I read this article, Make Up is the New Work Out Gear, with a sad feeling. Really? Really? Can’t there be some places (like the gym) where we are free from beauty’s demands and normative femininity?
I knew it was on the horizon thanks to the Clinique counter. I was there recently because of my own vexed relationship with make up. I’m all in favour of the fun stuff (pink lips and sparkly eyes!) but I’m not such a big fan of foundation and cover up and blending (whatever that means). I like my artifice to look like artifice. I like my hair best when it’s bright blonde or pastel pink. I never colour my undercut so you can always see the grey and silver. So it’s not about looking like I’m young, or in the case of make up, tanned and well-rested. But I just don’t want people asking me every winter if I’m sick. “No, I’m just pale. This is what white women without make up look like in January!” That’s what I want to scream.
Back to the Clinique counter where they were outfitting with me foundation and blush etc which, when I remember, I sometimes wear to work, grudgingly. They’re also selling “CliniqueFit”–a line of make up just for working out with the slogan “Life is a marathon. Look good running it.” As usual, there’s a lot of it. There’s pre-workout this, post-workout that, not to mention the stuff you wear while actually working out. And it’s sold as an essential, not an optional thing, “essentials for your highly active life.”
I get it. Who doesn’t want to look good?
See our fellow former fitness blogger Caitlin. She writes Athletic women want cute clothes and shoes too!
And my musings on looking good while working out,
And, of course, I also think, hey, you do you. I’ll be over here in my ratty workout t-shirt, unbrushed hair, and gym relegated leggings wearing definitely zero make-up. You can wear your pricey matching Lululemon workout outfits with your bared midriff and your smokey eyes. It’s a big tent. Let many flowers bloom.
Yet, it’s also not simply a matter of personal choice. Feminists know this. We don’t choose alone. We choose in a context. That doesn’t make the bottom line any different. I’m still a strong supporter of not judging others and of individual women picking their own way through this minefield. My sense, as I watch young women get ready to work out in the university change room, is that in these days of Instagram and fitness influencers, it’s getting harder to make the choice to not care.
I’m writing this blog post on holidays in Florida, where I am I here to ride my bike. But since there are only so many hours a day you can ride, I’ve brought some fun work along. I’m reviewing the book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal by philosopher Heather Widdows. The Irish Times ran an article about her work: Why are beauty standards becoming more onerous.
Ironically, she says, the beauty demands are greatest in cultures where freedom is highly valued. Thus she provides today’s idea: “As beauty norms get harder to attain, we all have less choice rather than more choice.”
So I am trying very hard here not to be a grumpy old ‘get off my lawn’ feminist. But I worry we’re all upping the ante and making it harder and harder to not look in the mirror and judge everything we do by appearance. I know for me too once I start doing a thing, it can be hard to stop. I laughed at Mina’s naked yoga toes story but it also rang true. I had my first ever pedicure in 2017 as a treat before the bike rally. I liked my pink toes. But when it came off, I wanted more. Now in the fall when I stop wearing toe nail polish my toenails look all worn and mangy to me. When a thing stops feeling optional, it starts feeling more like a duty and less like fun to me.
So what makes the ‘wearing make up to work out’ choice complicated isn’t just its effect on other women. That’s the issue of collectively raising the bar and making it more difficult for other women to opt out. But it’s also the effect on our own individual, future choices. Think carefully before you allow beauty into a realm where it wasn’t before. If you’re like me you’ll have a hard time in the future chasing it back out.
How about you? Do you wear making up while working out? Do you wear special make up for that purpose? How do you feel about your choice? (Let’s stay away from the choices that others make.)