How Does Makeup Make You Feel?


There’s a debate going on right now at the New York Times about whether makeup helps or hurts self-esteem (responses currently range from “Women Should Do What They Want,” “It’s What You Make Of It,” “Using Makeup Shows Love for Yourself,” “A Choice, Not A Requirement,” “Look Your Best, Feel Your Best,” to “Must This Get Political?”), but our heart lies mostly with Natasha Scripture’s response,“Red Lips Can Rule The World,” because guess what? We agree. Saying makeup is anti-feminist is borderline crazy. In our book, being a feminist means supporting women, no matter what they look like or what they want to do. (A resounding “You Go, Girl!” here, please, thanks). Just check out Esmé [1,2], rocking Tom Ford’s latest limited-edition lip colors (she's wearing Spanish Pink in these pics), and bringing back all those good memories from Esther Heesch’s transformation at the hands of Armani Lip Maestro Liquid Lipstick. A red lip is confident, sophisticated, alluring, and as strong as you want it to be. Don’t believe us? Ask Melissa Coker. And don’t let anybody tell you what to do.

Buy Tom Ford's four-piece Lip Color Boxed Set here.

Esme Edwards wearing Tom Ford lipstick in Spanish Pink, photographed in New York by Emily Weiss on December 2nd, 2012.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • pattystcroix

    Makeup makes good look better ;)


    Makeup makes me feel pretty. I especially love makeup for its artistic aspect. The enhancement that comes with it is definitely a plus though. Not sure what the issue with makeup is, but it's being overly analyzed.


    Phoebe Baker Hyde's contribution to this debate is unfortunately necessary (you know, to show "both sides") but it made me cringe just thinking about how much she probably hates herself. I find it all well and good to reject beauty products for whatever reason but to project such opinions onto women as if those that do enjoy makeup are actually fooling themselves is some bullsh*t. Whatever, Pheobe!

    • Joy

      Probably best to read Baker Hyde's new book. Her experiment wasn't a "I hate makeup I'll just forget it" thing. It was a personal reflection on how much spent on her appearance was impacting her day to day life. It's actually quite good and not a 'makeup is the devil' commentary.

      • Joy

        *how much *time* spent on her appearance

    • Catherine

      I don't feel like she's saying anything much different to any of the other articles she's just dialled up the cynicism somewhat (which I don't feel is particularly constructive, to be honest).
      You're right in saying that she is trying to project her opinion on others but not particularly successfully. Why the hell should we care what she thinks? It's pretty much the only thing that makes her article different from the others, I think.

  • maiastras

    I think what matters is the intent and motive behind applying make-up.

    1) Are you using make-up to cover up what you think are your flaws and hide your face to look like something out of a magazine because you wish you were that model/actress every waking moment of your life?

    2) Are you using make-up to have fun and enjoy yourself, whether it be for a special occasion (party, halloween, date) or just to experiment with different products and techniques?

    3) Are you using make-up to highlight your different features and change your mood by putting on a different look?

    4) Are you using make-up because your work environment has made it a standard of professionalism?

    etc... etc...

    Personally I use make-up for reasons 2 and 3, and based upon my perception of ITG, it seems like the message I get from the different articles and posts consistently deals with the idea of exploring your beauty, your curiosity, your own tastes and aesthetic via the medium that is make-up/hair/skin/wellness.

    Thankfully my career trajectory does not make reason 4 something I have to deal with.

    • Maria

      I agree, it's when women use makeup solely for reason 1 that we should be raising eyebrows, but even in that case it's still their lives, their faces and their choices. I really don't know why feminists (or anyone for that matter) would judge a person's commitment to the cause of being a strong and independent woman by the level of makeup on their face. There are so many other issues we need to be addressing! And we can address those issues with lipstick on!

  • azrakun

    I would be also interested on the male perspective. My boyfriend and I somewhat have an ongoing battle about this. He simple hates make-up, but I am not going to stop wearing it because it does make me feel more put-together and in some situations more confident. I almost it's certain situations it's almost a 'must.'

