Future Feminism

Women's Day

Typically at fashion shows, there’s some kind of paraphernalia on the seats—a breakdown of the looks, casting information—that you either pick up, skirt to the side, or sit on. But at Givenchy last Sunday, there was a thick-stock notecard with a…poem? Prose?....by transgender singer Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), who also performed during the show. His grandiose, apocalyptic statements about the supposed "feminine future" of our society were pretty awesome…and, actually, echoed many of the hair and makeup decisions made backstage during the fall-winter season. Why bring this up now? Well, because yesterday was International Women’s Day, of course! Which means we're celebrating all weekend. And, ironically, the biggest buzzwords in beauty during Paris Fashion Week (and much of Fashion Month) were “boyish,” “masculine,” and “handsome.” That means complete ‘no-makeup makeup’: matte, uniform skin, serious-looking eyebrows, and a total absence of that great eye-opener/brightener/all-around face helper, mascara. Seeing this again and again, the biggest question for us was always: why? Why would a girl want to look like any of the above things? In terms of looks, don’t we just want to be pretty? You know, a little flick up and out with the eyeliner, that bit of sheen on a lip, or a lift at the root of your hair—those things that make you ‘look your best.’ Or, is the point not about ‘looking your best,’ because what does that even mean? Is being closer to nature—not feigned ‘natural,’ but actual natural—the new 'pretty'?

“I can feel a change,” Pat McGrath said at one point during the show circuit. “There’s been a lightening, with the makeup. We’ve been doing a lot of ‘done-undone,’ like at Prada, where we’re wiping it off, almost. You don’t want to see massive contours and highlights and a strong mouth right now—you’ll look like you’re from a reality show.” And throughout Paris Fashion Week, no fewer than three hairstylists mentioned a similar aversion to quintessential markers of pop-culture 'pretty'—there was nary a barrel curl or swath of swingy, shiny hair in sight. At Rochas, Eugene Souleiman said, “It’s not about major glamour, ‘cause it’s a bit tacky, and a bit vulgar now. It’s about a return to intelligence, for women to be taken seriously and not look like dolls. Things have needed to evolve from that campiness of, like, over-accessorizing, with lots of gold, lots of hardware—shoes looking like cars, handbags looking like banks… I think we’ve moved on from that. I think we’re approaching a time of the individual, and things feeling bespoke and character-based—not this man’s view of what a woman should look like.” A living, breathing example of the intelligent woman? Phoebe Philo.

Tom Pecheux took a similar approach at Balmain, where he said he “got rid of all the highlights this season. It’s a satin, more matte finish—we want the girl to be a bit tougher than usual.” No flushed cheeks, lip stains, or dewy glow. It wasn’t really ‘pretty’ as much as it was powerful, which also made it sexy. So, maybe ‘powerful’ is the new ‘pretty.’ At least, Tom thinks so: “I mean, let’s talk about America,” he added. “Is Michelle as important as Barack? Pretty much. Is Hillary as important as her husband, who was the President? Yes. In the same way men are much more assuming their femininity, women are much more assuming their masculinity. And I think fashion is reflecting that: we’re seeing a simpler woman, a ‘wonder woman,’ with a boyish side. And I totally embrace that; it can be very sexy.” Sexy to whom, though, because it’s doubtful your boyfriend appreciates a penciled-in, fuller brow. Have you tried penciling in your eyebrows? It can look great, but it undoubtedly gives more severity to your expression. And he probably doesn’t get the red-lip-and-nothing-else thing, because your eyes look sort of small and bare and that lip is kinda intense. But apparently it’s not about looking good for someone else at the moment. In fact, it’s less about conformity and uniformity than ever. And this has us reconsidering our routines: matte-finish foundation? Done. Chuck the mascara? Yup, one week and counting. (Definitely doesn’t look as good in pictures.) The right shade of brun eyebrow powder? Well, we’re on our way—it’s easier said than done. But if the “future will be feminine,” as Antony predicts, it probably won't be with Kim Kardashian leading the way. It’s time to evolve. Maybe it's time to rethink what's ‘pretty.’

