To Wear Makeup Or Not and Further Explorations into Black Femininity

One of the many navel-gazing pasttimes of Americans in the 21st century is to look at celebrities with no make-up.  Wait, let me be specific, we look at female celebrities with no make-up.  I’m not even sure the genre of male celebs in no make-up even exists.  Over the past years we’ve seen

the good

Screen shot 2013-11-10 at 9.37.40 AM

the regular

Screen shot 2013-11-10 at 9.40.44 AM

the plain


the bad


Recently, I came across a picture of Kerry Washington without make-up and she fit well within the realm of “the regular.”  She looked like the tens of millions of women who go to work day in and day out without make-up–average.  Average doesn’t mean bad, average simply means that you fall, percentage wise, within the apex of the bell curve.  For those of you who have been living under the proverbial rock, Kerry Washington is the actress who has slogged through many character-actor movies and finally hit the jackpot starring as Olivia Pope on ABC’s hit Thursday night show “Scandal.”  It’s also one of the few instances in which a black female actor is starring not just in a show, but in a top-rated show at that.

Nevertheless, this is what she looks like sans make-up:

kerry washington no make up

She looks…well…average.  She looks like a mid-30s stay at home mom juggling two kids, both under five, and one of them just pottied in the middle of the hallway, the dog is barking, the buzzer to the dryer just went off and the doorbell for the FedEx package just rang.

Again, very average and very typical.

Regardless of race, she just looks average.

In part snark and part stunning awe, I made the following comment on my Instagram page which gets plugged into my Twitter and Facebook pages:

My fantasy is ruined. this is like seeing Mickey take his head off or seeing Santa rip the beard off… She need some Proactiv and something to address the struggle edges. Whoever her makeup artist(s) are need a raise!!!

Yeah, I said it, and I’m not apologizing for it.  And these are the responses from women that I received:

She is still gorgeous! She’s a human being—she has blemishes. You men and your hyper criticism of the female body.

Another said:

you [sic] remark is the exact reason why women pack makeup on there skin now…afraid to show there [sic] flaws

One in response to the first comment left one, then another comment:

girl I was thinking the SAME thing! Brothas kill me doin that!

Also, sisters never tell when our fantasies get ruined. For example, when a fine brother has nice shoulders and decent arms under a sweater but then he take that joint off and look 2 months pregnant because he drink too much. No we don’t do that. We are often taught to protect the male ego. Yet brothas steady examining us like we some damn barbie dolls for purchase as a Christmas gift. Have a _/. Her edges probably struggling because of the weave she wears to be deemed presentable enough to do her job. There’s more, but I’ll just stop.

Instagram was no less on “chill” mode with this either:

That’s misogynistic as hell.

And another lengthier comment read:

Why do we feel like female celebs have to be flawless but male celebs can be overweight, balding, have adult acne and/or be ugly. It might be predictable as a response but let’s call a thing a thing. My bf is cute because I know I’m at least cute, equally yoked goes with looks and attractiveness too.

Truth be told, I identify with the last comment, who is a woman.  I think this is a valid, well thought out question that turns the argument on it’s head: who’s determining what a woman’s beauty is?

In the growing vocal declarations of black women reclaiming their own voice and determining their own destiny, this argument laid at my feet on comments today registers bankrupt for me.  Primarily because it puts the onus of beauty determination on men.  I’m confused, I thought women determined their own standard of beauty, and even if one wants to play into the “it’s a man’s world” notion, are there not enough avenues in which women can still “buck” the system if you will.

While I love a woman in high heels, who’s really forcing women to wear high heels?  I know I’m not.  I know I never held a gun up to a woman’s head and said “Wear high heels or die!”  Granted, the standard of beauty is determined by something such as that, or how long one’s hair is (enter the whole weave and extensions facet and permed vs. natural hair), but who’s approval are women really after?

If the honest and true answer is that women do all of this for men’s approval, then I’m not much in the way to entertain the articles that appear in Ebony or anywhere else that make enemies out of black men for black male patriarchy.  As a commenter said above that my remark is why women put on make up–really?

In 2013, I don’t buy that argument at all.

Screen shot 2013-11-11 at 1.42.10 AMNo one forced any woman to go to the make-up counter at the department store and buy make-up to put on their face.  This is notwithstanding that there are professions and jobs solely based on how one looks, and not just those in the entertainment industry.  Women who work corporate or office jobs are expected to look “womanly.”  Churches are still segments of society that place high emphasis not just on gender role, but on the appearance of those roles as well.

