Dupes: Makeup, Mimicry and Magic

In case you haven’t heard, some men, frequently ones on the internet, think that makeup is somehow a form of deception.

I mean, it’s right there in the word: makeup, make it up, she made it up, she invented it, it isn’t true. What a horrible can of worms this misogynistic cultural tendency to distrust women really is. Women are told, overtly and implicitly, that our value comes from our appearance and that there is a cosmetic solution to every flaw. But then we’re treated as tricky witches and modern Eves when we take those solutions into our own hands and use makeup in some way that seems inauthentic.

And who draws that line between just enough and too much, between MLBB (the beauty blogger abbreviation for My Lips But Better, that perfect shade that makes it seem like you’re just naturally rosy, glowy and fulsome) and OTT? Why are we so caught up on hiding the artistry, the skill, the time, and, oh god, the money, that we commit to beauty and makeup routines? I’ve spent hours of my life looking at beauty reviews, swatches, casting around for dupes for expensive and identifiable colours from designer brands. For people who can’t afford Mac’s Diva lipstick or Chanel’s Vamp nail polish, dupes are a way of attaining the necessary cultural cachet and giving the appearance of financial success as well as fashion savvy. The first lipstick was toooooo dark, the second lipstick was toooooo light, but the third lipstick, ooh, the third lipstick Goldilocks tried was juuuuust right!

But we distrust fakeness, whether we realise it or not. To duplicate, to put a copy in place of an original, is to deceive. But does makeup necessarily count as defacing or altering one’s original, ‘natural’ appearance? Can it function otherwise? Part of the devaluation of cosmetics is likely tied to the association between makeup, femininity and trickery–witches are notorious for changing their appearance in order to deceive, and within Christianity, the first woman is known almost exclusively for her role as a deceiver. But, considered as a form of skilled labour, one which requires a great deal of technical proficiency as well as creativity and experimentation, there is value in makeup that goes beyond one’s ability to look authentic.


Ursula chooses a less-is-more look for her time on dry land.

As it happens, this resentment of the inauthentic can be found throughout art history–it’s not just a makeup thing, but the province of almost any activity that deals with the appearance or representation of physical things. Art forgery, like banknote forgery, is considered a form of theft, regardless of the artistry that might be required, and, in fact, the more convincing the forger’s efforts the greater the crime. There is always the lingering aura of the original artistic genius, and even if a work looks like a real Rembrandt, has the same aesthetic affect, there is more than just aesthetics at stake. The exchange value of art is intrinsically tied to its originality.

(We can gloss Walter Benjamin on mechanical reproduction here: the more copies of something there are available, the less rare it is, the less value each copy has.)

Literature isn’t immune to this authenticity fetishism, either. KK Ruthven’s analysis of the subject in Faking Literature is a valuable resource for understanding the links between genius and authenticity in writing. She argues for redirecting our attention from a text’s provenance to its affect, and thus treating a ‘fake’ not as an inferior literary form but as a work of artistry in its own right.

“This redemptive manoeuvre puts a positive spin on the much despised simulacrum by redefining it as the site of creativity rather than the absence of reality.” (Ruthven, 2001: p. 86)

A ‘site of creativity’. Creativity of all sorts carries this dark shadow of the inauthentic, whether due to the belief that true creation is the province of God or due to a fear of immoral and dangerous deceptions. But makeup, like other art forms, can be redeemed if we recognise creation as a skill, a valuable imaginative and technical achievement. And for many people across the gender spectrum, being able to create and control their appearance is a crucial part of self-actualisation, self-care and survival. To make yourself up, whether by positioning yourself outside of what society wants to make you or functioning acceptably and legibly within social expectations, is a powerful act.


Neither Seen Nor Heard: Women, Excess, and Misogyny in Popular Media

Or: How TV Tropes Can Help Us Understand Violence Against Women In The Real World, Or: How Violence Against Women Can Help Us Understand TV Tropes, Or: The Dangers Of Excess, Or: This Is How You Find Out About My Love For Digressions, Or: Please Stop Ignoring The Sociopathy Of Western Culture’s Behaviour Towards Women.