    • coniglietta

      My boyfriend also prefers me to be au naturel and he tells me I'm actually prettier without make-up. With that said, I still like to put on make-up because I believe it enhances what one already has and I agree that it can be a confidence booster as well.

    • fairytalesandcoffee

      Some guys don't like makeup because they feel it is artifice and because it signals sexual availableness to other men. For some men it is like being conned into thinking someone is more attractive than what they are. They also don't like the idea of their girlfriends being "available" to other men. That whole men not in to makeup on their girlfriends for SOME men is basically signalling their insecurity and dislike of being conned. NO LIE. For others, they have been socialized to believe a women SHOULD wear makeup as a mark of their sexual atractiveness to the outside world. Either way, I don't think it's ANY man's decision what a woman puts on her face.

    • Bird

      Mine feels the same way. He does not see the purpose of makeup at ALL, but he does understand keeping a beauty routine (drinking water, taking care of your skin, and making choices in order to stay in strong physical health) as a means of actively taking care of your skin that you will stay in for the rest of your life. Makeup is the controversy in question because people think of it as either a way to cover up flaws, allow for a norm to take place by doing such, or as an expression of one's self. My boyfriend understands how patriarchal makeup can be, and I think that's why he's opposed to it.

  • mafer_dm

    Lord knows where I'd be without an eyelash curler and MAC's Russian Red... and Diva... and Rebel ...

  • Leah

    I love it all and am the biggest feminist in the world! It makes me look and feel better. I don't really see the two as mutually exclusive. It's about taking care of yourself!

  • Joy

    No one in this debate seemed to be saying that makeup is "anti-feminist". Even Naomi Wolf has said, "what I a woman's right to choose what she wants to look like and what she wants to be." (Introduction to The Beauty Myth, 2002).
    Humans, both men and women, have been wearing makeup for thousands of years for hundreds of reasons. It's not a debate, it's a personal choice.

  • Loni

    I really echo, the whole idea that, 'feminism is supporting women not matter what they look like or do.' To say that makeup somehow takes away from feminism just further alienates women from each other, makes us competitive, and the alienation in general from what ever source, helps rewind whatever has been done in the past by women, for women. Make-up and its use is simply another form of self-expression. Its beautiful and wonderful. Whatever the reason, its personal, and judging others is just a distraction from other more important things. I write on my blog,, about the whole experience behind a particular product. To me products are like art, design or music. Products play such an important role in everyday life, that to me, why don't we elevate it and embrace it, from lipsticks enhancement to the chemistry and art behind a fragrance, its all just so wonderful.

  • Marcela Cristovao

    I feel that women sometimes give too much of their power to other (women) people. If you like to wear makeup then just do it. You are not harming anybody in the process, and if you do not like it, you can always wipe it off.

    And yes, I am one of those who thinks that whenever I have makeup on I look and feel better about myself, and when I don't I still feel great about myself, so its a win, win situation.

    And yes, a red lip always rocks! Can't wait to try that one on.

  • Amina65

    "Saying makeup is anti-feminist is borderline crazy."

    Sooo AGREE with that statement. Angry women need to get over their nastiness...I love my shoes, my mascara and my lipstick. I also advise men in power here in DC. they listen to me because I have the answers. I wear lipstick because I LOVE it!!!

  • Ena of The Silk Stiletto

    Yep, agreed. And a resounding You Go, Girl! to you!

    Make-up is such a personal choice and is all about how it makes each and every one feel, that it's complete nonsense to come out of nowhere and brandish it as "anti-feminist" or anything else. I refuse to have my views on the world or my femininity be defined by my fashion or beauty choices! I usually wear very natural make-up, but red lips can make me feel more beautiful and I love mixing it up from time to time. What's wrong with that?!

  • ∆ .