This argument falls flat because you can’t accuse men of forcing women to look a certain way, wear make-up and wear the heels and label them misogynists, chauvinists or the epitome of [black male] patriarchy when these are 1) worn willingly and 2) worn to gain the attraction of men in the first place.  This is not a case where you can have your cake and eat it too without acknowledging the want for female hegemony.

When my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter timeline are full of tweets and status updates about how great Olivia Pope looks and how flawless her hair is, posted by women, then hearing this pushback sounds disingenuous at best.  It becomes a near hypocrisy if women hold to the views of the commenters, yet watch Real Housewives of Atlanta on a consistent basis.  Women themselves engage on this negative banter themselves; do you honestly think “struggle edges” was a phrase that originated from a man?

Admittedly, there has not been the history attached to women objectifying men, but as the fight for equal rights progresses, women have become more and more liberated to do so of men.  While this may register as just desserts for women who are old enough to remember what it meant to enter the workforce for the first time, the younger generation isn’t aware of that struggle and I don’t think it’s fair to pass down such a mindset.  Just because men did it in the past doesn’t make it right for women to in turn objectify men in the present.

I think this is also a by-product of our social media saturation.  As I said, this is a new phenomenon as far as celebrities without make-up.  Before, all you had were the supermarket tabloids, but with smartphones, these pictures are at our fingertips–literally.  Social media gives us the license to make fun of anyone.  Is it really that my comments were misogynistic or that I was just making fun of someone and something that all of us have done at one point or another on social media.

olivia pope
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope

Specifically to the case of Kerry Washington looking “plain Jane,” it really is akin to the kid seeing Mickey take his head off in a dressing room or a kid peering around a corner and seeing Santa take off his beard.  We are presented this image that makes up who she is.  The fantasy is ruined now.  But guess what, I’m a grown man, and I understand it’s just that–it’s fantasy.  Ask any grown man out there who knows what it’s like when she rolls over in the morning–it’s not Olivia Pope in the morning, it’s Kerry Washington, sans make up, the hair isn’t combed, or flat ironed, there’s probably a night gown as well, not some sexy two piece and the breath is probably on ten.

I think this clip illuminates the dialectical tension on this exact subject:

Will’s character had a fantasy of what he wanted Kathleen (Tisha Campbell) to be.  If the conversation is being discussed by women, usually that’s where the point of departure is and this most time results in men being the sole purveyors of the misogyny and chauvinism and it results in a non-solution based argument conversation.  But the “Kathleens” of the world are many: many women do what they do to fulfill the fantasies of, and gain the attraction of men.  Some then may chalk up the “Kathleen” persona as a woman who’s low on self-esteem and has no self-worth to support “all men are dog theory” that has so much traction these days.  But I can’t help but ask the bottom line question, what type of man are you really attracting who’s attracted to all the fake stuff?

That clip also shows the challenge that gender roles play into all of this.  The exchange of getting food out of the freezer shows this flip-flop of independent woman/I-need-a-man all in one exchange and then brings to bear just how fake she really was.  Will wanted a fantasy if it could be made reality.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting Olivia Pope–if Olivia Pope is real.  I think when most men make the comments I do, be it about Sofia Vegara, to Sanaa Lathan (or even my red-head fantasy of Scarlett Johansson in “Iron Man 2”) it’s really fantasy based; we all know the reality is Kerry Washington.  Specifically, I think I got flak because this was thee sainted Kerry Washington.  If this had been any other celebrity (even Oprah) no one would have said anything, at least not to this point.  It’s almost like this Obama syndrome where it’s some black cultural taboo to say anything negative.

This, ultimately is a one-sided conversation because men, as a rule, don’t wear make-up, we don’t wear enhanced shoes that do  long-term damage to feet and backs, nor do we put stuff in our hair to make it longer–as long as we make enough money, women will look past it.

Be honest.

This confuses men, and this confuses the crux of the argument.  All men aren’t chauvinist and every joke about a woman’s appearance doesn’t amount to male privilege rearing it’s head.  Simple as that.  However, that’s not what the vocal collective of black women have put out there as the dominating school of thought.  You can’t ask black men to love you for who you really are if the hair isn’t your real hair, and if you have a pock-mocked face underneath the make-up that you don’t ever want to be seen!  A real and mature love isn’t going to love Olivia Pope, it’s going to love Kerry Washington.  This neo-black feminist thought has seemingly disavowed any responsibility in these matters of black women from either participating in the female-on-female criticism or tacitly giving permission for men to do it by the way they react given their own appearance.

