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.
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.
...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)