Emmy Rossum has ‘been thinking about how beauty and feminism can coexist’

For the title to this story, I really wanted to use Emmy Rossum’s quote “there seems to be something inherently at odds about beauty and feminism.” Since she turned it around at the end and concluded that no, there isn’t anything contradictory in loving makeup and beauty and being a feminist I decided to use one of her milder quotes on the topic. US Magazine presents it without context and it sounds rather… short-sighted to even pose the question I’ll say.

Emmy is the new face of Burt’s Bees makeup’s “I am not synthetic” campaign. She’s been talking about beauty, feminism and natural beauty in particular, since Burt’s Bees is known for being an all natural line that is not tested on animals. She uses their products on her Showtime show, Shameless, where her character Fiona is often bare-faced and in a state of disarray. Emmy says that Burt’s Bees helps showcase women’s “authentic” beauty and that their campaigns “feature real women.”

“I’ve been using Burt’s Bees products on Shameless for a long time,” Rossum tells PeopleStyle exclusively of her partnership. “Fiona has a very natural look. The Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm is all we use on Fiona, and their eyeliner as well. So I was very excited to get involved with the campaign. The products themselves are made with natural ingredients and not tested on animals and that really hit home on a number of levels for me.”

“I think in the last year or so, probably closer to the election, women felt more fired up than ever. I feel like this is a second wave of women’s liberation, feeling empowered to be yourself, speak your mind, be passionate about the things you believe in and stand up for what you believe in. So this campaign is not just about being synthetic, it’s the idea of being a real woman,” she says, adding, “The visuals of the campaign feature real women who are embracing their authentic beauty. They are not feeling pressure to conform to a homogenized or overly artificial idea of beauty and they’re kind of just bringing out their natural beauty.”

“My husband’s favorite thing about my face is the blue vein under my eye, so I don’t often wear under eye concealer in my everyday life because he likes to be able to see my actual face,” she shares. “So I think it’s the idea of being true to yourself and being the best version of yourself and not the best version of somebody else.” – People Style


The actress teamed up with Burt’s Bees for their #NotSynethetic [sic] campaign, and celebrated at the Eventi Hotel on Wednesday, October 25, where her minimalist makeup and dewy skin made her vivid lipstick pop. She also chatted about her views on playing with beauty products and how it plays into her feelings of self-worth.

Rossum explained that just because you love makeup doesn’t mean you can’t be a feminist. “I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty and feminism and how the two can coexist because on the surface there seems to be something inherently at odds about beauty and feminist but really when you think about it, self care — the practice of self care — is human and it’s an animal instinct,” she told the crowd. “We want to look and feel our best.” – US Magazine

[From People Style and US Magazine]

I adore Emmy, she’s one of my favorite celebrities and I love to see what she wears to events and how she’s styled. She was a great choice for this campaign as there’s something so genuine about her. That said, I’m disappointed that she even brought up the issue of feminism and makeup/beauty somehow being incompatible. (To be fair to her, the entire conversation may have been scripted by a marketing team. It’s like they’re trying to co-opt activism to sell products, and we’ve seen how that works out.) That discussion should have been retired long ago, but now is the time that we’re revisiting a lot of issues that many of us considered cut and dried. Of course women can love hair, makeup and fashion and still be feminists. Why even pose that question? Also, this language around “real” women needs to be reframed. How about saying that the Burt’s Bees campaign uses women from all walks of life who are not models? Models are real women too, and actresses who wear couture, dress sexy and get full MAC makeovers are still real women and feminists. You can wear fake eyelashes and a full face of makeup and still be a real, non-synthetic person. There is no one way for a real woman to look.

Morning in the big apple with @burtsbees!!! #notsynthetic

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49 Responses to “Emmy Rossum has ‘been thinking about how beauty and feminism can coexist’”

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  1. Handwoven says:

    Ughhhh how long have we been doing this.

