What Feminism Means to Me

As someone who identifies as a feminist, I feel the need to define what feminism means for me. The best I can do is explain my beliefs concerning feminism as they currently are, with the knowledge that they will evolve and probably end up differently from what I now believe.

As I type this, my fingernails are painted red, my hair is styled and I am wearing makeup and a push-up bra. Can I still be a feminist? While I agree with Jessica Valenti that everyone can create their own definition of feminism that works for them, according to my personal definition that is only meant to dictate my own brand of feminism, yes. I am still a feminist, even with all the accoutrements of a woman victimized by the patriarchy.

My definition of feminism (for myself only) is this: Embracing traditionally feminine characteristics while simultaneously working to empower and better the lives of other women, whether that empowerment be through example, action or the written word. My belief is that “femininity” (as defined by our patriarchal culture) is a powerful tool for advancing the cause of feminism. Sexists and misogynists need to see that a stereotypical woman can also be a feminist. In this way, femininity and feminism would no longer seem to be at odds with each other.

My personal experience being one such feminine feminist has been that I come off as a strong woman, not just a strong person. I think that identifying as a strong woman is imperative to combat sexism, an issue that directly concerns gender. Furthermore, the stereotype of the “butch,” “dyke-y” feminist only encourages disdain from others, which does feminist ideology itself a great disservice. Thus, the gender I perform is integral to my personal definition of feminism.

Because you’re [NOT] worth it: The dirty little secret cosmetics companies are hiding

It all started with watching the documentary America the Beautiful. Expecting to see a true, though predictable portrait of America as the land of unrealistic body images and eating disorders, I found myself instead struck by the utter insanity that is the American cosmetics industry. In a nutshell: The European Union has banned 450 commonly used cosmetics ingredients because of health risks. The US has only banned six. There has GOT to be something wrong here, I thought, with a discrepancy that enormous.

   American women are not only the most body-conscious in the world, but we are also the most at-risk from harmful ingredients in cosmetics, 60% of which are directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin.

   I did my own investigation of the contents of my own collection of cosmetics. I had never looked at the ingredients in my makeup before, and was surprised that I actually had to look the ingredients up online for some of the items. The type was nearly invisible on some of the containers, and some descriptions were downright misleading. It should not have to take a five to ten minute internet search to find the ingredients of something I absorb into my body. 
   Looking at the ingredients, I knew, was an incomplete resource, because cosmetic companies don’t have to list ingredients considered “trade secrets,”–which leaves a gaping loophole for cosmetic companies to use cheap, harmful ingredients in their products. Nevertheless, I did very basic research, and here are some of the things I found:
   Eyeshadow: Every one of my eyeshadows (brands like Maybelline, Too Faced, and Clinique) listed Talc as the main ingredient. If Talc is inhaled or ingested at all, it is a highly harmful carcinogen, and has been directly linked to ovarian cancer.
   Foundation: My foundation, Too Faced “Magic Wand” Illuminating Foundation/Cashmere Finish (“achieve complexion perfection from one wave of a wand!”) is filled with parabens. Parabens are artificial preservatives that I found in almost every skincare product I own. They have been proven to enter the bloodstream through skin absorption, and they have been consistently linked to breast cancer. Parabens are also toxic for the reproductive system. Keep in mind, the skin absorbs 60% of what is applied to it.
   Powder: My powder (directions: smooth all over face…starting from center and blending outwards) Neutrogena Mineral Sheers in Classic Ivory also has parabens in it. Fortunately no talc, though. Mica, the main ingredient, is not absorbed onto the skin and is therefore not a carcinogen. Overall my Neutrogena minerally makeup was beginning to look less shady than others, until I found that the third ingredient, zinc stearate, was not only a carcinogen, but a carcinogen that had appeared on several citizen-filed petitions for causing medical problems as a carcinogen.
   Blush: Whoa mama! My Nars blush (shade: “Deep Throat”) had several carcinogens, such as talc, zinc stearate, manganese, a boatload of parabens, and lanolin. Lanolin is fine on its own, but cosmetic-grade lanolin is often contaminated with carcinogenic pesticides such as DDT, dieldrin, and lindane, in addition to other neurotoxic pesticides.
   Lipstick/Balm: Clinique is the best lipstick brand, since they are unscented, and therefore contain no phthalates (carcinogens used in perfume and nail polish, among other things). However, Clinique still uses aluminum in some shades, as well as petrochemicals and sunscreens containing zinc oxide. Unfortunately, every other lipstick and lip balm I own contained parabens upon parabens upon parabens.  And we EAT lipstick and lip balm.
   Not only are most lip products chock full of parabens and harmful sunscreens, there are also copious amounts of lead in many top lipstick brands. “Lipstick is a product intended for topical use, and is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities,” said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek in September. “FDA does not consider the lead levels that it found in lipsticks to be a safety concern.” The FDA blatantly ignored the simple fact that women ingest lipstick through absorption and eating. Unless it is wiped off, lipstick is ingested into the body. And yet, dangerous levels of lead are “not a concern.”
   According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the average level of lead found in the lipsticks — 1.7 parts per million — is more than 10 times higher than the standard imposed on candy.
   These carcinogens and chemicals are like ticking time bombs. They don’t necessarily have an immediate effect, but constant intake of small doses builds up in the body. I will never believe that the chemical build up from cosmetics doesn’t have a detrimental effect.
   The crazy thing is, in Europe, cosmetic ingredients are tested BEFORE consumers can get to them. Here, however, the FDA only tests cosmetic ingredients AFTER they have harmed someone. In other words, the big cosmetic companies’ ability to earn a profit is prioritized above the safety of the women they manipulate. Cosmetics are the least regulated product under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.  Motivated by a media-catalyzed sense of inadequacy, American women pay to have their bodies contaminated by harmful chemicals and carcinogens. The worst part is, they don’t even know it, and as far as the US government is concerned, it doesn’t matter.
   As I looked at my cosmetics strewn on the floor, I felt tricked. I also felt like my government had failed me…which it has.
   To the girls out there: Check your cosmetics for harmful ingredients, such as parabens, talc, zinc stearate, etc. In the meantime, there are plenty of options for paraben-free makeup. Don’t be fooled by brands like The Body Shop that claim to be “all-natural” or high-end brands like Chanel. Their products are just as filled with the bad stuff as cheaper drugstore  brands, like Revlon.
Some tips:
1. Wear less makeup. We need to stop the perfection obsession, anyway.
2. Use perfume oil instead of phthalate-loaded perfume, or spray perfume on clothing and not directly on the skin.
3. Go out right now and buy Burt’s Bee’s or Alba lip balms, so you can stop eating carcinogens.
Brands that are safe-ish: Urban Decay, Clinique (for unscented products free of phthalates)
Brands that are safe: Alba, Burt’s Bee’s, Zuzu, Dr. Hauschka
If anyone has any suggestions for safe cosmetic brands, I’d love to receive them and update this post!
For more information:
http://thegreenbeautyguide.com/ (updates about cosmetic safety)
http://www.safecosmetics.org/ (for lists of harmful ingredients, as well as an index of safe cosmetic brands)


