They Call It War Paint For A Reason

As a woman who grew up and started her first job in the days of Thatcher, as a host of films highlighting a new wave of feminism exploded in the cinemas, it’s unsurprising that being a female in the workplace back then felt a bit like going into battle.

In the Eighties, making an impression at work meant donning over-sized shoulder pads, trouser suits, big hair and layers of heavy make-up. Now with age, wisdom and the progression of the feminist movement, for me, the only thing I need to pack a punch is a little tube of red lipstick.

Then, the role modelling of woman in power was very much based on stereotypically male traits of competitiveness, aggressiveness and keeping your emotions and nurturing side in check (think Thatcher again). At that time, the message was very much that to get on in a man’s world, you needed to play them at their own macho game.

Films like ‘Working Girl’ and ‘Disclosure’ depicted women in power as devious, manipulative, power hungry and unsupportive of other women.

Make-up was liberally applied to make sure you stood out and could deliver more impact. Further ensuring you weren’t ignored in an environment, which was historically so dominated by men.

It was often referred to as ‘war paint’ then as now with, negative connotations. But for me, there’s nothing wrong with donning a little war paint to denote warrior status

Of course, we’ve learned a lot since the 80s and more people understand the benefits of the different styles of typically female vs male characteristics in the workplace. We’ve toned down the make-up since the Eighties too.

Stereotypically feminine skills are now encouraged rather than dismissed in offices the world over – now, we want bosses and team leaders who show traits such as empathy, emotional intelligence, to be more cooperative, collaborative, communicative and to listen.

Personal interaction over authority is more valued now – so women have a bit of a head start on that. We’re more likely to employ a nurturing leadership style and use power for good.

There’s not the same need to go to war anymore when we go to work – but I still think makeup helps empower us.

For many people lipstick in an insignificant little item, but for me it’s a powerful tool.

Lipstick provides me power through femininity – unlike in the 80s, Thatcherite era when women gained power by aping men.

Increasingly, make up is becoming a feminist issue in the 21st Century, with some hardline fourth wavers saying women shouldn’t do anything to surrender to the patriarchal view of how we should look - that we’re objectifying ourselves for the male gaze.

But lipstick for me is a signature statement, which embraces the strength of my femininity – it’s a punchy, puckerable demonstration of confidence. It’s for my personal empowerment rather than anything to do with men, as is the case for many if not most women choosing to express themselves through make-up.

After all strong, independent women have been wearing make-up for millennia – Queen of the Iceni Boudicca anointed her face with woad to frighten her enemies before wading into battle with the Romans. Cleopatra wore heavy kohl eyeliner and female native American warriors slapped on the war paint in the 19th Century.

Well, lipstick is my modern war paint – and I’m proud to be a 21st Century warrior who wears it to help get through the battles of everyday life.

Listen to Rania on BBC Radio 5 Live’s The Afternoon Edition with Sarah Brett and Nihal Arthanayake, at 1pm, Tuesday 21st November, where she’ll be discussing if make-up can empower women.