by Rose Miyonga
It’s been over three years since I stopped wearing make-up regularly. I still wear it sometimes for the odd photo shoot, or, if the mood strikes me, I might brush a little glitter over my eyelids or slick on a bit of lipstick, but day-to-day, I don’t wear make-up.
Don’t get me wrong, I think make-up is awesome.
When it’s done by someone skilled, it is a true art. However, I apparently lack the motor skills needed to apply it properly, and my daily attempts at it often drove me to frustration and despair, and sometimes inflicted physical pain – I can’t be the only one who has poked their still-sleepy eye with a mascara brush in the morning.
I have been asked so many times why I have chosen to opt out as if not wearing make-up is something so unnatural. The answer is pretty simple: for the moment, I just prefer being bare-faced.
As a woman, and especially a woman of colour, my body is too often the battleground on which issues of gender and race are fought, and the use of makeup is a prime example. It is as though I am denied the freedom to let my personal choice be just that: personal. It is so often assumed that my decision not to wear make-up is a ‘stand’ that I am taking for my intersectional feminist agenda, but it is not.
Sure, I do reject the idea of policing of women’s bodies and telling them how they should or shouldn’t look. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where I was taught to question preconceived ideas of what it means to be a beautiful woman, and learned to look at my face in the mirror with love and acceptance. This, for me, right now, doesn’t involve make-up every day.
Recently, both Alicia Keys and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie made bold statements about make-up. I admire both women immensely, and I don’t think their ideas are contradictory, although Keys has chosen not to wear make-up and Adichie is the new face of a make-up brand. Both are rejecting the prescription of beauty standards and redefining beauty from themselves.
My not wearing make-up is not because I think it is frivolous or unimportant. Far from it! Make-up can be magical, empowering and transformative. I take pride in my appearance, and I don’t think it’s somehow un-feminist to do so. As Adichie puts it, “I think it’s time to really stop that ridiculous idea that somehow if you’re a serious woman you can’t and should not care about how you look.”
I choose not to wear make-up (or sometimes to do so) because I hope that I am part of the first generation of women of colour whose personal choices do not have to be held up to a political ideal, but can instead follow whims, moods and fancies without judgement or moralisation.
Post by Thandie.
I love Boots. It’s as gently and reassuringly British as ‘Walls’ ice cream, or the seaside. Wherever you are on the British Isles there’s a Boots to confirm that you’re home. Growing up in Penzance it was the destination store in town. From 9 years old I’d save up my pocket money to go and shop the aisles. The Boots Own cucumber moisturizer and lip balm were my favourites; the smells still remind me of pre-teenhood.
Now in 2014 my 9 year old daughter hops off to Boots on a weekend, pupils dilated with the thrill of what she might find. She’s headed for the make-up aisle, her newest crush.
She, unlike me, might come back with coveted finds. Because she’s fair skinned, with green eyes. Of course that’s not entirely true because I could buy lipsticks, mascara, or an Olay BB cream. BUT if I’m looking for decent foundation, cover up and powder for dark skins, I can’t be sure that I’ll find it.
Recently, I was at Heathrow Airport and cruised into Boots. Of the many smiling faces staring back at me from advertising boards, none of them looked like me, my Mum, or any of the black girls that I know.
I wondered to myself; do black women not go on holiday? Do black women not go on business trips? Do black women not work at Heathrow? Why isn’t this nationwide and beloved shopping destination stocking make-up for ALL the people and places that it serves? The answer you’ll get is that shades for darker skins don’t sell – but I’ve been standing there, for years, and I’d buy it? Meanwhile, I’m feeling unrepresented; twinges of bitterness creeping in. Am I invisible? Does Boots not want me here? Does it think I’m not worthy of some space on its aisles?
Well, I think I might be able to. Since teaming up with Kay Montano and starting our blog, I’ve learnt a huge amount about the distribution and sales of cosmetics in the UK. I once thought that there was a drought of good foundations for darker skins, and that we weren’t being served by brands. When I started shooting high-end fashion shoots (around 2000) I was introduced to a fantasy land of shades and textures. Make-up Forever, Becca, Estee Lauder, Stila, Mac, Bobbi Brown – all these brands have umpteen shades of foundation for dark skin tones. I’m surprised they don’t have a shade for Princess Fiona, or Marge Simpson.
So, why hadn’t I seen these products before? Well, partly because I used to shop at Boots. The idea of going to a fancy department store and spending £20+ on some foundation would never have occurred to me. That’s the other thing about Boots; it stocks affordable products. Around that time, living in London, I also discovered Paks – local neighbourhood beauty emporiums that cater to the ‘urban’ communities; stocking make up brands like Sleek, Fashion Fair and Iman. The trouble is, there are 9 Paks in Greater London, compared to 2,500 Boots nationwide. I can’t go on a pilgrimage to Paks every time I need a refill. I want to go to Boots. And as a busy Mum I want to be able to buy concealer at the same time as I buy sunscreen, sanitary towels and triple A batteries.
This changed somewhat when I made Mission Impossible 2 and my make up artist Robert McCann introduced me to the beauty brand ‘Ruby and Millie’.
It was a fantastic brand for every skin tone, and he told me that he’d bought it in Boots! Allelujah! The small snag was that the full range of colours was only available in the Boots ‘flagship’ stores. Nonetheless, I’d stock up and feel proud of Britain’s evolving cosmetics industry. Gradually Boots’ ‘Ruby and Millie’ stock dwindled and it wasn’t available anymore. Millie Kendall of ‘Ruby and Millie’ has consulted for us at ThandieKay, and she told us that although the brand made over 20 shades of foundations, the darker colours weren’t stocked in many stores, because they ‘didn’t sell’.
I think the answer is no. When a store doesn’t cater for you, you stop going to that store – so you most likely will miss the few weeks when your product might be in stock. I think this is the problem – it’s miscommunication between store and customer. If the product was on the shelves for longer, with a push in marketing to invite the customers in, then the products would sell, and the wheels of supply and demand would begin to turn.
I realize that ‘Profit is King’, and my theory might not make sense as a business model in the short term. But long term it would make every bit of sense. Shops, unlike media, don’t see themselves as instruments of social change – but a shop like Boots is different by dint of its reputation as a national treasure. Surely it (or the CEOs) could step out of the faceless market narrative, and acknowledge us saying, ‘please’.
Like I said before – I love Boots. I’m invested in my relationship with the brand – because I’m British and proud to be.
My investment even goes as far as to create a Beauty Blog to try and remedy problems such as these. We live in a multi-cultural Britain, it’s something to be inordinately proud of – we are a huge success as a country and a people. We share histories, we evolve; we are modern, hip, trailblazers. Our love for this land is actually a love for its people – because we all contribute to its growth and identity. Danny Boyle portrayed that perfectly and powerfully in the Olympics Opening Ceremony. We want to compete together, learn together, work, dance, sing, win… and shop together. We don’t want to be separated when we buy make up – when teenage girlfriends are excitedly buying blusher for a night out, or a bride is shopping with her maid of honour, or I’m shopping with my daughter. I don’t want to have to go to Paks while she goes to Boots – I love her and want to be with her.