    Women face enormous pressure be physically beautiful. We are constantly bombarded by narratives that celebrate the power of female beauty as well as images that confer social worth to strikingly gorgeous women. Not only that, but people in our society tend to treat beautiful women better than others. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure this out, but there are studies that support this observation. Being beautiful confers real social benefits, so it shouldn't be surprising that many women want to be beautiful.

    Of course, many women don't just want to be subjectively beautiful. They want to be conventionally beautiful. They want to conform to the prevailing beauty norms. The institution of beauty teaches us what to recognize as beautiful--and what we're taught is beautiful is actually fairly specific. There aren't a whole lot of vastly different female faces that society recognizes as beautiful. We know this because the types of women who commonly appear in the media (television, movies, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, blogs, etc.) tend to have very similar features regardless of their ethnicity. Beautiful black, white, Asian, hispanic, and native women in the media are all fairly likely to have tall and thin noses, large eyes, and high cheekbones despite their ethnic differences. Furthermore, non-white women on television are likely considered light skinned for their ethnic groups.

    Objectification of the female body is inherently sexist; and, quite frankly, our institution of beauty tends to objectify women. The institution objectifies women, because it identifies, promotes, and exploits beauty as the centerpiece of female identity and worth. The beautiful woman is the default in literature, film, and art; in fact, we have hundreds of years of liteature and art that would not have featured any women except for the fact that the few women featured were so exceptionally and enchantingly beautiful that they made for excellent plot devices. Coincidentally, not too much has changed in our current media's representation of women. Women still primarily get on the big screen by being hotties who get screwed by the leading male character. Women still get on billboards by being breathtakingly beautiful. Women still get put on magazine covers for being really really really good looking. In short, it's pretty tough to find a publically visible woman who isn't beautiful (see: Sarah Palin); and, in addition, women who aren't beautiful but make it into the public eye anyway are often criticized for being offensively hideous (see: Hilary Clinton). Allegations of hideousness continue to be insults primarily reserved for female targets, which only further validates the sneaking suspicion that beauty is very important to a woman's social worth. Beauty has historically been a woman's admission ticket to sociopolitical power--and, today, beauty is still portrayed as a woman's admission ticket to success. At least, that's what most people would conclude when they realize almost all the female scientists, doctors, lawyers, and police officers on television and in movies are unusually and sometimes inappropriately hot. A person who is paying attention will inevitably wonder, "Is beauty a coincidence or a requirement?"

    And, of course, beauty is primarily a benefit for men. Yes, women like beautiful things and I'm sure we all prefer to look beautiful. However, the conflation of female attractiveness with social advancement is really just a complicated way of saying, "Society will give you benefits if you're attractive to straight men; if you're not attractive to straight men, then society will leave you to the dogs." In other words, it's somewhat misleading to say that beauty is a woman's admission ticket when it's men who are guarding the doors.

    The fact that beauty plays a central role in the determination of female worth makes the exclusive nature of the institution oppressive and sexist. Essentially, a narrow beauty ideal confers social value on only a few women in society, which leaves the rest to grapple with their supposed hideousness and undesireability. As a result, the institution of beauty is constructed specifically to make the majority of women lose confidnece in their own self-worth. It is a nifty mechanism that keeps a great number of women preoccupied with feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness; and unfortunately, this mechanism can also cause women to seriously endanger their health. So it follows that people who actively support and reinforce the institution of beauty as a normative institution (meaning that we should expect all women to meet these standards) are sexists, because the current institution of beauty makes it impossible for most women to meet the prevailing beauty norms. Engagement in this institution more often than not works to harm female health, happiness, and confidence; which, in turn, can keep women from pursuing social, political, and economic independence.

    The fairly unified vision of beauty has a real influence on what typical women do with their beauty routines. Specifically, this institution applies pressure on women to conform while simultaneously providing beauty products that will help them conform to prevailing beauty norms. This is probably why it's impossible to find a mascara that promises stubby, straight eyelashes on the market. Stubby, straight eyelashes aren't in demand, because they have never fit the prevailing beauty norm. In fact, if you think about it, a veritable portion of the cosmetic industry is focused on manufacturing products that provide predictable results: foundations, concealers, highlighters, bronzers, mascaras, and eyeliners are all primarily used to achieve flawless skin, large (awake) eyes, tall and thin noses, and defined cheekbones. In other words, a lot of make-up products are geared towards helping women more fully conform to prevailing beauty norms.

