Image credit: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fashion beauty makeup.
On Friday 21st October, Boots No7 launched its new campaign, &ldquo,Ready to Speak Up&rdquo,. The face of the campaign: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is the author of several award-winning novels, but she is perhaps better known for her TED talk &ldquo,We should all be feminists&rdquo, &ndash, excerpts from which were included in Beyoncé,&rsquo,s song &ldquo,Flawless&rdquo,, increasing Adichie&rsquo,s renown still further.
It seems to be Adichie&rsquo,s reputation as a feminist that No7 is keen to highlight, its mini-biography of the writer refers to Adichie&rsquo,s fame in &ldquo,the fields of feminism and politics&rdquo, before it makes any reference to her writing career. Moreover, the campaign&rsquo,s very name has the ring of a feminist slogan, and the advert that accompanies it shows Adichie having something akin to a feminist awakening. She begins, &ldquo,Our culture teaches us that if a woman wants to be taken seriously, then she&rsquo,s not supposed to care too much about her appearance. So for a while, I stopped wearing make-up, and hid my high heels, and I became a false version of myself. But then I woke up." At these words, a leaf, which has been slowly drifting to the ground, suddenly turns around and goes to re-join the tree from which it has fallen. Flowers bloom. The message that No7 is trying to communicate is easy to grasp: you can be a feminist, and still wear make-up.
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Accordingly, it is Adichie&rsquo,s feminism, and the relationship between feminism and make-up, that has been picked up on by commentators. New York magazine, for instance, went with the headline, &ldquo,One of Your Favorite Feminists Just Scored a Major Beauty Campaign&rdquo,. I can&rsquo,t be quite as enthusiastic as that, No7&rsquo,s &ldquo,feminism&rdquo, inevitably comes across as a little shallow. After all, this is a brand that sells &ldquo,anti-ageing&rdquo, serums and creams for every stage of a woman&rsquo,s life, going from (most depressingly) &ldquo,Early Defence&rdquo,, for ages 20-35, to &ldquo,Restore and Renew&rdquo,, for ages 60+. The names of some of these products might put a positive spin on things (notably, &ldquo,Protect &, Perfect&rdquo, for ages 30-45), but even &ldquo,Early Defence&rdquo, lays the stress on proactively fighting back. They contribute to a cult of youth in which women are encouraged to do everything possible to prevent the natural processes of ageing &ndash, and to spend a lot of money in doing so. In other words, it suits Boots&rsquo, interests equally well if women buy their products because they&rsquo,re feeling empowered as if they buy them out of fear of the ravages of time.
I have to quibble with something that Adichie says, too &ndash, her opening line, in fact, about abandoning makeup. Adichie is probably referring to how she felt under pressure to not look too feminine when she first began teaching writing classes. And yet, it must be recognised that the opposite is also often true. A survey from 2013 found that over two thirds of employers would be less likely to employ a female applicant for a job if she had not worn make-up at the interview. Admittedly, the survey was conducted by the beauty retailer Escentual.com, so its findings should be taken with a large pinch of salt, but they do seem to echo many women&rsquo,s realities.
In spite of the campaign&rsquo,s shortcomings, however, &ldquo,Ready to Speak Up&rdquo, is undoubtedly refreshing, primarily because &ndash, unlike some of No7&rsquo,s other advertising, and unlike Escentual.com, which tries to induce women to buy cosmetics by suggesting that they will be risking their careers if they do not &ndash, it is unremittingly positive. Make-up is about &ldquo,what makes me happy when I look in the mirror&rdquo,, Adichie says. Of course, the campaign is also refreshing because Adichie is a woman of colour, and the beauty industry has neglected BME women&rsquo,s beauty for far too long.
But perhaps the best thing is Adichie&rsquo,s comment that &ldquo,the truth is, make-up doesn&rsquo,t actually mean anything. It&rsquo,s simply make-up.&rdquo, The message of the campaign is not that wearing make-up is feminist, and it thus avoids one of the more tiresome aspects of contemporary feminism &ndash, namely, the need to categorise everything as being either &ldquo,feminist&rdquo, or &ldquo,anti-feminist&rdquo,. The reasons for which women wear make-up are many and diverse, and so it cannot be said, definitively, that make-up is either the one thing or the other. &ldquo,Ready to Speak Up&rdquo, makes this very clear.
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