“He put all my lipsticks ‘out’ in a dirty ashtray, like they were cigarettes.”
An online search using the words ‘makeup’ and ‘domestic violence’ will return pages of results discussing how makeup is used to hide bruises. This doesn’t tell the whole story, not even close. In the context of domestic violence, the idea that makeup is useful only to cover signs of physical abuse is outdated, one-dimensional and dangerous. For victims of domestic violence, makeup is much more than a concealer. It can be the perpetrator’s sword, and the victim’s shield.
This focus on hiding bruises is deeply problematic, because it obscures the role makeup plays in perpetrating non-physical forms of abuse. This is classic misdirection, a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another. Domestic violence has quietly grown into a national health epidemic, in large part because of misdirection.
The truth is that makeup is often used as a weapon to disempower victims. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Makeup is personal. Makeup is social. Makeup is expensive. Perhaps most importantly, makeup can be empowering. Something this important to a victim becomes leverage in an abusive relationship.
After working on more than 1,000 restraining order cases, I’ve listened to countless clients recall stories involving abuse and their makeup. Rarely do they involve physical violence.
“I came home and all my makeup was in the toilet. Then I had to clean it up.”
Financial Abuse: The destruction of makeup is a sneaky form financial abuse. Makeup is expensive and victims must find a way to replace it, often draining financial resources or creating debt to do so. Over time, the impact can be significant. Any reduction in financial flexibility creates financial dependence on the perpetrator. The more reliant she is, the harder it is to leave. Less money means fewer options.
“Even if I wore a light makeup, he’d call me a slut. So I just stopped. Then he told me I was ugly.”
Power And Control: Controlling what a person looks like on the outside can be devastating to who they are on the inside. This is a malicious form of power and control that targets a victim’s self-esteem. Ironically, using makeup to cover the evidence of abuse is one of the few times it’s allowed.
“I was minutes away from meeting my client in court when she called to tell me I wouldn’t recognize her. She excitedly told me she was wearing makeup and had her game face on.” Recalls Maggie Diaz, Legal Manager at Laura’s House. “She certainly looked different, but it wasn’t just the makeup. She had reclaimed a part of herself, it filled her with confidence and you could see it. No matter what happened, he couldn’t take that from her again.”
“I used to put a little makeup on in the car after I left for work and take it off before I got home. My hands would shake at the thought of him catching me.”
Stalking: Domestic violence victims often live in a constant state of fear and anxiety from being stalked by a current or former intimate partner. Stalking is frequently motivated by the need to confirm the victim isn’t being “unfaithful.”
To an abusive partner, wearing makeup creates suspicion. It signals the victim wants attention from others or is cheating. My clients are careful to monitor their social media accounts for anything that might trigger an abusive incident. A photo with too much makeup can have consequences.
“It got to the point where I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup anymore, so I just stopped going out. I stopped posting to Instagram and Snapchat. It was like I didn’t exist.”
Isolation: Efforts to isolate victims are extremely common in abusive relationships. It makes them an easier target. An isolated victim is less likely to leave and easier to control. The denial of makeup is particularly effective in this regard. Our clients lose the resolve to socialize, go out or post to social media. When that happens, the positive voices of friends and family are silenced.
Therapist Amanda Thoreson witnesses this first hand, “My clients consistently report feeling isolated not only from family and friends, but from the rest of the world. With makeup, these women are simply trying to hold on to one of the few things they have control over. When it’s taken away, hopelessness takes over.”
By highlighting the intersection of makeup and domestic violence, subtle signs of abuse come into focus. Then we can start a dialogue that is immune from domestic violence misdirection. Whatever your views on makeup and a woman’s self-esteem, it is critical that we raise awareness. Laura’s House has partnered with Urban Decay through their Ultraviolet Edge program, a global initiative to empower women, to shine a light on abuse in all forms.
Please share your story or views on social media using the #DVmakeup hashtag.
Adam Dodge (@adamrdodge) is the Legal Director for Laura’s House and writes on a variety of domestic violence topics. Domestic violence affects more than 10 million people—and their loved ones—each year. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).