    Unless your lipstick is made from the tears and blood of oppressed women, and your eyeshadow fiercely works to deny women equals rights, “beauty” and “feminism” are in no way opposing.

    Steinem had to deal with women saying she was too pretty to be a feminist. So did Naomi Wolf. Have we not moved on at all?

  2. HadToChangeMyName says:

    I don’t see it as “beauty” or makeup being at odds with feminism, but the impossible beauty standards (i.e. thigh gaps, corsets, fake lips, etc.). You can be beautiful and/or want to enhance yourself for your own self, but when it migrates into doing it for the male gaze or other’s approval, then it’s no longer feminism. My two cents.

    • Anilehcim says:

      I totally agree, but unfortunately there are a lot of women who don’t. Mayim Bialik is a great example of a woman who shames other women for caring about their appearance and victim blames attractive women who’ve been sexually assaulted. There is an unfortunate amount of women who write off attractive women or women who put a lot of effort into their appearance as unintelligent or even “fake.” It’s one of the worst issues that women have with one another, in my opinion.

  3. Bettyrose says:

    I wish men still wore makeup. I miss the 80s.

  4. littlemissnaughty says:

    I feel like this is something most women understand. It’s men who still think that makeup equals trying to appeal to men, therefore you’re not a feminist. That’s where lovely sentiments like “Oh you don’t even need it, why do you wear makeup?” come from. Dude, I know I don’t need it. You also don’t need to get professional haircuts, you could just buzz it all off. Why don’t you do that? Because we like to look good and for most of us, that involves a bit of effort.

    She seems nice. I don’t understand why “synthetic” gets such a bad rep though.

    • Sixer says:

      Quite. I barely bother to brush my hair, let alone wear make-up. I can’t remember the last time I wore a dress or a skirt and I don’t even own a pair of shoes with heels.

      This is completely irrelevant to whether or not I am a feminist. And I’m pretty sure I don’t know any women who think otherwise.

    • slowsnow says:

      Apparently Zadie Smith got a lot of sh*t for cutting her daughter’s make-up time. But I see her point.She said that her son put on a T-Shirt and got out whereas her daughter was spending 45 mns in the morning to look “appealing”.

      At that age when our kids are monkeying society’s expectations, it’s worrisome that we’re still here and that that’s a lot of girls learn first (my daughter went through a similar phase and she wore make-up to “hide her flaws”, she had to wake up at 5h45 to leave home at 7h30 ). My sons, in comparison, either wear make-up because it’s fun or don’t at all.

      We’re still in a society that makes women feel uncomfortable the way they look because that’s what they’re judged on and the minute they attain puberty they have to second-guess every choice they make regarding that. Young men don’t spend a lot of time musing upon their goatees and fades.

      I agree that it’s stupid idea, completely. But I also see that The Bee’s Knees or whatever the brand is is cashing in on that paradox and perpetuating this distance we have from just simply having fun with make-up if it’s our thing, whether we’re a girl or a boy. Frankly this notion of revealing your inner beauty is so silly. Either it’s make-up or it’s not.

      • Isa says:

        What’s funny to me about assuming make up is for the male gaze is that the general consensus seems to be that men like a more natural look. So when I wear a crap ton of make up it’s assumed that I’m doing it to look attractive to men that (generally speaking) prefer less.
        I know my husband prefers a more natural look, but he also knows that I love make up. One of my Christmas gifts was a lipstick set in very unnatural colors.
        I get compliments on my make up for work about how I only use make up to enhance my natural beauty, and putting down women that wear “gaudy” make up. What they don’t realize is that I really love dramatic make up. Tonight I contoured my face, wore bright eyeshadow, and my highlight was popping. 💁🏻
        If I show up in public with bare faced people ask me if I’m sick or tired. No, that’s just my face, thanks.
        Idk where I’m going with this regarding feminism. I guess I just feel very pigeonholed regarding what I enjoy vs what society expects of me.

