Update July 24, 2018:
I have a complete opinion on this matter that I wrote last December.
She came back from the job interview with a job offer in hand. As I talked to her about the student work position on our college campus, she mentioned that her new boss told her that she would be expected to wear makeup at her job. While I knew that women often wore makeup to work, I had never been required to wear it to work. I felt a little upset for my friend who sat through being told by a man that she — a young, pretty woman — had to wear makeup while men who worked in the same workplace had no such requirement.
Up to this point it had seemed normal to me that one would choose to wear makeup in a professional or formal setting, but when it was imposed on my friend I started to feel that there was a problem with it. With so many women coming out with their stories and accusations of men treating them with impropriety, we need to dig deeper into the causes of this problem. The expectation that women use cosmetics is just one of many contributing factors our society’s tendency to reduce women to objects to be used rather than human persons to be loved.
Read the rest here.
Lately, I have been thinking about the morality of wearing makeup. As in all moral questions in this household, St. Thomas Aquinas gave his opinion from the Summa Theologica first. If you don’t want to read the questions linked, I will make a brief summary.
In the first article he asks if there can be “virtue and vice in connection with outward apparel”? He answers that the vice one could have from outward apparel comes from the person using the apparel immoderatly, 1) being contrary to the customs among those whom one lives and 2) by having immoderate attachment to the apparel. Under number two one can have these vices a) dressing to seek glory, b) too much attention to sensuous pleasure (only focusing on the bodies pleasure in dress), and c) being too solicitous in regards to one’s outward attire. Thus, one must seek the virtues of humility and contentment to overcome the vices of immoderation in dress. While one can be too focused in this way, one can also be deficient. In neglecting one’s outward apparel, one can also be seeking glory by giving the appearance of being in the service of God, thus deriving glory from others’ opinions. But one can also be deficient in the social customs of dress and neglect to have the correct knowledge of how one is to present oneself. One last point is that one should dress according to one’s station in life so as to be truthful in how one presents oneself.
So, how does this apply to makeup and cosmetics? The second question is “Whether the adornment of women is devoid of moral sin?”
Okay, I am not trying to make anyone angry, and I am not trying to offend anyone. Part of being a Christian is examining our lives and choosing to live morally. I am simply trying to examine the morality of wearing makeup which is so culturally expected and in many cases required of women. Be prepared for a shocking response….
St. Thomas says that a woman should dress so as to not lead others into sin. That sounds about right. He also says that a “married woman can adorn herself to please her husband without sin.” So, if one’s husband prefers it (and it does not violate moral law), she should please him! What if one is single? If one has no wish to marry, then it is wrong to wear things that incite men to lust, especially if that is one’s intention.
St. Frances De Sales says in Chapter 25 of Introduction to the Devout Life, that “a wife may dress to please her husband, and that it is lawful for a maiden to dress to please her friends.” He explains that “propriety in dress consists in material, fashion, and cleanliness.” And as “to the material and fashion of clothes, propriety in these respects depends on various circumstances such as time, age, rank, those with whom you associate; and it varies on different occasions.” This sounds reasonable and even very practical. One dresses nicer for a wedding than for everyday occasions. And it would be silly to paint the house or scrub the floor in my best clothes! Once again one is to pay attention to the social acceptability. When considering cleanliness there is frequent bathing (which is often hard for mother’s of young children) and maintaining other hygienic habits.
One thing I want to say here is that the social customs, no matter how prevalent, do not usurp the moral law. And while I will not list them here, there are a number of common social customs that are clearly in violation of the moral law. That being said, it is possible for social customs to be wrong.
Now we come to Question 169, Article 2, Objection 2 (links and text from the source linked above at newadvent.org): “Cyprian says (De Habit. Virg.): “I hold that not only virgins and widows, but also wives and all women without exception, should be admonished that nowise should they deface God’s work and fabric, the clay that He has fashioned, with the aid of yellow pigments, black powders or rouge, or by applying any dye that alters the natural features.” And afterwards he adds: “They lay hands on God, when they strive to reform what He has formed. This is an assault on the Divine handiwork, a distortion of the truth. Thou shalt not be able to see God, having no longer the eyes that God made, but those the devil has unmade; with him shalt thou burn on whose account thou art bedecked.” But this is not due except to mortal sin. Therefore the adornment of women is not devoid of mortal sin.”
St. Thomas responds to the objection with this: “ Cyprian is speaking of women painting themselves: this is a kind of falsification, which cannot be devoid of sin. Wherefore Augustine says (Ep. ccxlv ad Possid.): “To dye oneself with paints in order to have a rosier or a paler complexion is a lying counterfeit. I doubt whether even their husbands are willing to be deceived by it, by whom alone” (i.e. the husbands) “are they to be permitted, but not ordered, to adorn themselves.” However, such painting does not always involve a mortal sin, but only when it is done for the sake of sensuous pleasure or in contempt of God, and it is to like cases that Cyprian refers.
It must, however, be observed that it is one thing to counterfeit a beauty one has not, and another to hide a disfigurement arising from some cause such as sickness or the like. For this is lawful, since according to the Apostle (1 Corinthians 12:23), “such as we think to be the less honorable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honor.””
The main objection is that when one puts makeup on a human face, one is creating a falsehood by presenting ones made-up face as one’s own face, and further “assaulting” the “Divine handiwork.” These are strong accusations and I have already heard several reactions to them.
1) These statements were made for that time and not our time. I do not see this a a good objection. Women throughout history have always worn makeup and covering one’s face in the past is not different than covering one’s face now.
2) Makeup is to accentuate one’s beauty and does not cover up God’s creation except the blemishes which St. Thomas says is okay. I think this is a valid point and can see how makeup does not cause one to counterfeit one’s appearance.
3) What about social custom? It is socially prevalent, and one person compared it to “shaving legs.” Another person pointed out that there is a material difference between removing body hair and applying layers of chemicals to one’s face creating a sort of mask. Another point is that are the social customs just adding to the objectification of women? If a woman does not wear makeup in the workplace is she seen as less? Is expecting woman to wear makeup making her lower than men? (I have heard from a trustworthy man that he has heard many negative things about women who don’t wear makeup from other men). If a woman in Western society does not wear makeup, is she deficient in the social customs category? Does it depend on how socially acceptable her natural complexion is?
These are all questions that have disturbed me while considering the morality and I really am not sure how to answer them. If you have an opinion, I would love to hear it. Please comment here so as to keep the discussion in one place!
One thing is clear to me, and that is if there is vanity and lack of humility in one’s personal wearing of makeup, then it is sinful to do so. The points about seeking glory, seeking pleasure, and inordinate attachment to are applicable to wearing makeup. Can one also be deficient?