Of make-up and feminism: Pretty is not dumb


By Thakane-Rethabile Shale

I'm sadly one of those refreshingly naive people who take their time out to try and change opinions on social media. A task that yields neither results nor peace of mind. Last week, I was tagged by an associate on a meme which sought to show that only ugly women subscribe to the theory that men are trash while beautiful women couldn’t be bothered to even debate such nonsense. After wasting half a day debating this concept, it dawned on me that I too have once subscribed to this theory in some way.

The notion that some causes are championed by less attractive women is something I believe every woman has encountered and sadly perpetuated. It has become such a part of everyday life that you get debates about whether make-up is sexist and a tool of patriarchy! A debate that has seen me shifting sides as I get older and more comfortable with myself. Make-up being anti-feminism is as idiotic a notion as the notion that money makes one more evil. Let’s unpack it.

Make-up, like flowery summer dresses or high heels, is among the modern-world things that are very feminine. Some girls like them, others don’t and honestly to each her own but to dismiss everything that is feminine as being a tool of patriarchy is saying there is something inherently wrong with being a feminine woman and the only way to be liberated is to be masculine. It’s saying being a pretty girl reduces one to being an airhead while the more masculine one is the better.

I, for one, don’t wear make-up on the regular, mostly because I’m always running late and have no time to put it on. I will admit though that red lipstick makes me look quite hot and I like the way I look in heels and other feminine attire. It is just a bit impractical for my lifestyle. I know of girls who rock the fully made up face every day but that does not make them any less of a feminist that I’m.

In varsity, I was prettier than I am now. By the way, I’m one of those people who are unashamed to stand around and call themselves beautiful. In any case, in my first year in law school a guy who did not even know me that well refused to believe that I was a law student. His reasoning being that I was too pretty and wore too much pink to be a law student and I, therefore, probably did some of the easier courses like “public administration”! Let’s put aside the problematic assumption that there is such a thing as an easy university course and get to the root of the problem. The boy obviously thought he was paying me a compliment by telling me that I’m too pretty for such “difficult” pursuits as law. But, to me, all that I heard was that I was pretty, so automatically I was dumb.

I’m not the only woman who has struggled with this concept that to be taken seriously you must look a little more “male”. Famed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of a time when she wore a less “feminine” outfit to her first teaching class for fear that if she showed up looking pretty her credibility would be undermined. There are many examples of women who actively choose to not wear what they deem as flouncy and overly feminine clothes to the office for fear that they will be labelled “Slay Queens” and, therefore, automatically dumb.


l Thakane-Rethabile Shale is a lawyer, writer and an investigative journalism intern with the MNNCIJ


I could go on with examples but the bottom line is, whatever your thoughts are on the #MenAreTrash dialogue there is no denying that it’s a political movement requiring thought and interpretation of the nuances and complications of gender relations. To say that beautiful women don’t have the time to debate what’s so big a movement isn’t a compliment. It is saying that beautiful women are too dumb to have a seat at the table. The same goes for saying true feminists don’t wear make-up. In fact, you are again saying that to get a seat at the debating table as a woman you must look as unfeminine as possible. There is nothing wrong with being a woman who does not wear make-up, flouncy clothing or heels but the idea that it sits you on a higher intellectual plane than women who like those things is offensive. Also, the very notion of assuming that only those women who are conventionally pretty are attractive is bothersome but it is a cause I lack the energy to champion at this point.


Thakane-Rethabile Shale is a lawyer, writer and an investigative journalism intern with the MNNCIJ





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