One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

July 21, 2010

Makeup Pt 2

I have still not entirely figured out how to reconcile belly dance with feminism. That is, I love it. And it has certainly helped me to make friends with my body. And it’s wonderful to have an activity in your life where striving for mastery is challenging and fun. And there’s this community of women who, through yearly ordeals of putting together a full stage performance, have become more of a family than anything.

There is that when we talk of the history of the dance, we talk of its being by women, for women. Casual, for the joy of it. We emphasize improvisation, calling it more true to the original spirit of the dance.

But then there is a certain prevalent perception of what belly dance is. And if the whole world thinks it’s a sexy dance and we’re saying, “no, this is art,” is it so much different from calling stripping art? If what you are doing normalizes the perception of women as the sex class, or perpetuates a myth that middle-eastern ladies are sexily-empowered, the label of “Art” won’t do much to check the myths you’re feeding.

And then there is that you would never do a performance without shaving your legs, plucking your brow and wearing full makeup. I’ve tried to envision what feminist-friendly stage performances would look like – but the reality is that under stage lights, giving up makeup gives up visual impact. And this is still a visual performance.

And so I have two selves. The one who doesn’t know how to apply makeup because she’s never bothered to wear it. Who took grunge and anti-fashions as a lifestyle choice back in the 90s and never moved on when it went out of style. And then there is the self who pushes the envelope in clothing and makeup choices. Who experiments with style and colour both in attire and in makeup.

When I am getting ready for a performance I feel like a teenager again. That sense of standing in front of the mirror, stepping into a new sphere of fashion choices and being free to break a few rules in the process of learning what works for you.

Each time I do my makeup for a performance I put more makeup on than the last time. Each time I say to myself, “Well now you’ve fucked it up. This is the time you’ve gone too far and you’re going to look like a twelve-year-old who was trapped in an unfortunate explosion with her mother’s makeup kit.” But then I put on mascara and look again and think, “yep. That’ll do.”

So I have a story that I think is sweet, but that will probably just not make any sense to people outside of my family. I hope my aunt doesn’t mind my telling it.

My aunt Apple was over on Monday as I was getting ready for a performance. She was at the computer, moving photos off my camera, and I said, “I just have to run upstairs and put on my makeup for tonight.” Still facing quite forward, but with her attention obviously not on the computer, she said, “well- and I’ve been feeling so guilty for calling you a slut on your special day.”

Most amazing apology ever. Especially given that she really didn’t call me a slut, and isn’t remotely the kind of person who ever would do so in sincerity. I learned a tonne of my feminism from her. I’m still learning.

What happened was that on my wedding day, she walked into the house after I’d done my makeup (for the Canada Day performance) and quipped, “Oh you look like a slut,” with all humour and no rancor. And then I said something pissy but still jocular (like our family does) about how I try not to get into slut-shaming around my daughters cuz, y’know, we can all be as slutty as we like, right?

I hadn’t given it any further thought, so her admission of guilt gave me pause. And I said, “Oh man, I’m sorry I was pissy about it. I really didn’t mean it.”

And then she said, “well the funny thing is that I meant it as a compliment. Like, ‘Gee you look nice…'”

“All tarted up?”

“… all tarted up, yes.”

This would seem to be a story about makeup and feminism, but really it’s a story about how confrontation can be funny and sweet. Even down to the tongue-in-cheek phrase “your special day”. Amazing.

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  2. gish

     /  2010-07-23

    I’m glad your special day was so nice. For reals. 🙂

    When I was taking belly dancing classes, I wondered about the whole feminism/exercise/body appreciation/sexualization conundrum… I never really came to a conclusion one way or the other, but decided it was neat and I enjoyed it, so whatevs. 😀 (I sure do miss it. I don’t think there are any Tribal classes nearby.) As far as makeup, that can be fun/artistic, too. I never gave up grunge, either, but I’ve worn makeup since middle school. But it wasn’t really about trying to be attractive, as my poor mother could have attested. There are lots of reasons for wearing makeup, and tarting up is just one of them.


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