A Brief History of 'Lipstick Feminism'

August 27, 2018  By Chen Yaya  Editor: Xie Wen

July 29 is marked as "national lipstick day" in the U.S. to allow women to better express themselves freely.

In the early days of human history, lipstick was not gender-specific, and men and women could both use the make-up staple.

In some places, lipstick was even applied to masks or statues of gods as a religious totem while offering sacrifices.

Later, with the development of society, classes were increasingly divided, and lipstick was gradually regarded as a symbol of higher class status and an ornament of the nobility.

However, there were exceptions. For example, in ancient Greece, lipstick was rejected, and taken as a special sign of sex workers. By the sixth to third centuries B.C., the application of lipstick had entered the mainstream society of ancient Greece, and was often used by the upper elites.

During the Renaissance, although lipstick was still popular among the people, the church regarded it as a taboo, and some conservatives publicly proclaimed that makeup was inappropriate.

Medieval priests mostly opposed lipstick, and English priests showed a particularly fierce attitude towards it. They even called women with lipstick the incarnation of Satan. They believed that the face of artificial decoration was challenging the authority of God and that they must take measures to stop this behavior.

This prejudice against lipstick reached its peak in the 18th century, when the British parliament passed laws to punish women who used lipstick, perfume and other cosmetics to trick men into marriage.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the consumer society was gradually formed, and lipstick became a daily necessity for women.

Some investigations have found that lipstick can really provide women with comfort and strength, so it tends to be more popular at difficult times, and formed a phenomenon known as the "lipstick effect".

For example, during the Second World War, sales of lipstick soared, as well as at the time after the September 11 attacks.

However, the efficacy of lipstick is much more than that. It has always been associated with women's pursuit of freedom and liberation. Many leaders of the women's movement have publicly stated that lipstick not only represents women's rights, but that it is also a symbol of women's liberation.

Lipstick was once an important symbol of feminism. During the American women's march for suffrage in 1912, many women put on lipstick, and screamed for their rights.

However, in the second wave of feminism that emerged in the 60s and 70s, some feminists began to question makeup, including the use of lipstick. They believed that using makeup was a kind of oppression of women by the patriarchy and a manifestation of women's self-materialization.

Nevertheless, some feminists deliberately distinguished their images from ordinary women, such as not wearing makeup, not dressing up, or dressing in a relatively masculine fashion, in order to avoid being improperly evaluated by outsiders according to their appearance.

As a branch of the third wave of feminism, which emerged in the 80s and 90s, lipstick feminism embraced femininity and feminine sexuality, and many believed that women could become feminists without ignoring their femininity.

Lipstick feminists also believed that women can empower themselves psychologically, socially, and politically through wearing makeup, erogenous clothes, and so on.

Women who liked makeup and lipstick were not victims. They have a positive motility and can fully demonstrate their creativity and potential in a restricted environment and gain control for themselves.

Some people thought that the expression of lipstick feminism is self-deceptive and covers the fact of women's oppression by rhetoric, but more people believed that feminists can be anyone, as long as he or she is involved in the realization of gender equality.

Some studies have shown that under the influence of the third wave of feminism, people's impressions of feminists are changing. They opposed that femininity will affect a person to be a feminist.

Taking a paper published by Mycah L. Harrold in 2014 as an example, in her research, she carried out a simulation experiment that when people faced two people who did not identify as feminists, the one wearing makeup was more likely to be considered to be a feminist, which was surprising because the result turned out to be opposite to what people used to think in the past.

The study also indicated that in contemporary times, people are disinclined to define a woman as unprofessional or having a lack of initiative by their feminine appearance, as in fact it may be the opposite.

Although old-fashioned feminists see makeup as oppressive, some new feminists are still exploring its positive sides, which they consider to be an important way to express personal ideas. In short, makeup is an art, and both women and men can use makeup to express themselves creatively.

Chen Yaya is an assistant researcher of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

(Source: Fnews.cc/ Translated and edited by Women of China)

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