[Trigger Warnings: mentions of: death; murder; violence against women; self-harm; sex; food and eating disorders.]

I am worried that this seems excessive.
It is March 21st, 2015. I have lived in Melbourne for three months and I’m sitting in the café down the street after putting out an invitation to my Facebook friends to let me read tarot for them.
Isn’t that a bit much? I think to myself. Who even does tarot in a café? Who believes in that crap? Wait, we’re wearing that skirt? Oh and we’re taking another selfie? Are we overthinking this? Just be less thoughtful, less vain, less weird, less needy.
I am worried, these days, about everything I do and its potential for excess.
And there’s a whole book just in that. But the bigger issue is that, as a woman within western society, I have been taught that my entire gender is excessive and needs to be contained: be seen but not heard, diet your body into oblivion, lock up your sex drive, keep your hemlines below the knee. Hide. Shrink. Shut up.

Continue reading

Femini-Series Part 3: Man, Hating Feminists

I don’t hate men.

In the sense that ‘men’ just means the 50.2% of humans who have been identified as male*, I can’t claim to hate them all. I like a lot of them. They’re some of my favourite people. And I certainly don’t hate men for being misguided, poorly informed, or for being constrained by the same cultural constructions of gender as I am. However, I have a big problem with maleness—the cultural construction of it, the representations of it, and the way that ‘men’ and ‘women’ internalise particular ideas of gender behaviour based on inequitable cultural models. Continue reading

Femini-Series Part 2: Angry Feminist

In Part 1 I talked about my experience teaching feminism to my 2nd year creative writing theory class. As often happens, in preparing for the lecture I came across Clem Ford’s article ‘Why Women’s Still Can’t Enjoy Sex’ and immediately wanted to walk into the lecture room, read the article aloud to the class, and then walk straight back out. Although technically that wouldn’t cover the material on the weekly reading list, I felt and still feel that Ford said everything I wanted to say, better, more clearly, and publicly, without a hint of apology or shame.

I posted a link to Ford’s article on the online site for this class, and the class tutor used it during discussions in both of the tutorials. I’ll use it again when I teach literary feminism to a different class later this semester. I linked it on Tumblr. I linked it on FaceBook. So did a lot of other Australian women. Now, a week later, I’m still angry. I’m also angry that a transgender Canadian woman has been disqualified from the Miss Canada pageant. I’m angry that there are people out there who object to the casting of African-American actors to play Rue and Thresh in the Hunger Games movie. I have a lot of anger to direct towards the many and varied examples of contemporary Western society perpetuating the same mistakes about gender and race that we’ve been fighting for so long, towards the ignorance of large numbers of people within this society, and particularly towards the carelessness of people who actually claim to give a damn about these issues. Continue reading

Femini-Series Part 1: Teach The Children Well

I know that, in the past fortnight, a lot of people have read Clementine Ford’s article at dailylife.com.au about the cultural sanctions on women’s sexual and reproductive freedom.  The commentary about that article, along with other discussions centring on recent, primarily American, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, is proof enough that this is an area that deserves further cultural examination—one that shouldn’t be hidden or silenced.

This article was significant to me not only for its position on feminism, but also because it came less than a week after I taught a class of 2nd-year creative writing students about patriarchy. I told the class what Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar meant by the Angel in the House and the monstrous feminine. I told them that Gilbert and Gubar were writing specifically about literary representations of women in the nineteenth century. I told them about the selflessness of the angel. I told them about the demonization of women’s sexual behaviour. I used examples from James Bond: Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye. I told them about Laura Mulvey and the theory of the male gaze and how the advent of moving pictures resulted in a certain kind of psychoanalytic approach to film theory to try to account for how exactly filmic images of women serve to objectify them sexually. Continue reading