit inside their tiny brackets.
At this point, you may be rolling your eyes and muttering something about bringing politics where it doesn’t belong. “But Ella!” you may cry. “You’re running a fashion and beauty blog for christ’s sake. Why must you make your life political! Why can’t you just enjoy it on face value?!”
Unfortunately, this blog was never meant to be something divorced from political ties. Jess and I both lead politically entrenched lives simply by being a couple. It’s not by our choosing – it’s something that people project onto us. Our relationship and subsequently our selves have been subjected to scrutiny every second of the day. Simply by holding hands in the street, we’re making a statement. It means that, in our own ways, we’re forced to politicise our selves and our relationship.
In my opinion, you can either try and reject that, or wholeheartedly embrace it. Needless to say, we chose the latter. We feel that it’s important to analyse and be critical of the things that impact our lives instead of just accepting the way they are. Which is why it is important that we make posts like this – posts that look at those traditional markers of femininity that both of us love so much, and criticise their negative impact on our lives and the lives of others. It’s important that we admit the negative influence it can have, and begin to critically analyse the massive flaws that those industries have.
Girls should not have to wear makeup to be feminine. I do not have to be beautiful and attractive at all times of the day, and I certainly do not need to wear dresses or a seventy dollar highlighter to be beautiful. But sometimes, I want to. Sure, one day I would love to get to the stage of not feeling like I need to wear any makeup (a la Alicia Keys), but for now, I find comfort in the different kinds of pastes and powders I can put on my face. And I wanna start conversations with you about it.
Both Jess and I are constantly learning and finding ways to be more ethical in our fashion and beauty choices, and more analytical in the way we look at those choices. We hope you enjoy following us on that journey.