  5. A Croatian says:

    I would believe her in this campaign have I not seen this year’s roundtable interview with her. She came off as … really privileged, pushy and ignorant.

  6. HH says:

    Ugh! I can’t believe we’re still here in 2017. Having to declare that being a feminist doesn’t mean that you hate men and that you still enjoy makeup/beauty products. No shade at Emmy, just frustration in general.

    Where’s my flying car? Or a hologram phone? Lol

  7. DiligentDiva says:

    As much as I do love makeup (and trust me I do.) I get the overall point she’s making. It’s a chicken and the egg in my opinion. Their’s no right answer. I think it’s stupid to just write off her point. Their is an issue with feminism and makeup.
    Yes, you can love and wear makeup, at the same time we need to acknowledge some truths about it. We don’t have a choice in wearing it really. Sure you can choose not to but studies have shown if a woman doesn’t wear makeup or do up her hair she is less likely to get a job. Therefore it really doesn’t matter if an individual person likes makeup, if you don’t have a real choice in wearing something you can’t claim it’s a non-problematic issue.
    Now this isn’t to say you can’t wear it, but we do acknowledge what is truth. Their can be a “reclaiming” of makeup but I’m always iffy when groups try to reclaim something. Until we have a society where women can freely choose to wear or not wear makeup we can’t just write these statements off.
    It’s similar to marriage and feminism in my opinion. Yes you can get married (And in the past 30 years or so I feel the issue has adapted) but we need to acknowledging that feminism and marriage don’t go hand in hand, especially because in the US at least it was still legal to rape your wife in the 1990s, and in general husbands who rape their wives get lesser sentences and people still don’t believe a man can rape his wife. There are more issues then that with marriage but it’s not feminist to embrace the systems that have been oppressive is my overall point.
    But I understand how this issue can go either way with some folks.

    • Lyka says:

      I think your points are very reasonable re makeup! I also think that there are so many historical taboos and mores wrapped around our own bodies, that it’s understandable for self-possessed and/or socially conscious woman to want to shrug off that weight in their day to day life. Plus, it’s natural for all humans to be drawn to self-adornment. I mean, there are books and books about this stuff so I’ll just wholeheartedly agree with your point that there are more layers to the concept of “beauty and feminism” than can be dealt with by proclamations of “That’s not an issue!”

    • Wren33 says:

      I agree. Many women are feminists and do wear make-up. I don’t think it is something to berate yourself of other women over either way. But when we choose our choice – whether it is to wear makeup, or wear a head scarf, or consume porn, or be chaste, or shave our legs, or decide an*l is awesome, it is very difficult to divorce those choices from societal context. Just as it is for men I am sure. I think it is worth examining why women choose to make certain choices, but it is very difficult to do so without expressly or implicitly passing judgement.

      I try to explain it to my young daughter that sometimes I wear makeup and fancy clothes because it is fun to be sparkly. But I don’t every day because it is nice to be comfortable too.

      • QueenB says:

        “it is very difficult to divorce those choices from societal context.”
        Excatly. Thats why I have such problems with choice feminism which basically is always “Oh a woman is doing exactly what our good old patriarchy wants her to do? Well, its her choice” Choices arent made in a vacuum and are influced by the system and the people around us.

      • detritus says:

        QueebB, I have issues with that specific brand of feminism as well, for the exact reasons you stated.
        I understand the need for it, but it seems to support some very under developed ideas and encourage conformity without thought.

        Like WHY do you enjoy doing these things?

        And at the same time, who am I to judge what is true for someone else and what isn’t.

    • slowsnow says:

      Completely agree with all the point here. Also, as I said above, it’s irritating to me to see a brand cashing in on these paradoxes, claiming to reveal inner, non synthetic beauty.
      Sometimes I feel we are trapped in these situations because as you said, a woman who doesn’t wear make-up is less likely to get a job but if a woman wears a lot of make-up it’s the same. There is an implicit idea that make-up is there to make you look appealing and not for you to have fun. I am sure that if you do a study with diferent kinds of make-up, the less colourful and fun is going to make you get that job and not the funky coulourful liner and metallic lipstick.

