Hair & Makeup (And Feminism)

Sometimes I struggle with particular aspects of wedding planning, like whether I should get my hair and makeup done. As we’ve gotten closer to the wedding I’ve realized that I’m not struggling with the question of if I can afford it or not (I’m remarkably resourceful) or if I’m selling out (I think that idea is silly). What I’m struggling with is, “Can I do this without buying into something that I don’t believe in?”

Can I wear a veil and still be a feminist?

Can I get my makeup done and not be a 22 year old sorority girl bride in a ballgown or worse, look like I got let out of the bordello for my wedding day?*

As I was pondering the makeup question, I ended up watching the sideshow (for the millionth time**) of Aly and Elroi’s amazing wedding shot by Our Labor of Love. And I came across these two pictures:


Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person, or maybe it’s just because I’m a little slow sometimes, but somehow these pictures slammed me over the head with what should have been really obvious: I can do whatever feels right to me to do, and still stay EXACTLY who I am. So, I made a hair appointment this weekend, and I got low-lights on my hair*** to cover up all that pesky white for wedding pictures. And while I was there I made a appointment to get my hair and makeup done for the wedding (the stylist was wearing orange feather earrings when I talked to her, so I immediately felt comfortable).

I don’t know if it was the worlds most feminist thing to do, and I don’t know if it’s going to win me a lifetime membership in the Indie Bride Club, but you know what? I don’t care. My hair looks fantastic, I’m excited about my future wedding stylist, and I feel really good about my decision. And most important: it made me feel like myself. And if I’ve learned one thing from this wedding planning process, I’ve learned that when something makes you feel like yourself, you grab on to that thing for dear life (and to heck with what anyone else thinks).

Photos by Our Labor Of Love

*Ariel wrote really compellingly about this very dilemma in the Offbeat Bride book.
**I told you I revisit my favorite weddings when I’m feeling stressed out.
***Acme Head & Body, San Franciscians. My color/cut stylist is Wes and he’s freaking amazing, good with curly/wavy hair, and actually LISTENS to you (and will remind you a little bit of Adam Lambert).

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  • this is how i feel about the chicken dance…like we don’t go together. so the chicken dance got nixed, no matter how many times my mother tried to mention that everyone HAS to have that song played at their wedding. and this is why i am telling the dj there are no requests…well that and the fact she thought ‘pour some sugar on me’ by def leppard would be an appopriate song choice. motHER!!!!!

  • I’m a little puzzled by the idea of having your hair and make-up done being “unfeminist”. How can hiring a professional to do that job for you be any worse than getting a florist, someone to design invites, catering….?

    Surely feminism is about freedom to make choices, not about just being wrapped up in a whole new set of rules?

    Hello, by the way – love your blog ;)

  • Anonymous

    I can’t say I ever thought of this as being some sort of big issue. I simply hired hair/makeup so I didn’t have to bother with it myself.

  • Have to agree with cold*toes. In my book, you can absolutely be a feminist and look feminine and fab! Good for you and you totally nailed it right: it’s all about making yourself feel good and like yourself.

    Here’s what I think makes sense: if make-up makes you feel icky, don’t get yourself all glammed and glittered up for your wedding, or you’ll feel weird and people won’t recognize you. And if you’re a girly-girl who knows all new products by heart, by all means go all out, otherwise you’ll feel naked!

  • Anonymous

    I have to say that I’m also puzzled by the idea of hair and makeup being “unfeminist.” To me one doesn’t have anything to do with the other. I consider myself a feminist and also enjoy wearing makeup EVERY SINGLE DAY (gasp!) I also enjoy wearing frilly dresses sometimes and wearing headbands with freaking bows on them. Being a feminist doesn’t mean that you have to be butch. No one should be made to feel that they are less of a woman or less of a feminist based on silly things like hair and makeup.

    That being said, I really love your blog and often pass on posts to my friend who is getting married in a year. I wish I had discovered your blog before I got married. Most of your posts really help to keep things in persepective.

