Apparently women can’t do anything without makeup. While perusing Facebook this past weekend, an ad popped up on my feed for Sweat Cosmetics, a makeup line made specifically for working out. I had never heard of this company or their products, but anyone who tells me to wear makeup while I work out is not my friend.
So I did what any annoyed person on the internet does and I googled some s**t. It turns out Sweat was founded by ex-professional soccer players whose dream in life was to show that women could be “both strong and beautiful.” I never thought those two concepts were mutually exclusive, but then again, I’ve never felt the need to wear lipstick on a treadmill, either.
Sweat’s promo videos feature the gaggle of blonde women who work for the company powdering their faces while running, snowboarding, weightlifting, and riding a stationary bike. In one video, a soft voice-over says that the modern woman is “brave, powerful and strong, but above all else she is beautiful.” In another, one of the founders says, “We wanna tell every woman that uses our product that we see your struggle.” Um, what struggle is that exactly? The struggle to be beautiful every second of every day, even when I am sweating my ass off? Yeah, I didn’t actually think that was even a thing until I saw your ad, but thanks.
Here’s why this product is infuriating: If you are a woman (or man) and want to wear makeup to the gym, wear makeup to the gym. People have worn makeup and worked out for quite some time: gymnasts, dancers, women hitting the gym on their way home from work, and that chick on the treadmill taking 5 million selfies. It’s cool. Be you. But what I don’t like are companies acting like they are building women up, when really, they’re trying to create a need that never needed to be filled. For decades, beauty companies have told women they are not pretty enough, or skinny enough, or feminine enough, and that they need some product to fix what’s wrong with them. From corsets to diet pills to high heels, these products are supposed to help women look better (for empowerment!) when in reality they keep us in uncomfortable—and often unhealthy—chains.
Now, that racket is bleeding into the gym, the one place where women can get dirty because they’re supposed to be dirty. The space where bleeding is a sign of strength and not weakness. Indeed, athletics is one of the few spaces where, ideally, being respected has nothing to do with how you look and everything to do with how well you perform. Call me crazy but I don’t want to give that up just yet.
Before you roll your eyes at me, I understand that not everyone is as serious about working out (or feminism) as I am. Not everyone goes to the gym for the same reasons I do. I know that some people go there to blow off steam, or find dates, or meet up with friends. And I get that some women just love makeup and want to wear it all the time, like a favorite scarf or necklace. But all of those options are still available. You can wear makeup to the gym already. No one is stopping you.
But if “workout makeup” ever becomes a thing the way high heels became a thing, women will start feeling pressure to wear makeup to the gym, which means we’ll have to buy cosmetics for work and for Saturday night and for spin class. What’s next? Makeup for the shower? “Hate how gross your face looks when it’s wet?” the commercials will say. “Yuck! Buy this special shower makeup so no one has to look at your unvarnished face ever again.” It’s too much.
Unfortunately, that future is actually possible because Sweat isn’t the only company trying to make “workout makeup” happen. Birchbox, a monthly subscription service that mails makeup to your door, now offers a beauty brand called Arrow designed for “badass women who lead active lifestyles,” according to a press release. And others have slowly but surely begun popping up, too.
The truth is companies call us “badass” and “strong” to grab our attention but, instead of actually trying to empower women, they ask us to spend our cash on even more beauty products. And that hypocrisy comes with a cost.
Research compiled by the New York City Girls Project shows that 40% to 70% of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body by middle school, in large part due to the images they see on magazines and on TV. According to a 2010 study conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute, although most young girls (63%) think images represented by fashion models are unrealistic, 60% still say they compare their own bodies to those models.
The point is that what we say and represent in advertising and marketing seeps into girls’ minds at an early age. If we start sending the message that women need to be pretty while playing sports, we’re doing something wrong. So instead of telling girls they can be strong and beautiful—you know with some magical sweat-proof makeup—we should be saying that strong is beautiful. And that should be enough.