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Okay SO, why is it that a straight boy smear campaign is launched against me as soon as their aesthetic choices come into question (as was displayed by the menagerie of h8 mail in response to the publication of a certain column), yet simply by existing within the public sphere as a female, my appearance is freely available for critique? The act of occupying a body becomes a political act, every curatorial decision I make in relation to my appearance can be, and will be, dissected. For those who identify as female, even the decision to leave one’s body hair in its natural state, to actually refrain from altering one’s appearance, is perceived as an incredibly radical statement. There is no way of occupying space without inherently being judged upon the way you look whilst doing so.
Case in point: last week a complete stranger came into my workplace, and very nonchalantly tells me that he thinks I’m too thin. Checking my privilege here*, but in what universe is it socially acceptable to provide totally unsolicited, body-shaming commentary on the way someone looks? Why did he feel the need to impose his negative opinion upon my body? Why is the way I choose to present my flesh prison anyone else’s business? It wasn’t intended as complementary in any manner; it was solely a means of intrusion and objectification. I was evidently confident enough to be tottering about in a mesh crop top and mini skirt, so he decided to dismantle that by making me feel rampantly uncomfortable.
When I criticise puffer jackets, bucket hats and reindeer cardigans, guys are offended enough to write in complaining that I am an obnoxious arsehole, but it is these same guys who share articles on Facebook entitled “Trends you love that men hate”. It is perfectly acceptable for males to have strong views on the way they think women should look, but the reverse is highly controversial. A recent polite inquiry as to why the human I was with couldn’t just use his hairline as a surrogate for forgotten ID whilst purchasing wine at Moore Wilson’s was “not funny” (it was definitely funny enough to recount to my coworkers, flatmates and half the party we were later at), but to provide critique about how I would “still be gorgeous if I [didn’t always wear dark lipstick / wore flat shoes / actually wore something under that black mesh thing]” is so normalised that nobody bats an eyelid.
Honestly fuck right off, women do not exist to cater to the male gaze, I could not care less if you prefer what you think is the “natural look” (which in fact is the result of extremely careful contouring, bronzing, concealing, brow grooming, etc. to appear as though you’ve just emerged from bed in a ray of Valencia-filtered sunshine), or if you’re “intimidated because [I] always wear six inch heels” (life is difficult when you are cursed with the stature of a 12-year-old). You don’t get an opinion on my body.
I have very distinct memories of my mother instructing pre-teen scene queen 13-year-old Jess that “boys are scared of red lipstick”, a notion that has truly made me want to gouge my own eyeballs out since before I really understood why. It’s incredibly gross that we live in a heteronormative, patriarchal social environment that raises girls to think they have to conform to notions of what men find attractive in order to be attractive. That we have to be pretty to be valued.
Men hate makeup because it gives those who wear it the power to control their appearance, it gives you tools of agency over self expression, you can accentuate the features you like and conceal those that you don’t. You are enabled reclamation over the space you inhabit and the way in which you choose to be portrayed and viewed, the way in which you desire to exist within the worlds of others. So unless you are wearing makeup, or there is enough purple lipstick smudged over your face that you’ve started joking that you’re a walking MAC commercial (MAC Heroine, $40, available from Kirkcaldie & Stains), you have absolutely no right to voice your opinion on it.
*Disclaimer: This isn’t intended as one of those obnoxious “5 things that suck about thin-shaming”-esque statements, I 100 per cent support the fact that although body-shaming in any form is totally unacceptable, thin-shaming is the least severe instance of it and by complaining about conforming too much to social standards which value thinness as attractiveness, I sound like a total pissbaby (please don’t send me angry mail, I am a very sensitive soul).
Jess Scott is a fashion school runaway, lingerie connoisseur and the one friend who physically cannot finish a bottle of wine at a BYO. In her high school leavers’ yearbook she claimed to aspire to be a trophy wife with a PhD. Nothing has changed.