I’ve never cat called–wait, that’s a lie, but I was out coming from a kickback and it was late and yeah, you know, the car never stopped, and I never intentionally… but I have, in passing, stopped a woman before and simply said “Excuse me, I just want you to know you look good today,” and kept moving.  Does that make me a chauvinist?  Does it matter if she had on make up or not?  Whether it was her real hair or not?  Does one give more “real” point to the dark skinned women versus the light skinned ones?  Natural hair vs. permed hair?

Within the black community, far too often this is where this argument lies.  It’s really issues of gender and black feminism and expectations of masculinity (masculinism) that play heavily into all of this.  I will say this, to quote a close friend, I’m not interested in having non-solution based discussions.  If reconciliation isn’t a primary goal, I see no point in a dialogue that’s more concerned about arguing just how right one is to show just how wrong the other side appears to be.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

11 thoughts on “To Wear Makeup Or Not and Further Explorations into Black Femininity

  1. Women will have space to call a man misogynist for liking an attractive woman exactly when men have space to call a woman misandrist for liking successful, tall men. All else is hypocrisy. Both men and women have preferences and neither needs to apologize.

    1. @Shady

      I see your point, but is it not different when men say it because they’re speaking from a place of male privilege that the women don’t have? Or is it really all things equal?

      1. All things are equal in this aspect. There is absolutely no reason that either gender should feel ashamed of their inborn and complementary desires. I give a hearty Bronx Cheer to any woman or feminist who thinks she can or should criticize male desires/interests while exalting those of women.

        There is someone for everyone if they look. The man who doesn’t want to achieve or even attempt to live up to female expectations can find a woman who similarly rejects all male expectations of beauty. But of course, people being people, we don’t want to admit that. The thirty something guy living in his parent’s basement with no money, wealth or ambition thinks he deserves a supermodel. The overweight woman with a sarcastic unpleasing personality thinks she deserves a tall, millionaire hedge fund founder. Generally speaking, life doesn’t work that way. Assuming you’re searching, you often wind up with someone who reflects you and your level of attractiveness.

        Everyone, male or female, has to put in work on themselves to find who they want. If they are unwilling to do this, that is 100% their right. But they don’t get to criticize, browbeat or guilt trip those in the opposite sex who notice this. That’s unhealthy and hypocritical.

  2. Great insite into the “neo-black feminism” tactic of deflecting responsibily. It’s something my brothas have to wake up to because it just ends up devolving into an argument, and nobody wins.

  3. The problem for black women is that we’ve had to try so hard to fit in with this standard of beauty that is so dated. Back in the day, we were considered “unkempt” if we showcased our natural beauty. Now it’s so ingrained in our minds that we’ve become our own worst enemies. Recently Ebony Magazine gave Rachel Jeantel (as you may remember from the Trayvon Martin trial) a makeover as if that was number one on the list of her needs. It was cute but what about a scholarship or school books? Now I’m not going to entirely let men slide because I do believe they are have a major role in this. I think this is a great conversation starter for black women to finally look at the man- err, woman- in the mirror.

  4. Yo, this post is so on point! I was just at a discussion/seminar on Black Masculinity last night and inevitably Black Feminism came into play. And a week before that I got berated by a woman here in the blogosphere who considers herself a Black Feminist. I responded regarding cat-calling that she kept referring to as “dehumanizing,” “oppressive,”and “threatening.” She even went as far as saying there is a “war on women” going on. I expressed that I thought she was being a little sensational. I also added the man’s perspective of cat-calling because most are guilty of having done it at some point; however, I felt she was ignoring the difference between cat-calling and a guy that puts his hands on the woman or physically accosts her or curses her for not responding. And I told her I had never seen a cat-call turn into any of that and I had never seen a woman respond to a cat-call in the extremes that she was describing. I told her that if that was the norm and women opposed it vehemently (as Black women did with deadbeat dads) then I thought things would change because it is a dynamic and men wouldn’t continue to cat-call if it didn’t sometimes get them what they wanted.

    She told me that I was shifting the blame and that men needed to take responsibility and figure it out and she didn’t want to discuss it I just needed to “be a stand up guy” and “just stop it.” So like you’re friend I just resigned from the convo and told her that I was coming to her to be educated on her perspective and was instead attacked which in the end was going to get us nowhere. So yea…I definitely think some things need to be addressed here with the Black Feminism and Black Masculinity/ Black women and Black men and it needs to be a solution oriented convo and not a blame game or trying to out minority each other. Great post, son. RESPECT.

