What Exactly Am I Doing Here?

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Being an introduction to your narrator, and an explanation of how this all came to be.

“I might repeat to myself, slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound; if I can remember any of the damn things.”

— Dorothy Parker

Hello and welcome to The Feminist Lipstique. I’m your hostess; today you can call me Rebel Rose Parker. (More on that in a second.) I’m a feminist in my early 30s who has recently become obsessed with makeup. And that’s… honestly pretty weird for me. Let me tell you a story.

One of my most-used phrases for a very long time was, “I suck at being a girl.” By which, of course, I didn’t mean that I was bad at existing in the state of “female.” I was quite good at it, actually. I’m even doing it right now, as we speak! I meant that I was bad at, and often uncomfortable with, traditional markers of femininity.

I didn’t have many female friends growing up, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to prove I was “just one of the guys” to my male friends. I decided fairly arbitrarily that I hated the color pink. I was very tall for my age, and have been overweight for most of my life, so I outgrew the cute clothes my female classmates often wore and was dressing from the “women’s” section of most stores by the time I was 12. Even worse, medical issues left me in a backbrace for multiple years, so for a long time during and even after my wardrobe consisted of elastic waist pants and the most shapeless shirts I could find. Most of my bullies, antagonists, and rivals were fellow girls and young women. I really, truly loathed a lot of the stereotypes that got applied to girls, but instead of actually understanding why, I instead developed a serious case of “Not-Like-Other-Girls-itis,” or NLOGitis, a plague that is sadly common among budding feminists, but is usually cured by a healthy dose of gender and women’s studies.

I played with makeup a bit when I was a kid, and even ended up with some small makeup kits and hand-me-downs that were the majority of my collection well into my early 20s. But when I got to junior high and high school, I mostly kinda… stopped. For a number of reasons.

One was money– I absolutely would have been a Goth in high school, but I didn’t have the money for the accoutrements (or the sleep schedule for putting on a full face of white makeup before my 8 AM classes). A big one was my case of NLOGitis; “normal” girls were obsessed with makeup, so I wasn’t. Some of it was about the various voices in the back of my head, telling me that I looked like a harlot or a clown whenever I put anything on. Part of it was my hatred of gender norms (though again, I didn’t know that was why I was upset at the time). Why should I have to put on makeup? Guys didn’t have to put on makeup. Why should I spend an hour each morning putting on makeup in an effort to make it look like I wasn’t wearing makeup? And a part that I wasn’t willing to admit to myself at the time was that… I wasn’t good at it. I wasn’t good at putting on makeup, and I hate not being good at things.

I went to a couple Mary Kay parties with my mom, and wound up with a bit of makeup to go off to college with, but the only ones I really ever wore were the lipsticks, mostly nudes and dark browns. In the back of my head, always, was the idea, “This doesn’t look good. You look foolish.”

College is also when I started to identify as a feminist. I took my first women’s studies course, and wound up with a women’s and gender studies second major. I started to learn the vocabulary and ideology that I needed in order to understand my NLOGitis, to understand why compulsory femininity felt so strange to me, to understand about choice within context, about the virgin/whore dichotomy, and about the million and one ways the patriarchy manages to fuck everyone over basically every day. It’s when I first learned about the Vagina Monologues, and sex-positive feminism, and slut walks, and words like “butch” and “femme,” and the myriad of ways feminism and femininity clash, or come together, or complement one another, or try to destroy one another.

In grad school, I was in a new city, and felt at least a little bit like a new me. I discovered red lipstick. And even though there was still a voice in my head telling me I looked like a harlot, I started wearing it, because I looked damn good in it. I started wearing it quite a bit– not constantly, but often enough to start showing up pretty frequently in my Facebook timeline. I also started exploring a bit with eyeliner (which I still have not mastered) and concealer (because my acne is a nightmare) and… I kinda stopped there again. That was the extent of my brave exploration.

A couple years later, I was back in my home town. And my hometown got an Ulta. And I started going lipstick crazy. Red, pink, grey, purple, black… liquid matte lipstick became my new bff.

But still, I wasn’t really doing anything else. And now it was almost entirely due to two things: my discomfort with gender norms, and I still wasn’t good at it. I finally had enough disposable income to buy things. I had recovered from my sever case of NLOG-itis, thank god. Wearing harlot red lipstick had cured me of my fears of looking like a harlot, and wearing purple lipstick had cured me of most of my fears of looking like a clown. (Starting to wear eye shadow brought them back. Neuroses are fun!) But I was still uncomfortable with gender norms– what did it say about me as a feminist if I was playing into expectations of female beauty? What did it mean, in a hyper-capitalist world, for the makeup industry to adopt language of “empowerment” through conspicuous consumption? And even if I wanted to do more with makeup, I sucked at it, and where was I supposed to start? I get the same sensation walking into an Ulta and seeing a staff member that I do walking into a mechanic’s shop: I don’t know what is going on, I’m intimidated, and I’m pretty sure if I ask one of the people working there for advice they are going to sell me a lot of shit that I don’t need and don’t really understand.

But I hit a point where I needed a new creative outlet very, very badly. And after a lot of other options left me even more stressed out, I turned to makeup. I let the Ulta employees sell me a few overly-expensive things, I got tips from my drag queen friends, I started watching YouTube videos, and looking at tutorials, and experimenting with things. I started buying some makeup brushes on Wish, because oh my God there are mermaid makeup brushes and I can have them for $10. I began posting pictures on Facebook, and also sharing tips on what I had found worked well or poorly. (Let’s be honest, mostly poorly. For a long time the working title of this blog/idea was “Don’t Fuck it Up Like I Did”). My attempts to fish for compliments went particularly well, and I was getting positive feedback, and requests to do this more regularly. And I also found that I had a lot of things I wanted to say. I wanted to talk more about the conflicts and confluences between feminism and femininity, I wanted to talk about Ethics in Makeup Consumption, I wanted to talk about how to start a beginning makeup kit… and I just wanted to talk about feminism in general. And so now we’re here.

The name for this site was chosen from a suggestion by my aunt: The Feminist Lipstique. It’s obviously a nod towards Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique, but it’s also a nod towards something known as “lipstick feminism,” a branch of feminism that tries to make feminism and traditional femininity play nicely together. Some people think this is the best and only type of feminism, other people think it is a bunch of feminists who are in the sunken place and have become complicit in their own oppression. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m trying to forge my own path between gender expectations and my own desires, I’m trying to find where my opinions stop and culture peer pressure starts, and I’m trying to find a way to embrace femininity without embracing an industry that thrives on making women feel shitty about themselves.

This blog is going to be a huge part of me navigating that path. It’s going to be a mix of culture criticism, makeup tutorial, drama and gossip channel, and feminist education. I’m planning to start each blog post with a feminist quote, and to pick a new pen name every day that is a mix of one of my favorite lipstick color names and the name of a feminist or feminism-inclined person that I admire (thus, today I am Rebel Rose Parker). I’m hoping that someday this will be a mix of blog posts and videos– I’d really love to start doing Gender Studies Get Ready With Mes, where I explain concepts about feminism whilst also trying to blend out my eye shadow.

There are a few things you’re not going to get here: a thorough understanding of contouring, lipliner, or eyeliner (those things are dark magic and I do not get them), or a final, definite way to make feminism and femininity make sense together. You’re going to get a young woman who is flailing, experimenting, and educating her way through her newest passion project.

I hope you all enjoy.

Kisses,

Rebel Rose Parker

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