The politics of women’s appearance is a painful tug of war between the meanings women intend to convey (which are as varied as the tiles of a mosaic) and those imposed on them by society, often by men who cannot countenance a symbolic universe in which women’s expression does not exist solely for male consumption. 

The obvious example is the well-meaning man who, thinking he is being affirming, tells us that we need not wear makeup on his account because we’re beautiful just the way we are. It sounds lovely until you realize that this presumes we wear any amount of makeup for his benefit, or to persuade men in general that we are beautiful.


To see a woman with a lot of tattoos, a lot of non-ear piercings, a non-traditional hairstyle and/or hair dye is to see a woman who is making her ownership of her body plain as day to anyone who looks at her. Note, this is very often not the intentional “political statement” most wish to make. Most simply like dressing this way, after all. They do it for themselves. But some men insist on reading it as a political middle finger flipped in their direction.

–Katherine Cross dresses for herself.