  • On a logistical note – if you are hiring a pro to make you look like your most fabulous self – just remember it’s the pro’s job to do the most perfect job they can – no matter how long that may take (it’s what their professional cred rests on) – so allow extra time for this in your ‘getting ready’ timeline to avoid feeling rushed.

  • Wow … maybe b/c I have my make-up and hair done so often when I’m working, your dilemma had never occurred to me. Besides, I’m all about knowing my limitations. Make-up, I can handle. My hair needs a professional wrangler.

  • Anonymous

    My question/comment is not about the hair/makeup issue, but it is about your use of the word feminist to describe yourself and the impact, if any, that has on your decision about keeping your name after you wed. I am 30, very recently married, and also recently graduated from med school. I, too, consider myself a feminist, even though it seems that this word has been going out of fashion for the past couple of years. Within the context of my feminism (as well as lots of logistical and other concerns), I will be keeping my own name. Surprisingly, ALL of the women in my med school class who have gotten married since we started together four years ago have changed their names. These are exactly the types of women I would expect to keep their names: independent (financially and otherwise), highly educated women with a professional degree they have worked very hard for. What gives? Is it that they are, on average, 2-4 years younger than I am and thus no longer consider feminism or name-keeping the thing to do? Or is it something else entirely? What is your stance on this issue, Meg? (Sorry to be so off-topic, but that’s what this post made me think of!)

  • I see hairdressers etc like any other professionals. If you usually pay someone to cut your hair, getting them to do it for your wedding seems a logical step to me.

    In fact, I see them much like anyone else involved with the wedding: some things one is good at one does oneself, the things one isn’t or isn’t confident doing, one delegates. To a professional if necessary.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it, I am sure you have plenty else to think about.

  • It’s up to you how you want to look for the wedding. I don’t think wanting to put on makeup makes you any less feminist in your thinking or that getting makeup services somehow changes what you beleive as a strong woman. Also you’re free to not to have makeup professionally done as it’s definitely not a requirement. You’re going to look beautiful regardless.

  • Meg

    We each pick our own things to worry about, my only goal here is to be relatively honest about my thought process.

    I wear makeup everyday too, and don’t consider it a big deal. But, somehow hiring people for an all out glam session before my wedding pushed different feminist buttons with me.

    I’m keeping my name, or rather, we are both keeping our names. I don’t think there is one right choice, but my issue is a little more the opposite… I’m shocked when anyone assumes I’m changing my name, which is much more rare in my social circle.


  • Meg – of course we do. Just trying to offer some reassurance. :)

  • K

    To put another idea into the name change aspect, I think a lot more of us are the products of unmarried/divorced parents. While I swore up and down growing up that I wouldn’t change my name, this is the first chance I had to feel like I had my own real and actual family, all of us with the same name (once we add some kiddos to the mix). No awkward situations with Mom getting called by the wrong name. No cards coming to the Smith Family that feel like a slight delineation. But getting a new, incredibly long and ethnic last name that no one can pronounce has had its own ups and downs.

    So, instead, I just rock two middle names. :)

  • I had an excellent women’s studies prof once who said “Feminism is about embracing your contradictions.” I personally believe I can be a feminist and also like mascara.

    I think people doing what they want, and following their personalities–especially when they consider it in a conscious way, as you are, Meg–tends to be a deeply feminist process. And that’s why it should be equally empowering to keep one’s own name (usually your father’s name) or to take your partner’s name. The point is that we get to choose for ourselves.

  • “It made me feel like myself.”


  • LPC

    Having been for better or worse a feminist for 40 years – I was 12, my teacher was telling us about women’s liberation, it hit home – I understand why the makeup/hair issue raises one’s internal hackles. Women do it. Men don’t. Problem. No good answer in my opinion except the one you have already come to. If you feel like it, go for it.

  • I hear you. For me, there’s a big difference between spending ten minutes doing my own everyday makeup (which certainly isn’t every day–there are many days when I’d rather get ten more minutes of sleep instead…) and spending three hours and I don’t know much money ($50? $100?) on how I look.

