Apparently Bradley Cooper thought that Lady Gaga — a woman who has been nominated in her mere 32 years on this planet for a combined 516 awards for everything from her songwriting, performances, music videos, fashion to her social justice work and philanthropy — wasn’t “authentic” enough. Which is why, per the Los Angeles Times, when he went to visit her at home, he had the audacity to take a makeup wipe (that he had been apparently carrying on his person) to her screen test for “A Star Is Born," the plot of which centers on a woman who has been told her whole life she is not attractive enough, but achieves stardom after a Svenagli-type man appears in her life and makes her over.
It’s anecdote that, in various ways, countless women (and some men) could relate to in equally countless ways. Because if even Lady Gaga — the woman who told us all she was “Born this Way,” jumped off the roof of the Super Bowl stadium in sequined hot pants, has worn a dress made of meat, and crooned with Tony Bennett — can’t be allowed to present her face however she likes and be taken seriously, just imagine how the rest of us feel.
Women’s looks are constantly being policed — often, like Gaga, in a professional setting, where others have decided on the right set of aesthetic values by which a woman’s work may be taken seriously.
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Those who are deemed not feminine enough are often met with not-so-subtle bias that can keep them from moving up in the professional world by its gatekeepers; those who present their femininity, and sexuality, in a way deemed “too much” — whether too aggressive or too unconventional or even too pretty — are subject to a dismissal of their work and value.
The question seems to be whether you can be serious and smart if you also make it too obvious that your lip color is not that which God gave you, or that it is exactly, and only, the color which which you were born.
The “no makeup” makeup trend is so popular, and so dangerous for many of the same reasons as the idea that makeup-wearing women aren’t authentic. Women are constantly faced with the pressure to look a certain way, but not reveal the work that goes into adhering to the standards arbitrarily applied by others. The Madonna-whore complex continues to define women’s public lives by asking women to acknowledge that binary and exist on all parts of it concurrently without ever falling into the trap of either extreme. You are supposed to look hot, but not show that you care. Admit that you care about what everyone tells you to care about — how you look, and whether it is objectively beautiful — and you will be met with derision. Adhere to the beauty standards set out for us, and be called inauthentic.
So, while the Gaga-Cooper incident set the Internet a-chatter with outrage (and confusion regarding the conspicuous use of the antiquated word “rouge”), it actually just revealed a truth known by many women, albeit spoken by few. The beauty standards faced by women are exhausting and forever growing.
It seems hard for many people to reckon with the seemingly radical idea that women can choose to put forth whatever face they want to the world and still need to be respected and taken seriously, whether that means wearing lipstick and mascara and “rouge” or not.
Using makeup doesn’t mean you’re not “real”; it’s simply a tool employed to let the world see you as you choose to present yourself. That choice, like so many others that are acutely on the line for women in this specific political moment, is one that should be left to people who want to wear makeup. If your face isn’t physically harming another person, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get to show it as you like, and be seen as anything less than yourself — and as someone capable of producing good and honest work.
White women already earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male peers; the wage gap is even more staggering for women of color. Considering that women are already notably subjected to being paid less for their work, the costs they bear from having their looks policed simply compounds that gap. When one adds in what women spend trying to look “presentable,” that’s just yet another tax women effectively are asked to place for trying to contribute to the economy, support their families, and even, as in Gaga’s case, simply entertain us all.
Women should be allowed to show themselves to the world however they choose, and not be penalized either financially or emotionally by the needs of a world that likes to see women looking a certain way.
Nonetheless, even in 2018, should you do what Gaga is constantly doing — creating her own standards of beauty and self-representation outside of the male gaze and the constructs it seeks to impose on all who it meets — it seems like you’ll still be told that you aren’t real. (Just ask Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits.)
So what’s a girl to do? Go ahead and wear lipstick, or not. Neither will make you more “real” than the other, though both allow people to feel empowered in their own sense of self-worth and identity. And there’s never anything wrong with that.
Jennifer Gerson is an Atlanta-based writer and reporter whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Yahoo, The Guardian and Mic. She is a 2015 Maggie Award recipient for her reporting work on topics surrounding reproductive health and reproductive justice.