  8. Millenial says:

    I kind of get what she means. Of course, lots of people *say* you can like makeup, clothes, etc… and still be a feminist, but in my experience there is a low-key shunning/shaming in some supposedly feminist circles if you wear a lot of makeup, dye your hair, dress up etc…so I think it depends on your social circle.

  9. QueenB says:

    Realistically beauty and feminism are at odds and not compatible. Beauty puts you on a higher level based on biological factors compared to others who dont have it. You make more money, you got lower jail sentences, people think better of you. The make up discussion is not really helpful as some people will always be better looking. You can talk about the pressure for women but even if that disappears again some peopel will have an advantage.

    As long as beauty is an unfair advantage I dont see how it ever could be compatible with a movement striving for equality.

    I value looks very much but I am just being honest here, beauty and feminism cant really go hand in hand.

    • MrsBump says:

      That’s an interesting point, but then again do all humans become equal once beauty is taken out of loop? What about intelligence or athletic prowess? Both are attributes that can be genetically inherited, are they also incompatible with feminism if they help some women earn more than someone less able?
      I think beauty is an advantage like any other, and benefits both men and women. Male grooming is a booming industry yet nobody is questioning whether male beauty is incompatible with men’s rights.

      • QueenB says:

        “I think beauty is an advantage like any other, and benefits both men and women.”
        But is this the kind of feminism you are aiming for? If it benefits both men and women its alright? Half of all billionaires women while the rest has to scrape by? Half of congress women but keeps on serving corporations above citizens?

        Like I am saying: I do not know a solution but having an advantage purely from the way you were born is not compatible. I mean if its cool for good looking men and women to earn more why would it be bad if men earned more than women? Thats the same point.

      • Ferngully says:

        There can and never will be true equality- unless you want a society of robots. i’m all for equality under the law but there will always be advantages to being more beautiful, more intelligent, etc. It’s that way in the animal kingdom and in every single society. Even the more egalitarian tribes/societies have some kind of hierarchy; whether it be based on age, looks, intelligence, etc. I have no problem with it.

    • slowsnow says:

      @QueenB
      Wouldn’t you be associating equality in rights and equality in quality? I am so glad that we’re all different in quality. And beauty is such a flexible notion. Apart from some exceptions, we’re all average but, thank the lord, different. I am much more cynical, I think people intrinsically look for normality and pliability.
      The point you make about beauty is not valid in all contexts it seems to me. If you apply to a job as a receptionist or saleswoman yes, you’re more likely to be judged on looks. But in other contexts, women’s beauty is associated with stupidity and you’re less likely to be taken seriously and getting that job. Many women have explained this here on CB.
      Make-up is different. It’s like that blonde dye job. It makes you look acceptable, pliable in society’s eyes and adherent to a patriarchal system we have so ingrained in us, men and women alike.

    • detritus says:

      I think for women it goes beyond biology to a certain point, as well.

      It becomes a game of conforming to the cultural ideal. I’m ‘hotter’ when I wear no makeup makeup, when my hair is blown out and styled, when i wear heels and jewelry and a dress. Not by my standards, but by society’s as a whole.

      Sort of like how you will have men who think a tanned blonde with blue eyes is beautiful, especially in full face, when she’s ok? Same girl sans makeup and its a different story, but there is a certain value of beauty placed on conforming to a norm.

  10. Starryfish says:

    The only way the two could be conceived as being at odds would be if you assume that an interest in beauty and makeup etc. stems from a place of self loathing or degradation, rather than being about creativity & self expression. There are a lot reasons that the beauty industry is problematic, but it is no more inherently anti-feminist than acting is.

