The Beauty of Choice

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Published March 27, 2019
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The Montclarion
Rebecca Serviss | The Montclarion

I, like many tween girls before me, first applied makeup after following a simple makeup tutorial from Seventeen Magazine. I studied the headline about makeup products that you needed to impress your crush and applied bright red lipstick and thick, uneven chunks of eyeliner on my eyelids. I had officially entered the world of makeup and had the Bobo the Clown face to prove it.

The clown makeup washed off, but the feeling that I had to use specific products to impress someone else never did. Magazines geared toward women walk the very fine line between purporting social pressure to look a certain way and encouraging women to use makeup as a powerful form of self-expression.

Publications like Seventeen, Cosmopolitan and Glamour have largely evolved to inspire women past just how we look, but the remnants of the old beauty-centric rhetoric of needing certain products undermine the feminist values that drive these magazines today.

Now when you visit Seventeen’s website, you aren’t greeted with the tutorial that I followed. Thank goodness. Instead, their homepage features stories on hot-button political issues, the importance of taking care of your mental health and an entire section dedicated to LGBTQ+ stories.

Nestled between these stories are still many articles about skincare tips you need to know, nail polishes you need for your next manicure and products every makeup beginner needs in their makeup bag.

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A woman uses mascara to make her eyelashes look fuller and longer.
Photo courtesy of Franchise Opportunities via Flickr

However well-intentioned, these stories about products you need undermines the feminist values at the core of the rest of the magazine‘s content. Feminism and self-expression are not about acting or looking a certain way. They are about choice and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to freely choose what is best for them.

Asserting that readers need specific products to help them look a specific way negates this choice by making readers feel obligated to use certain products.

Yes, we all tend to throw the word “need” around rather needlessly. I don’t think twice about telling my friends they need to watch a new television show, and most marketing campaigns strive to convince people they need something they really don’t.

What makes the use of the word “need” different in regards to these magazines, then, is that there is already so much pressure for women to look and behave a certain way. If the power of makeup comes from its existence as a form of self-expression, everything that contributes to making makeup feel like a societal norm or expectation takes this power away.

I don’t mean to say that magazines should refrain from suggesting beauty products or detailing makeup tutorials. There is real value in being able to open a magazine and explore a form of self-expression.

Reviews help readers determine which products are worth their money, and tutorials can inspire people to try a new look. However, the intended joy of makeup as a form of self-expression loses its value when makeup is treated as a necessity, not a choice.

If I could tell my tween self one thing, it would be to put down the eyeliner. Not because I sucked at applying it, even though I most certainly did, but because I didn’t need it to impress my crush. If I’m going to look like Bobo the Clown, it’s going to be because I want to, not because a magazine dictates what I need.

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