Can One be a Feminist and Enjoy Feeling Feminine?
How My Work Fits With Being a Feminist
How does my work photographing women sit with being a feminist? Some might say that encouraging women to have their hair and makeup done and get their photograph taken panders to an outdated notion that requires us to look or dress a certain way and conform to society’s idea of what is normal or acceptable. Others might argue that it’s frivolous and that there are bigger things out there that are more important (and of course there are, although not always).
Boosting Women’s Self-Esteem
I’m not for a moment suggesting that what I do is in some way essential or compulsory for every woman; of course it’s not. What I do believe though is that women’s self-esteem can take a bashing in many different ways – from comparing ourselves to others on social media; feeling that we need to lose weight; berating ourselves about our failure to measure up to self-imposed standards; or simply feeling that we’ve lost ourselves and our identities in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, whether through work, family or other commitments. There’s no end to the ways in which we can undermine our own confidence, not to mention attempts by others to sabotage it.
Therefore, I don’t think that being feminists and wanting to celebrate our femininity are somehow irreconcilable; the two are not mutually exclusive and for me they don’t sit at opposite ends of a spectrum defining what it means to be a woman. Being a feminist shouldn’t be about having to renounce anything that makes us feel better about ourselves. If applying makeup and having our hair done help to boost our self-esteem, give us confidence to face the world or just help us appreciate our own beauty, then surely, these are all things to celebrate.
Things Women Say to Me
I’ve heard so many self-deprecatory comments from women over the years; things like “I hate seeing myself in photos”, “I feel invisible”, “I have low self-esteem”, “I hate my smile” or “I need to lose weight.” And what I know is that when I take a portrait of a woman that shows her how beautiful she looks through my eyes, then I certainly don’t feel that I’ve compromised her intelligence or her abilities in any way or somehow diminished her stature.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – “We Shouldn’t Moralize Makeup.”
The writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about this very compellingly and with a great deal of clarity and commonsense: she says “At some point I started to realize that there was something very wrong with the idea that if you’re a woman and you’re interested in things that are traditionally feminine, then somehow it means that you can’t possibly be serious, or feminist, or intellectual…. And realizing that the basis of that idea comes from maleness as the norm [in our society], so then of course everything that’s traditionally feminine becomes suspect.” You can read the full interview on Why You Can Be a Feminist and Love Makeup here.