  11. JA says:

    I’m a feminist and yesterday I bought a bunch of makeup to try to do something new for an upcoming wedding. I’m a feminist and this morning I made my husband breakfast and prepped lunch for us both. I’m a feminist and I like to dress up and look “sexy” sometimes. I do all these things and yet I’m still a feminist because I believe in equal rights, equal pay and equality in all sense of the word for all sexes. God damn how hard is it to understand this??

    • Rose says:

      Thank you. Same here, I make breakfast and a packed lunch for me and my husband every work-day morning and I’m still a feminist! I got married and I’m still a feminist. I wear make up daily because frankly i look anaemic and tired if I don’t

  12. Harryg says:

    She needed to “think” that? There’s nothing to think!

  13. dumbledork says:

    I get what she’s trying to say. I am a feminist, trying to raise two little feminists, and I don’t think I lose my feminist card because I get a lady boner when I step into a Sephora.

  14. Mary says:

    Cut and dried for many but not for all. Not all of us were born into a family or culture with this mindset, and so not all of us come to understand that beauty and feminism are at not odds. How could some of us, when misogyny is so internalized it takes experience, education, and time to understand that they are not. So much discussion about intersectionality re race but what about class? Or cultural and educational access limits due to geographical location? If you think the internet is available for all in the U.S., then you aren’t considering location, or socioeconomic status, or generational differences. Not everyone gains a feminist awareness at the same time. Not everyone gains it.
    Why pose the question? Because not all of us have the advantage or privilege of understanding it and are unlikely to if our own personal experience is dismissed and invisible by the majority. The question should be posed for those who don’t yet have the awareness.

  15. Svea says:

    All the women I know are feminists. Many, but not all, are professionals. Some are married and mothers, others are not. We are feminists because we expect to be treated with respect and receive equal pay/equal treatment to men and to be free in our choices. We ALL like to look good and present a well-groomed look to the world. This conversation is idiotic and smacks of a significant lack of education or self-education. Talk to your grandmothers about what things used to be like, talk to your mothers about what they have faced. Then you will be a feminist.

  16. Anilehcim says:

    There is a huge issue with feminism and beauty… because women are often shamed and unfairly judged and written off if they’re beautiful or make an effort in their appearance.

    The biggest offenders in this area, shaming women for caring about their appearance, are OTHER WOMEN. Women are so much more likely to say something like “UGH did you see what she was wearing? What a slut” “She had no much makeup on, she looked like a clown whore” “Why does she have on makeup just to go to the store?” “what’s with that hair? who is she trying to impress?” “that skirt was so short”…. I’ve even personally been told “you don’t look like a bookworm” — Men do it also, don’t get me wrong, but in my experience women are the biggest offenders with this.

    One of my best friends is one of the most amazing people; she’s intelligent, funny, and super kind– I swear, people gravitate to her everywhere she goes, and she is a volunteer in Malawi with the Peace Corps. She also happens to be gorgeous… and I’ve seen SO many women randomly react terribly to her for no reason whatsoever because of what she looks like. So commenters here who are trying to downplay this like it’s no issue are out of touch because it happens to women ALL the time.

    There is a massive amount of women who have a serious problem with other women who make a choice to wear makeup every day, or choose to wear a pushup bra, or like to dress up just for the hell of it. There’s always some sort of implication that women who put a lot effort into their appearance care a tremendous amount about attracting men… and it’s often a misconception. Look at Mayim Bialik who has never shied away from all but actually saying that women who care a lot about their appearance are dumb or less intelligent. It’s a really gross thing that happens ALL the time between women.

  17. adastraperaspera says:

    Now that Burt’s Bees is a subsidiary of Clorox, I can’t help feeling disillusioned about their products–despite the fact their marketing insists everything is still produced with “natural” ingredients. As a beekeeper, I always liked knowing (back in the 80s/90s) that Burt’s Bees was the real deal.

    P.S. Tom’s of Maine belongs to Colgate-Palmolive now. Sob.

