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Pushing Women To Ditch Bras And Makeup Isn’t Empowering


Telling women that they need to be comfortable without makeup or bras isn’t empowering, and ignores that most women don’t fit the narrow normative beauty standards of our culture. There’s more to underwear than just a sexy surprise under our clothes, and makeup isn’t just a splash of color on the lips. Makeup and underwear have actual, concrete purposes. Remember when TLC had Stacy and Clinton on “What Not To Wear” to tell us that looking pretty didn’t mean the absence of comfort, and that women of all sizes and shapes could look fabulous, not just those with the figure du jour?

USA Today has asked just this in their article titled, “Do the braless and makeup-less trends exclude some women?” Worth considering especially are the women interviewed who describe how the natural, unpadded, and unstructured bralettes so popular in fashion right now are physically uncomfortable for more buxom women, and that forgoing makeup might be easy with naturally flawless skin but it’s a whole different story when you have facial scars or adult acne.

Advertising feeds us a steady diet of airbrushed fake perfection that the models themselves can’t ever match, so how is the average woman supposed to mesh the #freethenipple movement and her own desires just to look nice (and to be able to run down the stairs without pain)?

One Beauty Doesn’t Fit All

Amazing skin care can allow many women to go makeup-free and still feel beautiful. Of course that’s a good thing. Other women, no matter what kind of retinol and astringents they use, will never feel confident without masking their spots, scars, wrinkles, and other blemishes. Shaming them for that is simply wrong.

Beauty isn’t just something women strive for to impress the men in their lives. Many, many women don’t consider that their top motivation at all. Rather, it’s something we want for ourselves. It’s wanting our mental images of ourselves to match the reality.

The health at every size movement, a group of people discussing social issues about weight and health, has pushed forward many discussions. Possibly the single most worthwhile idea in those discussions is that many body types are lovely. Women are short, tall, thin, or heavy, and they have breasts that don’t always fit some catchy Victoria’s Secret ad campaign.

Embracing womanhood means embracing all of this. It means celebrating women who like swishy skirts that twirl around our legs, and women who feel most stylish in a killer pair of jeans. It means acknowledging that a mean contour is talent, not deception, and that a slick of lipstick can be a confidence boost.

Lindy West, an author and fat-acceptance activist, says these trends are “establishing a cultural beauty standard that is deeply exclusionary. Small is great. Big is great. All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies deserve options and respect.” She’s right. Womanhood isn’t about how you look or dress or do your makeup, it is an intrinsic and wonderful part of each and every woman.

Stop Shaming Pretty

The standard should widen to accept that it isn’t anti-woman or anti-feminist to wake up and put yourself together. There’s more to style than lounge pants and shirts that are totally sheer. Tucking your sweatpants into Uggs and hiding your face behind a massive pair of sunglasses or a venti Starbucks doesn’t scream self-love.

Admiring inner beauty doesn’t have to be at the cost of shunning outer beauty. Braless fashion isn’t anti-consumerism, it’s pushing the consumer to need a whole different line of clothing and personal care items. Millennials might be going braless, but this trend isn’t actually freeing women from scrutiny and pressures about their bodies.

Nor does this address the changes that age and motherhood bring to the female form, since so many millennials aren’t at that stage yet. The natural-at-any-cost movement excludes women who want or need bras and makeup, and forcing the rest of us to feel guilty that we do more than brush our teeth in the morning is a step back for all women.

Women don’t need to be like men to be wonderful. We’re awesome, all on our own. Women can own being feminine and doing all of the special, unique things that make us distinct from men. To borrow from the song by Sia:

Gotta do my hair, I put my makeup on
It’s Friday night and I won’t be long
Gotta paint my nails, put my high heels on
It’s Saturday and I won’t be long.

Put on that lipstick, buy that bra, and wear those heels. Or don’t. There’s room in womanhood for all of us.