Intersections of Gender and Disability: MakeUp

Posted: July 11, 2014 in Disability
Tags: , , , , , ,

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately both just in my own life as I spend time in front of my mirror putting on makeup, as well as in discussions with other folks on the topic of gender, appearances, and makeup.

I’ve always liked makeup and wearing it, but I didn’t use to wear it as often and wasn’t really as into make up as I have been the last couple of years. I learned more about makeup application and started wearing it more, along with learning more about hair style techniques as my health got worse. A lot of it has to do with looking healthier. With make-up I can cover up dark circles under my eyes, petechial hemorrhages, and any other discolorations. I’ve learned ways to help cover up hair loss- side parts, dry shampoo, and hair mousse.

I like wearing makeup, I like playing around with it and with different looks. I find it fun the ways you can change your look with makeup.

A close up from the first time I did rainbow eyeshadow

A close up from the first time I did rainbow eyeshadow

Wearing makeup and dressing up and the like also is a constant reminder and evidence to me of how much gender is an act. When I put on make up and dresses and the like I feel like gender is something I put on, play with, make a conscious choice to display in a certain way.

Full look with rainbow eyeshadow and my fedora.

Full look with rainbow eyeshadow and my fedora.

I don’t mean this in a gender identify sense though. Because I still 100% identify as a woman regardless of how I present myself. But it becomes clear that gender is largely a construct. I’ve said before on here that I am femme/hard femme. I’ve never really been very butch. But I can play with my gender in different ways. I can be very feminine and girly and put on make up and dresses and heels. Or I can choose to dress in a more masculine way, forgo makeup, and even cut my hair short.

Fuck your gender norms

Fuck your gender norms

Most of the time I prefer something in between. I like to combine things that are traditionally more masculine with things traditionally more feminine. Makeup and my fedora, a dress with combat boots, shaving my head and paring it with makeup and a feminine look, a blazer with an otherwise girly outfit, et cetera.

Of course there are other times these pairing were less a choice than something the felt required of me. In college I shaved my head- full on buzz cut as you can see up there. It drew a lot of attention. Some positive, some silly- people were always wanting to feel my head (not that I can blame them, it felt very cool :-P), but also a fair bit of negative attention too. I got asked why I was trying to look like a boy. Of course I was never trying to look like a boy. This very awesome article talks more too about how women who dress more masculine/butch are not trying to look like men. Of course I’ve never even been very masculine/butch either. But I felt even more pressure to wear dresses and skirts after accusations that I was trying to look like a man by shaving my head, like I had to prove my gender, or try to show I was still feminine girly. Which is really stupid.

But it drives home a lot, to me at least, how much gender in our society is just an act. I’m still a woman regardless, but whether I’m feminine, masculine, femme, butch, conforming to or violating norms all comes down to these very temporary and malleable things like makeup, clothing, and hair.

But while there are all these sides of makeup and fashion that are very interesting to me and I enjoy thinking about, and playing around with, there is another side that often is missing in a lot of discussions of this. One a day to day basis, I’m not thinking about any of those things when I wear makeup. I’m thinking about looking healthy. I’m thinking about trying to look in a way that avoids people telling me I look sick or tired or asking what’s wrong. Some days I can go without makeup. Other days, I look in the mirror without any make up on, or my hair done in any way, and I realize just how sick I look. I mentioned briefly in my post on the hardest part of having chronic health problems that I’m basically always exhausted and always in pain. In varies in severity, but it’s pretty much a constant. And that sucks. But if I can avoid it, I would rather not look as awful as I feel all the time. So for me, makeup and hair and all these things are very significantly impacted by my health and disabilities.


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