    Of course, all women have personal agency, which means that there will always be women who wear makeup in ways that subvert or challenge prevailing beauty norms. And, of course, there's usually nothing too political about choosing the berry lipstick over the red lipstain. There is an element of personal preference in makeup that is completely apolitical in nature. However, I think it is too optimistic to argue makeup and makeup manufacturers don't have a clear stake in perpetuating and reinforcing prevailing, oppressive beauty norms. Cosmetic companies have a real economic interest in developing products that can recreate looks favored by the institution of beauty. This reinforces the institution. At the same time, the institution offers cosmetic companies opportunities to make money off the norms it perpetuates. Thus, cosmetic companies play a crucial role in the perpetuation of oppressive beauty norms. And we support cosmetic companies every time we buy makeup.

    But is it sexist to simply alter your appearance with makeup? No--particularly if you're making your own cosmetics. Is it sexist to alter your appearance with makeup so you can more fully conform to prevailing beauty norms, because you believe feminine physical beauty is important to your sense of self-worth? Well, yeah. That's some serious internalized misogyny right there. Is it sexist to expect other women to wear makeup? Yes. Is it sexist to say that women who do not wear makeup are lazy? Yes. Is it sexist to say that women are only hideous, because they 'don't care' and won't 'put in the effort?' Yes. Essentially, any statement that places responsibility on women to make themselves more attractive to any other person is sexist; because such statements inappropriately value a woman's appearance over her desire to do whatever the hell she wants to do with her life.

    I don't think it's so straight forward when it comes to sexism and beauty, particularly since our standards of beauty have always been closely related to sexist beliefs (see: footbinding, corsets). We are acting in a misogynistic capacity when we buy into the belief that beauty standards are normative, that we must all strive to meet them in order to be good women. And we are acting in a misogynistic capacity when we impose those beliefs on others. But you can put on red lipstick on all day and it wouldn't be per se misogyny--particularly if you didn't buy that lipstick from a company that actively supports oppressive beauty norms. Lipstick itself is not sexist; but the system in which cosmetic companies operate is often sexist, exploitive, and oppressive--just like how shoe themselves are not exploitive but running shoes manufactured by gigantic corporations with child workers in Vietnam are exploitive.

    • eastvillagesiren

      Personally speaking, I don't feel at all like a vulnerable, weak female who falls easily under the influence of cosmetics manufacturers and "culture," "society," etc. I am not in sway of men or women to define my worth. I wear makeup because I enjoy the transformative, essential nature of being able to play with color, line and shade to create and display a persona of my choosing (or not). Decorative cosmetics are as old as humanity and were once employed by both males and females. In fact, males have used colorful makeup to attract females, much as some male birds possess colorful plumage to attract females. Women are dammed if we do wear makeup (demonized as "painted ladies," victims" of society's pressure to be pretty, vainglorious creatures, etc.) and dammed if we don't (women's libbers, feminazis, ugly, uncaring, unkempt). Makeup is fun, frivolous, expressive freedom to me. I think we've lost the innocent, childlike fun of transforming ourselves with "facepaiting," and I also think we've corrupted our intrinsic, basic human desire to be attractive to others into something negative. I also I think men are missing out on the expressive opportunities we females are "allowed" in society. And after a bit too much over-analyzing myself, I agree with Susan Hang that this issue is being over-analyzed ; )

    • Jenny

      I get the point.. but if you take it that far, you are exploiting people by typing out that message on a computer that likely used the same methods as the exploitative running shoes.

