Necessity Of Make-up Is Squeezing Women's Living Space

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Foucault proposed that modern society is a panoptic prison that disciplined the human body. The power of discipline invisibly controls people to obey the rules of the contextual society. Due to the diversity of cultures, people are disciplined into different characteristics based on their gender, class, and race. Make-up as a prevailing activity around the world is an embodiment of the attention to Women’s appearance in society.

In Bourdieu’s discourse, “habitus” is an embodiment of a culture that is imprinted on the body. It determines people’s behaviors, thoughts, and cognition in the frame that is constructed in society. Habitus “is mixed both practice and influence of social structure in an unconscious way”(Bourdieu, 66), even the smallest action is social and cultural practices, such as walking, eating, nodding, and so on. “Fields” is the space that provides particular rules with a certain autonomy, characteristics of different fields vary. Bourdieu used the simile of the game to describe the process. In a game, the field is an artificial model of social construct but with clear and strict rules, space, and game time. The players are told to obey rules, specific rules with plain goals. In this situation, the rules are habitus. In reality, the social field is not artificial, but a long-term, slow and unconscious process. People are not explicitly informed of the rules and regulations, nor are actively involved in the process. (Bourdieu, 67) Foucault considers the body as an object of power, he described power as a capillary, it penetrates into every corner, into people’s bodies, movements, speech, and thinking. Compared with the classical era, the transformation of power has changed from ‘top-down’ to ‘bottom-up’. Power is no longer owned by a single dictator, but a concealed, penetrating force composed of the whole society. Compared with the punishment in ancient times, it was replaced by the gentle ‘discipline’. This kind of instruction is actually more difficult to get rid of because power and knowledge constitute a panoptic prison where people are kept under constant surveillance in different small spaces. Here the body is no longer the object of punishment, but the object of discipline. Discipline is not directly attached to a society’s major law or political institutions, nor is it a direct extension of their ideas, but it is not completely independent. (Foucault, 211) Discipline does not exist as a unitary or closed form, it is a supervision center that is distributed he society.

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All of the schools, factories, families, institutions are showing the characteristics of panopticism. They supervised citizens at economic, political, and religious levels.

Make-up is an embodied activity I engage in. It is a general action that women in most countries get used to doing. There is no legal law or institution that requires people to do make-up. It’s different from eating or sporting, that either is compulsory for the human body’s physiological needs or beneficial for health, but it occupies An indispensable part of any female’s life. An adult woman who has no cosmetics is rare and might be seemed strange.The purpose of make-up is clear, people chasing a better appearance. However, in global trends, women are taught to pay more attention to their appearance than men, while appearance examination is common in campus and workplace, this is the general trend of society. Men usually have less make-up, or in other words, men who have make-up are unacceptable in many social contexts and labelled as homosexuality. Just like the fewer number of women athletes or coolies, and disputes they faced in society. This situation is formed under the pressure of gender stereotypes. According to Bourdieu’s concepts, family, school, the company is the space that provides invisible rules, while make-up or lookism is the rules and embodiment of a culture that imprinted in the human body. There is no right or wrong in make-up or pursuit of aesthetics, but in modern society, make-up is sometimes a kind of pressure on women, squeezing their living space. Women spend a lot of time and money on make-up. Especially in recent years, the prevalence of consumerism has intensified this trend. Overwhelming commercial advertisements, bright models show the charm of make-up, the pursuit of appearance modification is expanding step by step. People are influenced by the unified aesthetics in different contextual, some of them have a desire for fuller lips, some of them pursue a higher nose, although the trend of beauty is different globally, there is a relatively unified standard of appearance in particular areas. (Bourdieu, 66) People who have the same nationality, culture, class, or religion share habitus, because people who have different habitus produce an understanding of cultural capital and the choice of consumption behavior possesses the function of social grading or identity segregation. However, make-up is an ‘important ‘ part of a female’s life, this concept is imposed on women by the invisible web of social concern for women’s appearance. In Foucault’s idea of disciplined body and panopticism, body judgement plays the role of normalizing and examination, and it is existence everywhere. From childhood to adulthood, they take the appearance of celebrities or stars as a benchmark, observing the evaluation from surrounding to the appearance of others and concern of the appearance of females. With the advent of adolescence, appearance comparison among peers becomes more and more. This is a large-scale, all-pervasive capillary power that corresponds to Foucault’s idea. People examine each other and self-examine, examining whether they have made themselves look better, and discipline of appearance is completed in this process. (Foucault, 198)

In conclusion, make-up as an embodied activity that many other females and I engage in is a result of the discipline in the society, under the context of appearance judgement is more common in females. Discipline cooperated with knowledge or technology build the hidden web to guide and control people’s thoughts and behaviors. The anatomy of power constructs the importance of make-up in a female’s life through its capillary form of power and squeezing freedom of no make-up. (Foucault, 206) In other words, it disciplined female’s understanding of aesthetics and choices of life.


  1. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. ‘Belief and the Body’. In The Logic of Practice, 66–79. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN: 9780745610153
  2. Foucault, Michel. 1984. Docile Bodies, The Means of Correct Training, Panopticism. Edited by Paul Rabinow. The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon Books.ISBN: 0394529049


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