Digital Session—#NoMakeUpMondays: An Exploration of Body Image and Using Visual Rhetorics to Regain Agency


Christina Rowell, Kent State
Amy Flick, Kent State

Christina Rowell and Amy Flick of Kent State take us on a journey of what it means to take control and regain agency of how and when we decide to wear makeup. As an avid makeup wearer and connoisseur, I wished to understand how we can utilize makeup to regain agency and as a tool for empowerment. I found myself drawn to this research because it provides different lenses of agency for different women. Even though all panelists were of the same ethnicity (white), they appeared to come from different walks of life, and each had a different outlook and perspective on how and why they felt the need to wear or not wear makeup. Furthermore, I was very appreciative of Rowell and Flick’s conscious effort to allow their subjects to tell their own narratives.

Rowell and Flick interviewed four different women about their experiences of makeup agency; they shared the moment when they first began to realize the power of makeup, and when they realized that they were the author of their narrative—not the makeup. Rowell and Flick’s decision to present their work in the digital media form allowed for the women interviewed to maintain their agency. How they appeared in their video interviews and the manner in which they answered the questions helped to further align the presentation of their data with feminist digital rhetorical practices. For example, two of the women conducted video interviews (both in what appeared to be home living spaces), while two others appeared to have completed interviews over the phone and had a say what image of theirs was shown in conjunction with the voice over. The narrativethey shared closely matched the images that were on screen. One young lady specifically discussed her evolutionary use of makeup, and we were able to see images of that evolution. As aforementioned, the presentation only included non-minority women; however, Flick used this as a great piece to discuss how this form of rhetorical agency can take shape in different ways for people of different ethnic backgrounds, but also for different genders, cultures, and sexual identity—possibly suggesting the expansion for their research in the future.

I know as a woman from the American South, the application of make-up in one’s day to day life can become just as important as who you pray to. It is a bit engrained in the culture of the American South, which we discussed following the video presentation.

In listening to each woman interviewed, I could see myself in their story. For one woman, she wore make up to express her creativity. While another mentioned the constant pressure, she feels to wear makeup to appear “professional”. In hearing this lady specifically, I thought of my own personal bias about wearing makeup to appear professional, and the way in which I had that expectation of other women, and this is wrong. This presentation opened my eyes to better understand that makeup, just as clothes and hair for the African American community, are tools of rhetorical agency. I appreciate this type of research as it calls for its audience to reflect on their own ideas and possibly “check” them. I look forward to seeing where the research of these women will go.

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