Clean-faced Liberation or Distraction from Patriarchal Empowerment

A couple of weeks ago all of social media was ablaze with talk of Pamela Anderson and her brazen move to go clean-faced to Paris Fashion Week. I knew something wasn’t sitting well with me when I first caught wind of the public’s response, and that I might feel compelled to use my voice to share a concern, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what that concern was until now.

According to USA Today, Jamie Lee Curtis said regarding this surprising event, “The natural beauty revolution has officially begun.” Really? Now, before we get started on what “natural beauty” is exactly these days (which could be a whole separate discussion), I want to talk about how Anderson’s decision to go makeup-free is being described by many women as “empowering” and “liberating.” Now, this pains me because women are an oppressed class of people living in a patriarchal society. Women have been made vulnerable in many ways due to objectification and sexism. One of the ways women are vulnerable is to toxic beauty stereotypes like the need for makeup to be youthful, presentable, or attractive. So, in a sense, Anderson (a woman who has been packaged for over two decades as a sex object) going out sans makeup has made herself even more vulnerable to be scrutinized by the male gaze as well as being judged against deeply seeded sexist expectations. She had to make herself even more vulnerable to feel empowered, and I recognize that there is emotional grit needed to do that. But, is the act itself liberating women or just a distraction from what empowerment really is?

I can’t imagine that any man would feel “empowered” by making themselves vulnerable in such a way. Have you heard Matthew McConaughey confess, “I feel so empowered by not having to wear my toupee today?” I do, instead, imagine sexist men laughing at us for feeling that this “revolutionary” action actually would have the ability to make us feel empowered, while legislation (decided on by a majority of men) continues to strip away our legal rights to our own bodies. While women are being placated by this new perceived power, spending time and energy cheering each other on in social media for their makeup restraint, men are using real power to support vigilantes at the borders of Texas to prevent women from getting access to abortions. Men in positions of power, like Donald Trump, are not only getting away with sexist slurs and assaults on women’s bodies, but they are also continuing to wield their actionable power to expand their businesses and fight for law making positions.

And, while we might be able to control how much makeup we use, we aren’t really getting down to the matter of who told us we need to wear makeup in the first place. Oh, I think it was the multimillion dollar cosmetic industry that is, wait for it, predominantly run by men. In fact, 71 percent of leadership in the beauty industry is male. And, so if this makeup-free new look starts to catch on, do you know who will continue to actually be empowered? Men.

Maybelline already has a whole regimen available to achieve the “no-makeup” look. It only requires some primer, concealer, rouge, liquid highlighter, cream eyeshadow, cream lipstick, and makeup setting mist. Then you’re good to go! You too can feel empowered for just $150, gingerly placed in the pockets of the patriarchy.