I’ve written before about discovering and enjoying the feminine side of my identity by helping my girlfriend get in touch with hers. It continues to be a fun, interesting journey for the both of us, and along the way, I’ve discovered that becoming more femme isn’t just enjoyable, it’s also educational: I’ve learned how to be a more savvy, informed consumer of beauty products, clothing, and other goods. It’s one of the best ways of putting the “fem” in “feminist”!*
Since I began experimenting with a more femme presentation, I’ve had people ask me questions about how I manage to reconcile being femme with being involved in social justice, skepticism, and feminism. A good portion of the time, people who ask this are not being femmephobic concern trolls, but are genuinely interested in knowing, because there are a lot of pitfalls to the fashion, beauty, and cosmetics industries I’d like to avoid falling into. Some examples include L’Oreal refusing to compensate for its ugly, Nazi-tinged history, companies promoting patently false promises, problems with labelling and safety, and greenwashing galore. As a plus sized woman, I also want to navigate shopping for clothes and accessories which don’t go out of their way to be excluded to women like me, but aren’t of inferior quality or the product of a sweatshop, and I would prefer to buy from companies and stores who market in a feminist fashion**. By engaging with this system and demanding something better though, I’m hoping to create positive change in the way cosmetics, beauty products and clothes are created, marketed, and sold, which will go further than absence from the conversations or contempt for them would.
As part of that mission to discover how to be a femme who was involved in changing the way beauty was advertised and presented, I’ve come across a lot of great women and companies who, like me, were interested in combining femininity with social justice awareness and smart consumerism, who started up their own companies and made their own products; it doesn’t get much more awesome than that. Companies like Geek Chic Cosmetics, Butter London, LUSH, Gourmet Body Treats and Portland Black Lipstick Company engage in conversations directly with their customer bases to find out what they want, what they value in their products, and what directions they want to see the company take, with almost 100% transparency. As small as these steps may seem, they’re making a big difference in the way people consume beauty products and what they look for in their daily buying habits, as well as the way these companies operate. Changing practices help usher in changing attitudes, and vice versa.
Getting in touch with my femme side helped me think long and hard about what I buy, where it comes from, who makes it, and who profits from it more than originally getting into social justice and skepticism did. It helped me realize that femininity and beauty as part of my self-expression had to translate to beautiful behaviours and supporting beautiful causes and companies. Informed femmes are the driving force behind websites like Pinterest and Etsy, which help create communities around creation and alternatives to misleading, dishonest advertising and branding. Femininity and femme interests are not signs of weakness, frivolity, or a lack of critical thinking, they are a means of self expression which are just as legitimate as others. Don’t use things I love and engage in, like social justice activism and feminism, to tell me otherwise.
* You can put me into a two-week pun time-out for that if you like.
** How I define a “feminist fashion” for marketing is rather broad, but it can be boiled down to “Marketed in a way that doesn’t fall into gender role stereotyping and promotes purchasing these products based on how awesomely they work or make you feel, not based on influencing the way others perceive you.” See these Confidence ads (Not actually associated with Maybelline) as an example of make-up advertising done right.