    I think it absolutely is a feminist issue–the two things that ping my feminist radar are a) women and not men do this, b) there is a history in our culture of women being reduced to looks only. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s 100% unfeminist to get makeup done–those two things just make me want to take a closer look at what’s going on when a bride feels like looking fabulous is a priority.

    There are certainly people who feel more fabulous when they’ve got makeup on. I am not one of them. I know that on my wedding day, I am going to be happier if I spend three hours stretching, making sure I eat breakfast, kissing my partner, giggling with my girlfriends, and crying with my mom. For me personally, it IS a question of societally-expected looks vs. inner peace, and that is DEFINITELY a feminist issue.

  • MegsDad

    “Can I wear a veil and still be a feminist?!!” What is this, the girl version of “real men don’t eat quiche?” Real men eat what they d**n well please. Feminists wear what makes them feel good.

  • I like you a lot, Meg’s dad.

    And for the record, I know you already said that you won’t have the time and opportunity to do this for your own wedding, but I didn’t hire a pro to do my make-up. I went to the nearby drugstore where they did it for free (and it looked fab). So there is a gray zone in there, one does not necessarily have to pay big bucks to a professional…

  • Anonymous

    So, men don’t wear makeup. Well, there are lots of things men do that women don’t, and vice versa.

    They don’t usually wear dresses either.

    When some of you say “Men don’t do it”, you have unwittingly set men up as the standard to which all humans should live up to.

  • Jelly Belly

    Gosh, if you already wear makeup now, I can’t figure out what the issue is.

    Personally, I would do my own makeup, but that’d because I really really like the way I do it.

    If I felt someone would do a better job, I’d hire them for a special occasion.

  • I have to agree with most of the other posts – there is nothing un-feminist about getting your make up professionally done. Sure if you felt you HAD to and were doing it just because its a social norm. I got mine done because I knew it would look how I wanted it to (me, with a little glam), no stress, no worries, just pretty and fun. Call it lipstick femisism or stiletto, I dont care. The heart of it is having the choice, and its OK to make whichever you want!

  • Meg

    Ok, everyone. I’m allowed to have my own opinons and feelings. I’m in a little bit of a trap here‌ when I’ve talked about wanting to get makeup done in the past, I’ve been deemed a sellout. Now, when I talk about struggling with the issue of, “Hey, I’m a feminist, and I find it a little dicey to pay hundreds of dollars to get my makeup done on my wedding day, but I think I’m going to do it because I like it” (And yup, at costs that much to have someone help you before DAWN in San Francisco) people are telling me that this can’t be a feminist issue. Well, sure it can be.

    We all process our own personal issues on our weddings our own ways. All I do is try to share mine in something of a honest fashion. The point of this post is not feminism or hair and makeup or anything else. It’s about finding and claiming what works for you.

  • LPC

    Meg, you are walking a visible path here. With remarkable grace under pressure I might add. I suppose the modern way to say it is you go girl. More traditional, carry on:).

  • Hannah


    Your feelings and conflict are totally legit. So are everyone else’s (perhaps many of us could phrase things better though so it’s clear that we’re offering our own perspectives on what feminism, makeup, etc mean to us — it varies dramatically!).

    I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet re: hair and makeup. I’m terrible about such things (i’m a daily drip-dry and chapstick girl), and have some discomfort with the idea that women are expected to put so much time and money into their appearance — pressure and expectation not placed on men. On the other hand, I would like to look great on a day when so many eyes, and an expensive camera, will be on me, and I know professional hair and makeup would do that (and I would hate it if after spending money photographer, I looked oily, red, or washed out in all the pics). So I’ll probably do it, because I think it’ll make me feel happier and more confident that day, and happier with the pictures afterwards.

    One thought on feminism and makeup/hair — as much as I sometimes envy guys that they don’t have as much pressure to look gorgeous, I suspect that many wish it was more socially acceptable for them to spend the time and money on their own looks that women often do, especially on a big day like a wedding. I know plenty of ruddy guys with tricky hair who I’m sure would enjoy hiring a professional to make them look more handsome on their wedding day (and who would enjoy being gushed over by their brides, etc), but they generally don’t because they’ll get ribbed and called effeminate. So I guess I’m with folks who say that everyone should be supported in their own choices around these things, with no gendered-pressure either way. Do what makes you feel best!