  18. Leonz says:

    that mascara does nothing. I guess a natural look is good to some but in my opinion, the whole point of mascara is to have big beautiful long lashes….

  19. Veronica says:

    They can coexist when women stop being predominantly valued and characterized by their looks, simple as that. You address and reconcile misogyny within culture, and you don’t have to worry about all of that. Women will stop feeling pressured to wear makeup to look “better” if they don’t want to, which leaves it for women who WANT to wear it for whatever damn reason they do.

  20. Erin says:

    any feminist cred she had disappears when she says flat out that she bases her makeup choices on what her husband likes. Nope!

    • Veronica says:

      I don’t consider that necessarily anti-feminist. Her husband is her partner and somebody she wants to feel attractive to and feel attracted by in return. It’s the opinion of somebody she trusts and wants to please. As long as that desire is reciprocated in other ways on his side, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s the lack of mutual accord and respect that makes it problematic, ala Gwen Stefani and her Gavin Rossdale.

    • magnoliarose says:

      aIt isn’t anti-feminist to do kind things for your husband or to want him to find you sexy and appealing. I like when my husband wears specific shirts or wears his hair a certain way. That is more about being mates and connection. If he isn’t forcing her, but she likes his response, so she does it without betraying herself. Feminism should not mean men are evil oppressors all the time! The culture of misogyny defines what a “real” man is, and it is toxic and bullying to women and men they perceive as “weak.” It causes confusion and angst between the sexes in intimate relationships between reasonable people.
      We have to be careful not to fight that fight continually in a healthy balanced relationship instead of growing together around the issue of feminism. My husband and I are examining these issues together, and it has deepened our bond because we are becoming much more respectful and less reactionary.

  21. Sandy says:

    I see a lot of comments about women feeling put down as feminists for being into makeup, cloths, and their looks. Which of course sucks, but on the opposite side, many of us women who don’t conform to typical feminine behavior and characteristics are often denigrated as women, as well. If you don’t conform, you are often looked at as not fully a true women or given the same opportunities as more gender typical women. Their is a crappy flip side to every coin, especially for women.

  22. unmade_bed says:

    To have a productive discussion as to how beauty and feminism can coexist, we first have to agree as to what feminism actually is. If you believe that feminism rejects “the beauty myth,” as it has been sold to us, then conventional beauty and feminism can not coexist. If you believe that feminism empowers women to use their objectification for their own gain, then beauty and feminism go hand in hand.

  23. Alexis says:

    Knowing in which different ways you can apply make-up and all of the things you can do with make-up is also considered an art form. I do not understand this….why is it even being discussed? Some women like to completely do there face up with make-up, wear heels, etc. and some do not. In what universe does that have to do with feminism?

    • Kitten says:

      Did you read all the comments? I think there were some extremely interesting and valid arguments made on both sides. I’ve always been on the side that they can co-exist no question but some of the commenters here offered some insight on why that might not be so.

      Encourage you to scroll up and read through. Interesting stuff.

  24. Juju says:

    Who is the target audience for the campaign? If it’s young girls who are new to identifying as feminists and exploring what that means, this might be a valid approach. This page seems to have relatively enlightened readers, but we may not be the target audience.

  25. Ann Valor says:

    If you wear makeup, you’re definitely synthetic. The point is that it doesn’t matter. Woman, man, trans, confused, any color, any nationality, any persuasion: Do no harm. Everything else is details. But makeup is the definition of “synthetic.” Don’t be an asshole. I wear makeup because I f*cking* like it. Case closed. I’m synthetic. I don’t care.

  26. Sasha says:

    The sad and ironic part is that all of this is still a campaign to get women to spend their money. They want to look like Emmy. Whether they’re shilling ‘natural’ or ‘vamp’ or whatever, it’s still targeting women’s insecurities in a bid to part them with their money. I think beauty campaigns and feminism are fundamentally incompatible actually.