Deconstructing Beauty and the Notion of ‘Power’

Beauty, and her sisters Fashion and Health, have frequented media platforms since the dawn of time. Not every woman is interested in beauty, but women’s media would have you convinced otherwise. Pages of magazines laden with beauty tips, glossy photoshoots featuring the latest makeup product, regular columns devoted to ‘what women should wear’ – all part of the endless alignment between women and Beauty.

Illustration by Lauren Turner

Illustration by Lauren Turner

It’s pretty, but it’s the ultimate set up. To fully dissect the relationship between beauty and empowerment, we have to ask these questions – who benefits when women participate in beauty and where does our understanding of what is beautiful come from?In the realm of social science and politics, the notion of power pertains to the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct of others.Controlling the media affords you a greater control of a society’s norms – including norms of appearance and standards of beauty. Through the constant repetition of messages, we have learnt to associate makeup with femininity and have absorbed somebody else’s understanding of what a woman should look like – and it usually involves makeup to get there.

It is no secret men control our media (as well as holding majority of the world’s positions of power) – and despite the fact that beauty products are largely designed for women, our $50 billion Beauty Industry is run by Jean-Pauls, Georges, Alans, Lorenzos, Fabrizios and Johns; the (male) CEO’s of L’Oreal, Revlon, Estee Lauder, OPI Nail Polish and MAC Cosmetics.

The men at the top of the 50 billion dollar Beauty Industry.

The men at the top of the 50 billion dollar Beauty Industry.

Beauty isn’t a value – it’s become a product. The power of media and advertising is then used to tell women to look a certain way, offering them a golden ticket to get there in the form of a new makeup product. Women then run to their nearest department in order to fulfill a linear standard that was not set by them in the first place.In patriarchal societies, women relinquish time and money towards the upkeep of their appearance – Eurocentric standards of appearance that have been devised to best suit how white men think we should look, which many Overachiever Magazine writers have touched on already.

But, not without blame, us women are also complicit our subordination. We are there in the meetings when new makeup products are being devised. We are there in our offices writing beauty columns and reinforcing the idea that it is normal to constantly consume makeup products. We are there at the counter of MAC and Revlon giving our money to male-run companies because we bought the story that we weren’t beautiful enough, with or without this makeup product.We literally loose power while men get to look however the hell they want and continue to profit. So where does the empowerment come in?Many may argue that they choose to wear makeup for themselves, which I do not doubt, and fully support their actions. But we cannot forget that our personal lives are inextricably entwined with the world around us.

Remember that power pertains to the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct of others. True empowerment, under that premise, is less about individual choice and more about dismantling the social structures around us that profit from our disempowerment and breaking the social norms that coerce us into believing that we need to look a certain way.Makeup is fun, It’s creative, it’s expressive. In the right hands, it’s art. As someone who is still confused as to why there are different sized brushes, I have no doubt that makeup artists should be considered the Picassos and Van Goghs of our day.I wear makeup often – I do not judge those who use makeup religiously, I do not believe makeup is indicative of low self-esteem, and I understand how it feels being constantly bombarded by examples of ‘what you should look like’ .

But I believe that the greatest tragedy is that some women believe they aren’t enough just the way they are. And it sucks that society has made us feel this way.I implore women to see makeup as a hobby or an interest – and not as a prerequisite to womanhood. You are a woman, makeup or not, and the greatest form of resistance is first being comfortable in your own skin.With the feminist mantra “the personal is political” in mind, I conclude with the following solutions on how we can rework makeup into an act of empowerment.

  • First, consider your motivation. We can approach makeup as a ‘need to’ or a ‘want to’ – please always choose the latter. Makeup is on your own terms.

  • Support woman-owned beauty businesses, such as Glow Recipe, or Maharlika Cosmeitcs. Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, believes “the more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results.” Your purchase of their product says that you believe in women in leadership.

  • Support those who are redefining beauty on their own terms; women makeup artists who push boundaries and transforming to use of makeup from being an imperative to being an art.

  • If you are in a position of power or influence, show beauty in its most honest and raw forms. Media representations of beauty near-never reflect the realities of what women look like; so much so that many equate a ‘natural look’ to the Kardashians (spoiler alert; probably not that natural). We demand pimples and dark under-eyes!

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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