Dear future readership,

Today is the maiden voyage of my blog, and because this is the first post I ever write, I want to discuss the mission of this blog.

Many women today think that, in order to be taken seriously, they must act/think/dress like men. I beg to differ! I propose that we embrace our femininity and all the things that make us so! Because I think you can be serious, smart and a girlie girl, I discuss politics, my obsession, as well as my experience with makeup, the dermatologist, hair care, clothes- whatever fits my mood. “Hey Manda!” is the Elle Woods of weblogs!

Today’s political topic is my frustration with conservatives in general. I am tired of hearing them extoll the same 30-year-old policies that simply don’t fit today’s society anymore! For example, the war in Iraq- it isn’t financially or socially responsible to spend $15 billion a month sending young men and women to die for a nonexistent cause. They say that we liberals are focusing on the past when we talk about the fact that getting into this war was a mistake. I disagree, because each time a life is lost, it calls to question the purpose for which they died. The nonexistent cause is in the present, and we can’t just brush it aside. Furthermore, we don’t have enough manpower to continue this war for an infinite number of years- a draft would have to be implemented. I don’t know about you, but the idea of my guy friends or a future boyfriend or my brother being sent to die for THIS war makes me sick. This is our generation that will fight this war if we elect John McCain, just as our generation will be paying off the war debt.

Girlie Stuff: What you should buy at the drugstore vs. department store:

Drugstore: mascara, because it only lasts for three months and then it starts to clump. Don’t spend a ton of money on it! By far the best mascara I’ve ever had (and I’ve owned up to seven mascaras at once) is Covergirl Lash Exact. Lipgloss is generally safe to buy at the drugstore, as is eyeliner. Translucent powder is ok here too.

Department store: foundation/concealer, because you NEED to try them on to make sure they match your skin perfectly. 90% of what’s out there is pink-toned, but only about 10% of people actually have pink-toned skin. Also, Clinique makes the best eye shadow, and their Superbalm lipgloss is the least sticky lipgloss I’ve ever tried!

Published in: on April 11, 2008 at 1:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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