Makeup and Veils

Hmm. AC sent me this interesting article comparing makeup and veiling.  The main idea is that there are some cultures in which women feel they can’t leave the house without makeup and some in which women feel they can’t leave the house without veils– and that this similarity is significant.  Although this is certainly right, the article made me feel a bit uneasy and I think I now see why.  The comparison, which is clearly directed at an audience that is more familiar with makeup than with veiling can be used in (at least) two ways: (1) to make veiling, which seems strange and foreign and “other”, is more comprehensible than it might initially seem; (2) to show that makeup, which may seem just fine to us, is really oppressive, just like veiling.  The author does (2). What bothers me is the author’s unexamined assumption that veiling– of whatever kind, done for whatever reason– simply is oppressive.  (And I do mean ‘unexamined’– the article hardly discusses veils at all.) For some good discussion of the complexities of veiling, see Hoodfar 1993, “The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads”, _Review of Feminist Research_ 22 (3-4): 2-18.

Still, the analogy is well worth considering, and there’s some interesting stuff on the history of makeup (or at least of claims about makeup). Apparently, “in 1964, sexologists Harry Benjamin and R.E.L. Masters claimed that lipstick wearing had its origins with prostitutes in the Middle East as it was “supposed to make the mouth resemble the vulva and it was first worn by those females who specialised in oral stimulation of the penis.”” Interesting if true.

5 thoughts on “Makeup and Veils

  1. It is strange that the author take *both* practices to be straightforwardly oppressive, when the article starts with mention of the range of reasons for which women decide to wear make up! See also Saul 2003, ch9 for an overview of some of the different reasons for which women wear different kinds of veils – in this article,,614360,00.html
    referenced in Saul, Soueif also writes of the diversity of practices of veiling – often overlooked, as in the article Jender posts.

    In my web forays to find out more about the origins of lipstick I came across this review of an interesting sounding book:,12084,929540,00.html

    One really interesting point inthe review is that the make-up industries of Rubinstein and Arden apparently took off in the US during WWII:
    “Rubinstein got the contract to produce the supply kits for the US army’s desert campaign – sunburn cream, camouflage make-up and cleanser to take it off, all packed in a Helena Rubinstein box… Meanwhile, Arden created the lipstick Montezuma Red, inspired by the colour of the chevrons of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve”

  2. I think two factors are overlooked. 1) It is a false opposition, in that veiled women often are as much pressured to beautify with make up, as Western women are. 2) There’s no state enforced policy anywhere in the world for make up, however there ís for the veil (e.g. Iran).

    Historically both make up ánd veils are related to patriarchal coding for prostitution (public women, sexually available to all men) and ‘domestic’ women (sexually available to one man). See for instance G. Lerner, 1986

  3. If anything were to make me want to stop wearing makeup all the time this post did it for me. Especially the last few sentences. So not my reasons for wearing makeup.

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