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  • http://twitter.com/Barbsye Barbara_Barbsye

    Well, it's funny how we are here again at the old dichotomy pretty=weak boyish=tough. It was the same during the grunge years, you couldn't show off a red nail, a nice updo without being chased away like a Salem's witch...Seriously, I was once bullied by my friends for a whole night for painting my toes in a transparent(!) blue haze (it was Chanel) that could barely be seen. I mean, it's nice when you look like a model, and you're young, then everything looks good on you, even if you don't comb your hair in 2 weeks, but it's annoying when a certain "flip" takes over and you are almost forced to embrace it even if it looks awful on you...And even more so, when you are of a certain age (ehm) and you finally know what works for you and what doesn't. Personally I don't care, I am just annoyed when some products just disappear from the counters because of that "flip" .I love cream blushes, I definitely love mascara and I love having my hair done, and if I were to go out with the latest Prada-esque look on, I would simply look like a moron whose shower exploded right halfway rinsing my shampoo...

  • KLM

    I think that the point should be - that no matter how you look like - Barbie barrel curls and all, you should feel powerful, intelligent, and the best person you can be. The same amount of attention should go on to cultivate the outside as well as in the inside, it's when this balance is upset that we feel less powerful.

    • Emily

      Yes, thank you! I hate the phrase "intelligent woman" being used to denote a lack of makeup and standard tropes of femininity. I would assume any truly intelligent woman can not only make her own decisions as to how she presents herself, but also has the strength of conviction to stand by her decisions. The old standby of correlating intelligence with minimalism only reinforces and legitimizes prejudices regarding femininity and beauty, which ultimately reduces women, both "intelligent" in their appearance or otherwise, to the level of stereotypes and plays down the very personal motives behind personal presentation.

      • daphne

        I agree.

        I actually found this piece full of hypocrisy and counterintuitive.

        So a woman who lends boyish, masculine and androgynous traits=intelligent and powerful?

        A woman who lends traditionally feminine traits such as softness and prettiness=not as intelligent, powerful as the woman who lends the boyish, masculine and androgynous traits?

        So a woman can only be be intelligent or appear so if she adopts the gender norms of a man and not a woman.

        I understand that this piece is supposed to celebrate women but it only furthers gender constructs of "this is masculine" and "this is feminine" and all the traits that go under those two categories.

        This type of thinking only instigates judgements against women based on her traits an not her individuality. So the new "powerful" look is just as demeaning as the old "pretty" look; Neither look is individual. Ever hear comments about how a woman with full breasts is not as intelligent as a woman who has less full breasts? If you have, you should realize that the logic comes from the same premise as this piece.

  • beautyidealist

    Hm powerful is the new pretty? How about pretty & powerful? I love fashion and looking at not only the collections but also the looks from each show. Any season, you're going to have very different looks across designers and across cities so I don't think a select sampling reflects a paradigm shift for what it means for feminism. As much as I love these designers, and acknowledge how they can reflect larger social issues at the time, I don't believe they influence my thoughts and feelings about myself as a woman. Seeing a barely made up girl on the runway doesn't mean boyishness is the new sexy is the new powerful. These are all superficial and pointless. A powerful woman such as Diane Von Furstenburg has kept her style consistent for decades regardless of trends yet she is an undeniable force. That confidence in character is true feminism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/izzzzzzzzyyyyy Izzy Cole

    I love Antony so much. Hope There's Someone breaks my heart every time I hear it... as if I've never heard it before. I agree mostly, kind of a beautiful poetic way to put into words a shift in culture, a desperate need for change many of us have been feeling for years.

  • jnfr

    another super interesting article! on a personal note, I'd be so glad if mascara became less important--I've always had a visceral aversion to it (the texture is so nasty!), even though I when I try the only lipstick look, I always feel a insecure, exactly "because your eyes look sort of small and bare and that lip is kinda intense. " Maybe this article will help me overcome the mental barriers and allow me to wear just the make I actually *like* and not the makeup I feel like I *ought to* wear to look nice.

  • Tori

    I do love the idea of embracing an actually natural 'natural'. I've seen far too many internet tutorials explaining how to look naturally better where the "before" and "after" might as well have been a different person after all the contouring and highlighting and supposedly subtle altering. All I could think was is this really supposed to be a daily routine? That said, I don't think that change should be at the sake of going for another look/another trend because then it will be short-lived and in my opinion, miss the point. I think it's important to see and know how women really look. If they like to use a bit of makeup here and there for fun, thats great, but it shouldn't feel abnormal not to be made-up--that's what I appreciate about this shift.

