The Handmaid’s Tale

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Makeup Symbol Icon
Makeup contains many contradictions relating to power and sexuality. It signifies femininity, the past, and Offred’s lost freedom to control her appearance. But others, like the Commander, think that the lack of makeup is actually a source of freedom, since women now don’t have to use their appearances to compete for mates. Still, the Commander enjoys going to Jezebel’s, where every woman wears makeup with the hopes of attracting business. Handmaids especially shouldn’t attempt to be beautiful, which would add another layer of difficulty for the Wives and Commanders they serve. Yet Offred does her best to maintain her appearance, carefully saving her butter as moisturizing lotion, even in a house with no mirrors.
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Makeup Symbol Timeline in The Handmaid’s Tale

The timeline below shows where the symbol Makeup appears in The Handmaid’s Tale. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...home, although Serena Joy herself was not just a housewife. She wore a lot of makeup and cried dramatically. During that time, there were two attempts on her life, and though... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...Handmaids. Aunt Lydia looked like God was appearing to her on a cloud of powder makeup. (full context)
Chapter 15
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...in the present time, the Commander finishes reading. Offred imagines the bible pages feeling powder-paper makeup. Serena Joy silently cries. As Offred prays “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum,” she remembers seeing Moira... (full context)
Chapter 17
Rebellion Theme Icon
...shoe. She rubs the butter into her face as moisturizer, since she isn’t permitted any makeup of lotion, for the sake of the Wives. Offred learned about the butter at the... (full context)
Chapter 24
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...taking place just next to her house. The elderly, dying mistress, wearing a lot of makeup, said in the interview that her lover was not a monster. Offred imagines in detail... (full context)
Chapter 25
Rebellion Theme Icon
...allowed to read it. Offred notes the almost masculine confidence of the supermodels, and their makeup. Though Aunt Lydia would find this evil, Offred just finds it “naughty.” (full context)
Chapter 36
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...go out, and she’s excited to do something so rebellious. He gives her some old makeup to apply, and then a blue hooded cloak of Serena Joy’s. (full context)
Chapter 37
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...women in a variety of sexy outfits, including pre-Gilead jogging gear, and they all wear makeup. The Commander thinks it looks like the past, but Offred finds that it feels very... (full context)
Chapter 45
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...for something, though she doesn’t know what. Serena Joy shows her the blue cloak with makeup smeared on it, and the sequined leotard. Serena Joy orders Offred to go upstairs, and... (full context)