Cosmetics and the Female Body



The wearing of cosmetics by women in Western culture has been subject to a diverse range of criticisms. One of the most frequently made objections has been that cosmetics conceal the “true” self behind a “false” mask. For many, the artifice of cosmetics has been regarded as a sign of deception and inauthenticity in which the wearer masquerades as something she is not.


Female Body Heterosexual Woman Fashion Industry Cultural Construction Protestant Work Ethic 
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  1. 1.
    Georg Simmel makes a similar point in his article, “The aesthetic significance of the face,” where he writes (1959, 278) that: “The face strikes us as the symbol, not only of the spirit, but also of an unmistakable personality. This feeling has been extraordinarily furthered in the period since the beginning of Christianity by the covering of the body. The face was the heir of the body; for in the degree to which nakedness was the custom, the body presumably had its share in the expression of individuality."Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Craik (1994, 153–75) has a useful discussion of the contrasting nature of cosmetic practice in Western and non-Western cultures.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Andrew Strathern quotes one Mt Hagener tribesman who commented: “If the men’s faces can be seen too clearly, we say, ‘Oh, we went to that dance and even from a distance we were able to recognize the men early, it was no good.’ So they put on a lot of charcoal to make their faces really dark as night and prevent their recognition, so that people will praise them. They say, ‘Hey, we can’t recognize these men, this is a good dance performance"’ (1987, 29).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Grosz (1994, chap. 6) provides a useful discussion of Lingis’s analysis of body markings.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Mercurio and Morera (2004) for examples of Andy Warhol’s portraiture.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Bell et al. (1994, 42–43) for a useful discussion of this style.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Wilson (1987, 110–11) also notes that when visible cosmetics were first promoted in the early twentieth century, they were seen as a sign of emancipation rather than of bondage by women.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Revlon also introduced names such as Fatal Apple, Paint the Town Pink, and Wheres the Fire? for its lipstick range to heighten such connotations. See Merskin (2007, 595) for a discussion of this.Google Scholar

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© Llewellyn Negrin 2008

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