  • lynnsay

    I think the most important thing about make up is confidence and if I'm being honest, a mascara-less face makes me feel un-done but not in a good way. But recently I've been doing the more 'natural' look, as much as I love bold lips and eyeliner, I just find that I look far better with 'less' on. But really, my 'natural' look involves a plethora of products to make it look like I have hardly anything on. Is that such a bad thing though? I noticed your comment on going sans-mascara, "didn't look as good in pictures". I find this my no1 reason for putting on certain types of makeup - in our society today we practically instagram our whole lives and so us girls need to look photo-ready 24/7. It's such a tricky subject - go without make up and feel like a feminist, but also feel like you look half dead? This post clearly made me think very deeply about my make-up habits..


  • Guest

    Does no one see the irony in the fact that this proclamation comes from a MAN?? I think I'll pass.

    • disqus_CbanJPpOR3

      Haha, yeah I definitely read male treatises on feminism with a grain of salt. I've found a lot of male writers barrel in without reading the existing feminist literature--which, really, is produced by scholars who devote their entire lives to the movement--and start talking about what feminism is or isn't without regard for what actual feminists have said about what feminism is or isn't. A man telling a woman what feminist looks like is pretty much the same as a man telling a woman what a virtuous woman looks like or a man telling a woman what an immoral woman looks like. And the sad thing is that people like Eugene Souleiman and Tom Pecheux would know that if they bothered to read feminist literature! It's feminism 101, and they screwed it up because they don't give a crap about feminism--they just want to use it to sell makeup and clothes.

    • http://remodelista.com/about/alexa Alexa

      But it's Antony, possibly the most gender-neutral artist one could think of; I would let Antony talk about feminism any day.

    • Max

      Antony is trans, babe

  • disqus_CbanJPpOR3

    “It’s not about major glamour, ‘cause it’s a bit tacky, and a bit vulgar now. It’s about a return to intelligence, for women to be taken seriously and not look like dolls. Things have needed to evolve from that campiness of, like, over-accessorizing, with lots of gold, lots of hardware—shoes looking like cars, handbags looking like banks… I think we’ve moved on from that. I think we’re approaching a time of the individual, and things feeling bespoke and character-based—not this man’s view of what a woman should look like.”

    I think this statement is so silly. Why can't a woman sincerely want to look like a doll or wear lots of gold or walk around in shoes looking like cars and still be an individual? Why can't a woman simply make a sincere choice to look a certain way, which ever way that might be, and not have that choice be politicized? Quite frankly, feminism argues against the traditional requirements and standards of beauty, but I don't think it necessarily requires we reject the pursuit of those traditional standards so long as we pursue them freely, deliberately, and joyously. It's the pressure of conformity that feminism objects to, but not the individual choice itself. Similarly, I think the following quote is pretty silly too:

    "Why would a girl want to look like any of the above things? In terms of looks, don’t we just want to be pretty?"

    Don't people just want to look however we like to look without anyone butting in and suggesting they really want to look like something else?

  • guest

    although i love an androgynous look, and my mascara habits may be influenced by this season's fashion, i think that it's a big mistake to equate masculinity with power. that whole idea needs to go away for women to have any chance at equality. women can be powerful AND feminine.

  • Lana Nasser

    I think that a matte finish and thicker brows are pretty not just powerful or less attractive. Plenty of men do like the look of penciled in brows, if it is done the right way. Keep in mind runway looks are always to the extreme, they are not everyday women... The term "pretty" can be used for a million different looks in a million different ways, and opinions differ all around. Matte finish and stronger brows are just a new look that can be appreciated by different women, just as dewy skin came to power before that. I don't know too much about this article.

  • hannah


  • Lew

    Nope this is again what is the "new" beautiful?! So looking less feminine is the way to be strong and sexy. I am ok with less is more but lets be clear. I am a feminist. I love make up not because I need someone else approval. I dress and wear makeup because I love it. I don't want to be less feminine to prove how tough I am. In the words of Amy Poeller "don't tell me what to do."

  • http://www.facebook.com/gayle.rush1 Gayle Rush

    And, as a person with a women'sstudies degree, I have found that some women are our worst enemies. They too must be delt with. they are a discrace to feminism and to our future success. LONG LIVE WOMEN AND FEMINNIST MEN!!!

