In a modern culture where the pursuit of authenticity is king (or queen), femininity has, troublingly, come to be linked with superficiality and insincerity – the persistence of the “not like other girls” trope in pop culture is a sad testament to that. By extension, glamour – whose pleasures are nevertheless acknowledged – is frequently characterised as illusory and deceitful.
Calling into question the authenticity of a woman’s character on the basis of her chosen appearance, as people sometimes do when they mock a woman for excessive or extravagant makeup, is first and foremost a demonstration of power. In Pretentiousness: Why It Matters, journalist Dan Fox argues that to accuse someone of misrepresentation or falsehood “is a refusal of permission for that person to construct their own identity, a process that may well be true to how they see themselves”.
The discomfort that segments of society still express with artifice and adornment – particularly when it comes to women – thus lies in its revelation of the contrived and malleable nature of identity. Such disruptive play and self-invention is, to borrow a phrase from poet and Surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire, “not an art of imitation” or adherence to pre-arranged narratives and possibilities, “but an art of imagination”.
In much the same way that the visionaries of the avant-garde waged stylistic battles against the establishment for the right to capture life and reality however they saw fit, women continue to exercise their growing agency by resisting the constraints to which they have long been subject, and discovering new ways to be in the process.