It’s a familiar, yet disturbing, article. An unnamed man divorces, sues, or even in some cases, attacks his female partner after he sees her without make-up. Although these stories always tend to have questionable credibility—even coincidentally occurring in a non-Western or non-English speaking country, where finding the original source is difficult—they’re nonetheless widely shared across social media. There are many reasons for why this is so, but the most prominent is that it provides support for an age-old myth that make-up is an unfair deception to men.
The truth is that make-up, whether in small or large doses, natural or unnatural, hidden or obvious, is not at all a tool wielded by women to unfairly deceive men. Comments that suggest otherwise tend to work under an assumption that woman wear make-up specifically to impress men, whereas for most women, the wearing of make-up is more about owning their own femininity and personal enjoyment.
But wait—what about the popular counter argument that if men wore make-up, then women would call it equally deceptive? This ignores an entire context of imbalanced power relations from which the idea that make-up is deceptive towards men comes from.
For centuries, men have been given an unfair privilege to dictate female behaviour and appearance. Male entitlement—the idea that women owe men in any form—still remains a normalised misogynistic issue today. Just like how the ‘friend zone’ implies that any man who’s nice to a woman deserves her romantic interest, the idea that make-up is deceptive for men suggests that women owe it to men to be ‘completely natural’.
Interestingly enough, I’ve also found that people who shame women for wearing make-up because it’s deceptive often tend to forget that their favourite female celebrities undergo a similar process of make-up and then Photoshop to look the way they are. This seemingly innocuous double standard results in very real and warped beauty standards for women. If ordinary women wear make-up, their beauty is considered fake, but if they don’t, then they’re ridiculed for their flaws. Unlike men, society expects ordinary women to be as naturally attractive as their make-up clad, Photoshopped celebrity counterparts.
In the long run, the idea of women wearing make-up as deceptive may seem trivial compared to the other issues women face, such as the wage gap and under-representation in management and leadership positions. But the reality is that the scrutiny of women’s appearances plays a huge part in misogynistic narratives used to justify disproportionate amounts of violence against women, as well as the discrimination against women in the workforce. The suggestion that make-up is deceptive to men is hence not a dismissible and isolated issue. Rather, the implications that it carries are huge and only serve to reflect and perpetuate ongoing institutionalised sexism in society.