    • anne

      Agree 2000 %

      I always laugh when people say I wear make-up for myself it makes me feel good. NO you dont !!! You where make-up because other people react pleasent to it and that gives you confidence and that is what makes you feel good. Its the same reason you brush your teeth and put on deo every morning because if you wouldnt the reaction of others around you would be less positive.

      Also what isnt talked about enouh is the money and time and knowledge it takes to look beautifull in our modern standard. Nobody looks that way not even the models they have a FULLTIME job looking good. The fact that adds make us believe we can look like that if we only bought this mascara and stop being lazy is really sexist. That supermodel doenst look that way because of your overpriced poluted product. She looks that way because of a formula: natural physical beauty according to todays standard+ a nice character because you wouldnt make it if your bitchy+ a serious monetary investment from her model agency to get her to topmodel shape+ working with the best hairdresser, colourist etc+ working with the best make-up artist and make-up products+ working with a personal trainer+ working with a dernatologist on her skin+ working with a health/food councellor on her food+ working with great photographers and photoshop. ALL THAT EFFORT is what makes her beautifull guess how much time and money that cost ? That is something few can afford. And when you see that photo you have no idea of the proces behind it. You buy your mascara wonder why you dont look like that get sad and believe when they tell you to try harder. Please tell me you think this isnt sexist. ps this pressure is not applied on MEN. For men its all about being smart and making MILLIONS. compare that with being beautifull what would you pick ?? Being stunning or being Loaded and rich ?

  • Kirsty Hill

    I am a lot more confident in myself if I am wearing makeup!
    I have just started a blog and would love if you came to check it out!

  • freudianslippers

    Word! I think the problem is when women are expected to wear makeup and discriminated against when they don't. But I love makeup and am one of the hardest-core feminists I know. For me it's an expression of creativity and weeee.

  • Little Red Book

    For myself, I always feel more put together and ready to go out or tackle things once a full face is on. Especially when I have a great shade of lipstick on.

  • Angelica

    It's all about beauty privilege my friends. Sure we can be all happy go lucky and discuss how we attempt to reconcile our obsession with beauty products and beauty with our feminist inclinations but we have to be honest with orate lves and with society. Why does wearing make upse us feel good as empowered? Do men wear products when they want to kick ass at a presentation? I think not. I love make up but I also understand that when I wear it I am reinforcing a patriarchal norm that tells me I am a woman therefore I have to be pretty or that I have to be beautiful to be worthy of power and attention. Also ladies from an anthropological standpoint, red lips are reminiscent of your genitals and much as I love my MAC Russian Red, I have trouble with the stigma that comes along with it. I don't want society to tell me that wearing make up is okay as long as its my choice because its never really a choice. We have been so deeply ingrained with the ideology that women have to be feminine and beautiful that there is no way we can part from these thoughts.


    hear, hear!

  • Sara Scott

    Women's rights are about the freedom to do whatever you want to do not putting restrictions on one another!

  • fairytalesandcoffee

    I am only disturbed by use of makeup when it becomes apparent to me that the person would have a heart attack if they walked outside without it. Like their entire identity is that mask. Then I get over it because it's not my life and not my right to make someone else's decisions. The up side is that people who have become adept at creating new faces are MAD TALENTED and probably have learned some amazing tricks to share with us mortals. Oh, the other thing that disturbs me is when someone is wearing a foundation shade that is 3-4 shades lighter, or darker, than what they are. What exactly are you correcting for? Anyways, I feel it's women who like to use makeup, promote it, buy it - how is makeup ANTI-FEMINIST? Having a choice and making it is feminist. So, if you want to go bare faced - knock yourself out. If you want to go in full drag, knock yourself out. If you want the no-makeup makeup, knock yourself out. People who complain about the usage of makeup are basically saying they would prefer NOT to wear makeup, but don't feel comfortable doing so if everyone else is and therefore they feel they are put at a disadvantage. It's really a competitive thing trying to make everyone to stop.