  • TNM

    Well, let me say off the bat that I wear makeup regularly, and will probably hire professional hair/makeup on my wedding day.

    That said, I think Meg's "feminist" post that questions the expenditure of a large amount of money on beauty is eminently reasonable. You do not have to read "The Beauty Myth" from cover to cover to have some sense of the vast differential between the sexes in terms of the time and MONEY spent on: beauty supplies, grooming (hair removal & waxing, mani/pedi's, hair color/ cuts, eyebrow shaping, tanning, skin treatments), dieting books, plans & products, and plastic surgery (a 9:1 female-male ratio, people!). There are of course men that spend a great deal of time and money on their appearance, but I think that it would be a little shortsighted and unfair to argue that these exceptions are actually the rule. Face it, there is a beauty "industry" in every sense of the word, and 90% of it is focused on us gals. It's reasonable to question whether you want to support it on your wedding day.

    That said (see- here I double-back on myself), I don't think that feminism requires the elimination of all vestiges of traditional femininity – at all. I think it just requires that one consciously sorts through the different beauty/gender standards and practices to see what you find comfortable, affirming, fun, practical (!), etc. As I said, I certainly wear makeup – and heels, and ruffles, and sequins. But I don't know that "femininity" is exactly congruent with the beauty industry. I guess I do worry about paying lots of money – at least without some reflection – to an industry that seems pretty bent on making women feel insecure about how they look. In terms of my wedding, I think that the convenience of a professional and the fun of getting done up w/ my girlfriends will win out in the end. But I certainly recognize there are feminist implications of my decision.

  • My husband got a manicure for our wedding (hand photos, people!). I got a pedicure. Tit for tat, we’re both still feminists.

  • April

    Oh, the first thing I did was immediately hire a hair/makeup person. I’ll have enough goin’ on during the day and don’t want to fret about my lipstick or taming my wild curls. So, yeah – someone else can fuss over my face and coif my mane that day!

    Do what feels right for YOU. Thrilled you found a such a fab hair person! Pray they never move! Mine did and my afro hasn’t been the same since.

  • I struggled over this issue not because I thought it might contradict my feminist viewpoint, but because I worried about which was more practical. Was it more practical to save the money by doing it myself, or more practical to save my nerves on the wedding day and sit back and relax while someone else did the job? In the end I decided it was more practical for me to take some pressure off myself (hell, I get nervous doing my hair and makeup for a date, I can only imagine how nervous I might be before the ceremony). I’m pretty much a girly-girl, so it’s still being me. Plus, it’s not like I indulge in self-pampering all the time. Most likely this will be the only time in my life someone else will apply makeup for me (excluding the sales people at the makeup counters).

  • Stephanie

    For me, the hair/makeup issue was more about what I wanted to spend money on. I didn’t feel like spending over $100 for someone to make my hair not look like mine – a few trials proved it would be difficult for this not to happen. So, a southern friend did for me. Not quite “me” but southern girls can sure make it hold for the night!

    My make up I decided to “invest” in quality makeup I would wear again and just did it as though I would for a formal occasion since I don’t wear any on a regular basis.

    However, the veil and last name (and father walking me down the aisle) were very big feminist decisions that I either knew right away or knew pretty quickly that I would be dispensing of. In fact, every bridal shop in the vicinity got my “gentle” explanation of why I wasn’t wearing a veil.

    That said, I think birdcage veils and mantillas look amazing in photographs, and if they are considered an accessory, just as we do jewelery or even dresses, then more power (and pretty pictures) to you.

  • Meg – don’t worry. You are doing what feels right and true for you and that is great.

    I am not a girl who wears makeup often. There have been a few times when I went to get my make up done for special occasions (usually because I had gift certificates, etc). One time I liked it, several times I did not – simply because I don’t do well with being very made up (especially with foundation. It makes my skin feel weird and I feel fake in it). I prefer the times when I do some minimal makeup myself. I truly would be stressed with someone else doing this and so, I will save myself that.

