To celebrate the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible!
Expression through makeup can be exhilarating. “One of the things that defines us as women in a positive way is we get to enjoy the colorful aesthetic—and the fun—of beauty,” says Vivian Diller, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change and What to Do About It.
The millions of products on the market today mask imperfections, smell delicious, and make us sparkle, and on top of that, they’re literally playthings—eye-shadow palettes in gorgeous cases with rhinestones; lip-gloss samplers in a rainbow of shades and flavors; bronzers with retractable brushes; nail polish in hologram hues … These items have become our favorite accessories, and with them we can paint our own identities and assert our uniqueness. They allow us to express our internal selves to the world just the way we want to or change the way people see us with the stroke of an eyeliner pencil. Just ask trans women, many of whom have mastered this easy, accessible method of self-expression.
Buying makeup can also be a feminist act if you support the right businesses. It’s one of the few industries largely populated by female entrepreneurs. Most businesses that became beauty powerhouses were founded in the kitchens of women and turned into international corporations. Estée Lauder, Mary Kay, Avon, Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, and Madame C. J. Walker still dominate the $10-billion-a-year industry nearly a century after the companies were founded. Though men now run many of these corporations—still, sadly, how business goes—women are often the pioneers, and the revolutionaries. Just a few of them:
- In 1968, magazine editor Carol Phillips consulted with Park Avenue dermatologist Dr. Norman Orentreich for a Vogue article entitled “Can Great Skin Be Created?” The article caught the attention of Estée Lauder, and Phillips was brought on board to help create the first dermatologist-developed skin-care line: Clinique.
- Bobbi Brown founded her makeup and skin-care line in 1991 on an aesthetic that’s pretty darn feminist: enhancing—never masking—a woman’s natural features. Her muted skin-tone-based cosmetics and bestselling books and web tutorials taught millions of women how to apply makeup correctly (trust us, we weren’t doing it right before) and master the art of “less is more.” She was also one of the first to use African American models regularly in makeup ads and show them as brides, a practice until then unheard of even in the late twentieth century.
- Leslie Blodgett became CEO of a small company called Bare Escentuals in 1994. (It didn’t hit QVC and every woman’s makeup bag till the late 1990s.) The mineral-based line that addresses problem skin made headlines: Blodgett was committed to having real women represent the brand, and she hit the road to recruit American women throughout the United States. The ads featuring average Janes across the country helped create trust and loyalty for the brand.
- Maureen Kelly was a mom who wanted better makeup—chemical-free, easy to use, and cool-looking—when she founded Tarte Cosmetics in 1999. It’s now one of the fastest-growing brands in the business and donates part of its proceeds to charity.