    1. Saw your post, ended up SMH/LOL @ your little lesson in what I call “pseudo-modern Black feminism”, which, in most cases, is really the “Check Your Nuts @ the Door” brand of Feminism.

      Just as the word “homophobic” been changed from it original and accurate meaning to any word or deed that dares criticize the modern LGBT, the word “misogynist” has been changed to include any word or deed that dares criticize the actions and behaviors of women.

      At least your response got printed, m’boy. I actually was in agreement with that particular blogger, and was going to write about my experiences with “The Gauntlet” as she called it, but I explained (politely, I thought) that I wanted to read a few of her pieces on the subject first. I was castigated, and told that unless I was going to write about how “men needed to step up and stop The Gauntlet” my comment was not going to be printed. She stated that she would not allow me to “violate her safe haven with my misogynistic comments.”

      Shrug. I enjoy a lively debate, but I don’t suffer fools gladly. Life’s too short.

  5. Reblogged this on The Blackest Man Cave and commented:
    This guy can better articulate my argue to black feminist a lot better than I even could…. Women if you believe I’m just a bitter angry jaded women-hater then please read this blog. It has none of my grammar mistakes or extreme indictments.

  6. I feel you are entitled to your opinion of Kerry Washington. I understand where the women who commented are coming from, but you post what you want to post and respond how you want to respond, knowing what may come; if you can handle it then cool.

    I feel like men only get taken off guard when women expose their natural face because they aren’t use to it. Hell when my coworkers come to work without makeup I think they look ill, like they have pneumonia or something. We get used to seeing something often enough as one way that when it appears differently it looks wrong. If you would have always seen Kerry Washington without makeup your reaction might not have been the same, and your initial infatuation with her might have been lesser as well.

    I’ll be one to admit that I dress and do my hair for other women to notice. Who cares if men like it. I want them to, and I want them to notice, but men notice women regardless. I always meet cute guys on my rough days. I shop and get dressed with the “show stopping” attitude in mind. Go to a women’s conference about ANYTHING and see women dressed to the 9’s and no man in sight.

    I wrote a post along these lines called MAKEUP CURSE. Check it out!

    Side note: I remember this episode of Fresh Prince and still know the song he sang by heart (80’s baby, 90’s kid)

    Just a lil of the Truth

  7. What I want to address is this notion that men aren’t “making” women do anything. I think you’re taking the phrase far too literally for modern day application.

    People instinctively pick up on a multitude of indicators (verbal cues, body language, setting, volume, etc). So when you say something like Kerry without makeup is like Mickey without a head, the implication is that Kerry needs to be wearing makeup to please you. And while Kerry herself may not be trying to please you specifically, the women and girls who read your commentary see it as a loaded statement — whether you intend for people to read between your lines or not. Psychologically, your “ruined dream” signals that you hold women who wear no makeup with less regard than someone who puts forth a certain specified look at all times. Granted, no one should place such priority on any one person’s commentary, but I just wanted to point out the cues that your missing from the backlash.

    In a digital world, your words are accessible to many, including the impressionable population, and generic/broad sweeping comments about celebrities (who are already treated like emotionless cartoon spokes-characters rather than the human beings that they are) often times come off as proclamations of truth or standard-setting because people instinctively place others in categories in order to draw similarities and inferences for future use (i.e. you’re a man, thus your opinion must be at least somewhat common to many men, and Kerry’s a black woman, thus your representative requirement that she be dolled up at all times must be at least somewhat applicable to all black women). What people object to is the idea that celebrities, who in their own way represent a variety of demographics, are held to impossible standards, thus implying that society at large must measure up to those standards.

    I said all that to say: words matter, they matter more when they’re memorialized online, they matter exponentially when they’re limited to 40 characters or less — so just be careful about what it is your statements represent to the person you’re making them about AND the people who identify with that person.

    Oh, and I love you for this: “If reconciliation isn’t a primary goal, I see no point in a dialogue that’s more concerned about arguing just how right one is to show just how wrong the other side appears to be.” My biggest pet peeve are writers (all people, really) who don’t hold that sentiment to heart, and I actively un-favorite the sites that seem to play into the men vs women wars at the expense of progress between the two. So far I like this site. I hope it lasts. 🙂

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