Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Virgin Orgasming Blushing Bride: A Trip to Sephora

What's in my makeup case?
From Retrograde Works
A few days ago, I accompanied one of my dearest friends to Sephora to get makeup for her wedding day. (To say that this was a case of the blind leading the blind might be an understatement). 

I arrived early, and I went into the store to see if she was there yet. She was not, and the Sephora employees (perfectly nice people, I'm sure) looked leery. "Can I help you?" one asked, but not in the helpful way, more in the did-you-get-lost-honey way. 

This is not a post about whether my friend should have bought makeup for her wedding day. As I've touched upon before, I don't think feminism does itself any favors by drawing lines in the sand on what makes for an acceptable patriarchal bargain. Also, she looked absolutely beautiful and her wedding is going to be amazing. Not only do I not have a problem with that, but that's exactly what I want for her:  confidence in her beauty (which exists with or without makeup) on her wedding day. 

So, for the record, I think going to buy makeup for your wedding day (or any other day, if that's your thing) is fine. 

What this post is about is the names of said make-up. In the words of my favorite Craigslist ad, Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ. 

The final purchases included (and I couldn't make this up if I tried) a shade of blush called "Orgasm," a shade of primer donned "Virgin," and eyeliner named "Perversion." 

I believe all those things I said above. I believe that a woman can wear makeup for herself, to bolster her confidence and experiment with her expression of self. I believe that those expressions can be sexual, if a woman chooses to use makeup as a tool to play with her sense of sexuality, but that they certainly don't have to be. I believe that makeup does not have to be wrapped up in virgin/whore dichotomies and stereotypes. I believe that makeup can be fun. 

Apparently the people naming the makeup do not. 


  1. Hi Michelle, It's been a long time. I'll start this by admitting I occasionally but not often enough to "know you well" read your writings here and I find it fun, insightful, and a guilty pleasure trip down memory lane to the old days. (You seem well and happy it's great to say)

    I wanted to comment here because your post struck a chord with me, and well... that's what reading/writing is about. Insight. Into ourselves and others. I knew I was going to feel strongly about this post when I had only just read the title which I knew was dangerous. I know your blog well enough to know the general approach on 'feminist issues' (I'm sure these quotation marks are incorrect and also possibly offensive but it seems odd to say the phrase feminist issues as if all women could have the same problems) to know before reading the overall stance on makeup you might take.

    As a well educated, employed, rather strong minded, single, adult woman (that's a lot of qualifiers) who was raised by a strong feminist mother I am also one who is guilty of this make-up obsession. Sephora is to me what Blix or general art store is to many, but the canvas is me.

    Your article hit home for me as a statement my mother made to me has settled for about two years now. On a trip home for a holiday, after gettting 'dolled up' to go meet friends for a drink, bolstered by my 'sexy' smoldering eyeshadow and 'orgasm' blushed cheeks (yes, I actually do use NARS orgasm, its gorgeous on me too) my mother looked at me and in a rare moment of mother-daughter honesty between us, she inquired to me such important things as she has never asked. If I was happy, and if she had done something wrong. She felt my application of make up was a statement of lessened self worth and lack of self confidence, and it clearly hurt her deeply. As a woman and as a mother.

    This is interesting because I have a very wavering self confidence as many women do, but my make-up is by no means my 'armour' for this battle. Spanx, yes. High heels, occasionally. Straightening iron, most definately. Make-up.... no. Clothes and make-up are my seizing the day. They are the way I get up and proclaim to the world who I think I am, the way I want to be, and sometimes perhaps the way I want them to view me. I'm not sure why this post made me feel the need to respond so strongly, but I just felt the need to share this 'other side'. Because I appreciate the fun artistry of drawing out my desires on myself. And I appreciate the make-up world's fun sense of creativity with naming things not "peachy brown" but something empowering, like the idea of the flush of a passionate woman after an intimate moment with a lover, the color of Orgasm. Fortunately for me though.... NARS has other colors to choose from too. In case I'm feeling more of a saucy color, or perhaps, just a light flush, because I know if someone were to name blush after the colors I actually turn they'd be called "awkward embarrassment", "slight sunburn", and "tipsy asian)
    NARS Blushes:
    Deep throat
    Dolce vita
    Exhibit A
    Mata Hari
    Sex Appeal
    Super Orgasm
    Taj Mahal
    *Astersiks denote Feminist Friendly Color Choices (NARS does not endorse this rating system)
    P.S. That is pretty offensive but kind of funny right?

    1. Hey Jessie! Nice to hear from you, and I hope you're doing well, too. Trust me when I say I don't find it AT ALL offensive to question this. I appreciate your perspective, and I absolutely think that makeup can be fun and empowering. You're right that there are a lot of other names, and I even see how you can make the argument that a name like "Orgasm" can be empowering. I mean, it's not like an orgasm is a bad thing to be having.

      I guess what really got to me was that it's not like my friend went in and picked out these colors. She had a consultation, and these were the ones chosen for her. It wasn't until we were checking out that we found out the names. It just seemed so bizarre to me that all of them were sexualized and that there was a clear virgin/whore dichotomy that was delineated by the colors. (The black eyeliner was "perverted," the red blush was an "orgasm," and the white primer was a "virgin.") Sure, marketers could be playing with these tropes in a way that's intended to subvert them, but if that's the case, I don't think that it's a very clear subversion. And, for the most part, their advertisements (as least the ones I saw in the store) seem to stick to pretty standard representations of women.

      I also completely agree that we can't box off any grand "feminist issues" and call it complete because I think that every individual has to figure out what issues are important to her. I do think that this argument surrounding patriarchal bargains and beauty is a common one, though. For me, I have a hard time walking the line between beauty norms I adopt to empower myself and beauty norms I adopt to conform to someone else's idea of what I should look like. Since I'm also a product of my culture (and all the ads, magazine covers, movies, and--yes--makeup names that comes with it), there's no clear delineation between opinions that are "my own" and opinions that I've picked up around me because they're really the same thing. I can't even figure out how to draw the lines around my own comfort zone, so I would NEVER tell someone else how to draw theirs. I absolutely think that you can be feminist and wear makeup (and high heels and Spanx, too, for the record).

  2. I'm so sick of makeup companies pretending like they're simply capturing a woman's natural beauty after she orgasms. Or that women are prettiest right after they orgasm. When I tried orgasm on at Sephora, the woman who applied it was like, "See! It is a nice, natural look. It just looks like you had a night of naughty fun." I remember staring at her and thinking, "Um, no. My cheeks do not get this contoured or highlighted or colored from an orgasm." That makeup is what a patriarchal society thinks we should look like during sex. Not what we actually look like (at least, not what I look like!).

    On a related note,I remember flipping through a cousin's Cosmopolitan magazine at Christmas a few years ago and they had a feature on beauty tips. They said the goal of your makeup and hair should be to look like you just had sex, and then actually said that a lip stain was the perfect color because it looked like you had just given a blow job. There wasn't even the tiniest hint of an idea that you should only use makeup to feel confident in your beauty. It basically said to make yourself look like you had just had sex so that hopefully some man would want to have sex with you.

    1. And just to clarify, not all makeup is bad! I wear makeup on an almost daily basis. It's just makeup names and makeup advice drenched in language about sex that I find irritating.