  • bluesky557

    Discussing feminism online always feels like such a can of worms, but I think it's important that we do. We need to have the discussion over and over and over again until women have achieved full equality as human beings. We are still a LONG way from that day, so keep talking!

    • Liz

      I agree with you. I think women spend way too much time and money on their appearance. It's nice to look polished, but I know so many girls these days whose only hobbies are shopping and primping, working out and going on dates. It's one thing to look presentable, but not at the expense of being an interesting person. As someone who was a teen in the 90s when girls were actually doing things like being in bands and writing zones, I think there's something to be said for trying less hard and moving away from materialistic, superficial crap.

  • melD

    This was really interesting to read. Love your blog, you are a great writer! Thanks for posting!


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  • Milady

    Chill out, ladies. It's fashion!! I'm sure we'll be seeing "pretty is the new powerful" a few seasons from now...

  • Kasia

    Does that mean that women need to morph into men to lead the way? Is this 'feminist' at all?

  • http://remodelista.com/about/alexa Alexa

    Thank you for this piece—completely resonated with me—I don't think there's anything wrong with handsome beauty (which is still about beauty, I think we're just talking about the word 'pretty' and what that means). I like the idea of redefining strength in feminine terms all together and I'm totally into the way fall collections were relating this new, intelligent woman clad in bespoke style. It's about time, no?

  • DNA (designers+artists)

    Absolutely love this!!


  • babs

    “It’s not about major glamour, ‘cause it’s a bit tacky, and a bit vulgar now. It’s about a return to intelligence, for women to be taken seriously and not look like dolls."

    Great, a man telling women what is tacky and what they have to look like in order to be taken seriously. We've come such a long way. I know you think you're liberating us, Eugene, but what you've done is given us exactly "a man’s view of what a woman should look like". Telling any woman to lose the jewels, lose the mascara, etc is denying her autonomy, just as it would be unpalatable for all women to be told to wear nothing but jewels and mascara. Allow us our own choices, please.

    It shouldn't even have to be said but women are all very different and to profess that one aesthetic is more "intelligent" than another, with no reference to a woman's actual intelligence, is profoundly unintelligent. I don't immediately judge a woman with a red lip as stupid and neither should anyone else.

  • Sophie

    Future Feminism is a actually a term coined by revolutionary artist Kembra Pfahler, a close friend of Antony's. She is absolutely brilliant.

  • Adrienne Angelos

    Love this article, love the discussion that it has sparked. These are the kinds of things that are important to consider.

  • chantelle

    I like that you guys brought this up. I agree with embracing a women's natural look, but by making it more masculine we are again going back to the old ways of "women must dress and look like men in order to be taken seriously". I think a couple studies were done in the corporate sector on female fashion, and its relation to respect. Unfortunately, wearing pretty, figure flattering business clothing and putting on nice make-up, thereby rendering one more "attractive", caused a decrease in respect for the women, and less upward mobility. We need to change this mind frame, where regardless of how a women dresses or looks, it should not have an effect on her power and impact in whatever career she chooses to go into. Hence, making a girl more "boyish" is something I don't agree with because it goes back to gender roles and conformity. [Sorry about the ramble.]

  • Fiona

    I feel like the premise of this piece is being misconstrued a tiny bit. Though it definitely highlights on the idea of androgyny as the modern 'pretty', it's delivering it more as an informed option, rather then 'the word of God'. All it is saying is that you don't need to feel like you have to dress (up your face) to please, you no longer have to pander to the demands of society to look like you have a personal make up artist at your beck and call. I personally am not an every single day, can't let my boss/boyfriend/complete and total stranger see me without my face on, kind of girl. I feel exactly the same bare faced as I do sporting a look inspired by Priscilla Queen of the Desert. And that is what this is about, a nod to the woman behind the make up. In invitation to empower yourself. You are who you are not what wear (on your face or otherwise).

    All that aside, it is really just a season trend. Next fall everyone could be rocking bow lips, pastel eyeshadow and bouncing locks for miles. Trends are simply a spontaneous burst of across the board creatively, not a declaration of what is demanded of you. Enjoy the moment and appreciate the art.