    My solution – I have booked a makeup consultation to learn a little more about how to do makeup the way I want it. The catch is that I have to spend $50 on product – but, considering that I currently don’t have much nice makeup and I get to keep the stuff, that is ok. So, if anyone out there would feel better doing their own makeup, there are options.

    As far as hair, I will absolutely get someone else to do it! I trust myself to do my hair on a daily basis, but that isn’t saying much in my case. Having someone I trust do this for me will totally take the stress off on the day.

    All the best, ladies!

  • Meg, you had it right. Being a feminist means not giving a fuck.

    p.s. What’s wrong with Def Leppard?

  • Dear Meg; Can I be friends with your dad?

    Love and kisses, Amanda

  • Meg, I feel you–I am embarrassed when I tell my more feminist-y friends that I am paying for this.

    On the other hand, I’m so damn feminist I don’t even know how to do my hair and makeup myself! (JOKE. But seriously, I don’t.)

  • DTI

    I’m a sorority girl, and I read your blog every day. It’s so refreshing and even though I’m not currently planning a wedding (and I’m 25), it’s daily inspiration! Are you implying that it’s a stretch of the imagination that I can enjoy my sorority membership and APW??

  • Meg

    Nope. I’m just being sassy. Carry on.

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    1. I totally get feeling weird about hiring someone to do your hair and make up. Not because caring about your hair and your make-up is un-feminist but because paying someone to do it ‘perfectly for your big day’ seems to be giving into the pressure to look a certain way, a way that only a professional can achieve thus implying that women need professionals to look good. But, I’m all about doing what’s practical and if doing your own hair and make up is going to make you stressed then bloody hell, you pay someone else to do it for you.

    2. I love MegsDad

  • Anonymous

    Everyone chooses what they can live with. S said she won’t be doing the veil, name change or father walking her down the aisle.

    Sometimes what a bride does has nothing to do with her inner convictions. I personally don’t like the father walking the bride down, but would still do it.

    All the logical discussion in the world would not prevent my father from being hurt and mortified if I didn’t. So, I would cave in to preserve family ties.

    In spite of my personal opinion, I’ve heard a lot of men express that it’s a great honor to walk the bride. I know of one stepfather who was so happy and emotional because his stepdaughter wanted him to walk her. It signified to him that he’d done something right as a father.

    So even though many of us don’t like the idea, we are dealing with men who have also grown up with the tradition and take it personally. Sometimes bucking the system is worth it, and sometimes not.

  • I agree that each of us has to choose what works for us.

    I too will be having my dad walk with me. For us, it is not “giving away” and more of a moment for the two of us. My dad and I are tight and that won’t change – again, it is not some kind of exchange, just a moment of father daughter support during the wedding.

    That said, people have to do what feels right for them and if walking with your father feels like it doesn’t fit with who you are or your beliefs then you should not do it.

    Like a lot of people have said, faminism is about choice. Choice to wear makeup, choice to wear a dress, choice to show up in a pant suit, just plain choice without judgement of what “should” be done. In regards to everything, do what feels right for you and own your right to choose.


  • feminism is about choice. you can do whatever you want. also, you should do what makes you happy, not what an ideology dictates. i say, get the hair/makeup done. who cares? gloria steinem isn’t going to call you up and scold you. she got married for goodness sake!

  • Meg

    Oh for goodness sakes everyone, this post isn’t really about feminism (title or no title). It’s about finding your voice, claiming your voice.

  • Meg

    Or to clarify… this post is only about feminism in the sense that East Side mentioned, ie, not giving a f*ck.

  • Cate Subrosa

    Erm, MegsDad, I think I love you.

    And everyone else, read Peony’s comment. Feminism *is* about thinking before you spend $$$ on your appearance, just because it’s your big day. It’s not about *not* doing it, but it is about having properly thought it through, doing it for the right reasons.

    And you, Meg, will be doing it for the right reasons. Not because your face isn’t good enough and you need to live up to some beauty ideal, but because you want to look great (your best self?) and you have other areas of expertise.