“How many times a month do you go for a pedicure?” asked my friend, goggling affectedly, as if having one’s toenails polished fortnightly was as alien a concept as studying giraffe stem cells. Cue the rolling of the eyes and the smug, ‘I can’t remember the last time I visited a nail bar’ speech.
This particular friend is an ardent feminist. She rarely wears make-up and only ever in limited quantities (mascara and lip gloss on special occasions). Each to their own, I say, so I don’t comment on her shiny nose, stubby eyelashes or uneven skin tone. She, on the other hand, thinks nothing of sharing her views on my beauty regime and is clearly on a one-woman mission to school me in the philosophies of female empowerment.
Apparently enlightened and intelligent women don’t max out their MasterCards in beauty parlours. Nor do they spend way too much on useless, demeaning products such as lip serums or eye creams. Likewise, they don’t spend time removing body hair or comparing the denseness of blush brushes.
I’m told these actions are, er, playing into patriarchal ideas of how women should look. Read as: ‘You’re a failure as a feminist because your cosmetic case consists of more than a worn-down lipsalve and a dried-up mascara.
I guess that I kind of get her point. Maybe? Sort of? After all, there is an argument that we’ve all been socialised into believing that every hair should be plucked from our bodies, our skin should be flawless (under a semi-permanent layer of concealer) and that our locks should be perpetually preened. Let’s face it, who hasn’t felt slightly guilty after splashing out on a spray tan?
I’ve definitely asked myself the question, ‘Will people really care if I have a dipped-in-honey glow and a chip-free set of nails?’ Almost certainly not. But then I’ve come to the realisation that that’s not the reason I’m doing it.
You see, I’ve always been under the impression that feminism is about choice. So by that reckoning, isn’t making a decision to groom my face and body in a way that makes me feel strong, confident and, oh yeah, empowered, a form of feminism? Say it with me, now: b-o-d-i-l-y a-u-t-o-n-o-m-y.
There seems to be this weird idea in some circles that femininity diminishes feminism. It’s as though the only way a woman can be intellectual, strong and progressive is if she looks like she hasn’t had a makeover since before the Clinton administration.
In the same way, if a woman dares to stoop so low as to take pride in her appearance and apply a bit of make-up, or visit a salon for a bit of me-time, she must be either a trivial bimbo or the victim of an oppressive ideal that has stripped her of her self-respect.
Personally I’m sick of this contrasting ideology. The way I see it, the same women who are so keen not to be judged for the way they look are all too keen to judge others.
While I disagree unequivocally with the notion that a woman should be merited on her physical appearance, I don’t believe that vanity and empowerment are mutually exclusive either. Is it not possible that there is a happy medium that allows a woman to take pride in her appearance, but still call herself a feminist?
Of course there is. I wear make-up, wax my legs, book in for manicures and pedicures and can frequently be found prowling around the Harvey Nichols cosmetic counters. Yet I proudly call myself a feminist. Am I any less broad-minded than my make-up-free sisters because I carry a Nail Spa loyalty card in my purse? Certainly not.
Here’s to women’s liberation (and all the beauty benefits that go with it!).