  • unvanquished

    I am not a huge makeup wearer. I love products and I try new things but I'm incredibly loyal and haven't changed my face schtick for three years now with the exception of switching brands of drugstore mascara if I get a sample of a nicer one. I hate the concept that it is terrible to think that some people look better with makeup. Hey, sometimes someone is a perfectly pretty girl but a stroke of eyeliner and their eyes pop and vavavoom gorgeous. I walked into my therapist's office the other day and she instantly asked me if I was ill. Nope, I just wasn't wearing under eye coconcealer, blush, bronzer, mascara combo that I usually wear because I overslept. Obviously, I benefit from the massive bags under my eyes not showing and having a little colour in my cheeks. I don't feel pressured to be pretty. I like to look good. Feminism is about ensuring that women are able to do whatever men can do so that means leaving the house without makeup on. No, we don't have to wear makeup. Some of us CHOOSE to. My self esteem isn't ruined every time I step into Sephora, my bank account is.

  • 00

    I own 2 red lipsticks and I wear them almost exclusively in my home. Rarely do I ever leave the house with it on. I wear it because it makes me feel good and more glamorous and more feminine. When I leave the house with it on I start to feel silly, a little vain; like people are looking at me differently, and I am suddenly more conscious of my appearance. Makeup is a personal choice, as are most things in life, and you can't really say that models make us think that we should wear makeup because it's their job. Most models, from what i've gathered from interviews, don't go out on a daily basis with a full face of makeup (few women do). Those that do wear a bold lipstick daily wear it in spite of what others think (see dita von teese) This year I have resolved to be more courageous and glamorous, not necessarily to get a man, but because I want to. I think it looks good and, by jove, we should all just do what we want to do with our own bodies!

  • Toni

    I love make-up, but I don't wear it everyday as I feel comfortable in my own skin. When I put it on, for me, it's just a bit of fun and I don't get why people have to take things like this so seriously.

    I'm no good with words so I hope this comes across as I meant it!

  • Lera

    maybe I am way too naive, but I think some overestimate the power of make-up. Make-up does not make someone beautiful; it enhances or hides something, yes. But people are not complete idiots, they can tell if a person is beautiful or not with or without make-up. Even most straight men can see that. If some can't, one day they will wake up with a stranger then.

  • Emily

    I whole-heartedly agree with you. Those who say "makeup holds women back" are, in fact, the ones holding women back. Women should be able to do whatever they want -- which includes wearing makeup -- and no one has the right to tell someone they shouldn't do something. To put it simply, makeup is just fun! (As this blog points out every single day.) Loving makeup isn't about looking absolutely perfect or necessarily "more beautiful" -- it's about playing with bright lipsticks or metallic eyeshadows and seeing how they make you feel. Makeup can shift your mood. Wearing a bold lip or the perfect smoky eye makes you feel more confident, and what's wrong with that? Isn't that what feminists want?

    I wrote an article in my school's newspaper called "The beauty of beauty," which delves into this topic and essentially defends makeup. A week or so before I wrote the column, an Opinion writer on staff had written an extremely negative piece on why women should feel "secure enough" not to "need" to wear makeup. While her goal was to sound like a feminists, it was was not very pro-women. So, I wrote a rebuttal: I think you would like it! :)


  • emase

    Makeup can do a lot for you! I have found that people who use makeup naturally seem to look more trustworthy and attractive and people who use no makeup are usually taken less serious. I have also concluded that women who use LOTS of makeup seem to be LESS trustworthy. Makeup is a very powerful tool if used correctly. If you need help getting rid of your acne check out my blog!!!

  • BirdieNumnums

    Okay, I don't disagree with your sentiment regarding makeup and I wear it regularly, but it is sophomoric, naive, unproductive and just wrong equate feminisme with unfailing support of all women, regardless of what they want to do. to be sure, that is not feminism and that sort of comment/approach actually serves to erode feminism. I enjoy your blog, and no offense, but such a simplified childish sentiment about what feminism is on a makup blog makes ITG look just as irrelevant and vapid (which, maybe it is) as the Glamour magazine article you mock on 1-7-13.