By Oyin Akande
We are celebrating and you should be too. On Friday 21st, celebrated Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was announced as the commercial face of the new Boots No.7 campaign.
Chimamanda, who already has several critically acclaimed novels under her belt, TED talks viewed by millions and millions and a phenomenal cult following that includes Beyoncé, Zadie Smith, Dior and something like the entire population of Sweden, has just taken on the redefinition of the beauty industry.
What is really great is what this means for you. As the face of a huge beauty campaign, Chimamanda makes accessible the rosy and impossible fantasy of the beauty industry:
“I think much of beauty advertising relies on a false premise – that women need to be treated in an infantile way, given a ‘fantasy’ to aspire to… Real women are already inspired by other real women, so perhaps beauty advertising needs to get on board”, Chimamanda told Vogue in the November 2016 issue which is downloadable here. She challenges the ill-conceived unattainability of women represented in beauty campaigns, which leave the majority of women unrepresented and unable to relate. She has quite literally opened up the possibility that you- someone real- could be the next face of beauty.
What we really love though is that she has opened up a very public dialogue with feminism and make-up, two things long believed to be at odds. Where make-up has wrongly been understood to be a tool to hide yourself, Chimamanda is reclaiming it as a tool of precise autonomy over who you are and who you present to the world. Days before the campaign was announced, Chimamanda released an amazing feminist manifesto ‘Dear Ijeawele’, which you can view via her Facebook page. The campaign merges the voice of contemporary feminism with the face of a real woman and we love it.
Six years old, at my mother’s wonderfully cluttered dressing table in Nsukka, trying on her very sticky lip gloss.
I am in a good mood; I am fit and exercising regularly; I am wearing stable high heels; I have managed to do a flawless ‘cat-eye.’
She moisturized her entire body very diligently. Ashy skin was unacceptable. I remember watching her after her bath, how she would reach across her shoulder, hand coated in cream, to get as much of her back as she could. She liked perfumes. There were heady scents in her bedroom. I remember the green POISON, the fawn CHLOE. She wore perfume to sleep. There was nail polish, powder compacts, eye pencils. She always wore tasteful makeup. My mother is one of the most beautiful people I know, and I thought so even as a child.
It’s become an absolute delight. I was once interested only in the most minimal makeup – colorless mascara, that sort of thing – but became more interested in make-up when I started using it to try and look a little older. I was so tired of being told I looked like a child. Now, I like to try new things, and I like the temporary transformation that make-up can bring.
Yes. “Nekene nne unu,” he would say – “look at your mother!’ – when my mother was all dressed for church on Sunday mornings, sequinned george wrapper on her waist, a sparkly blouse, a beautifully-structured gele on her head. She knew he thought she was beautiful, you could tell.
I once decided I wanted a funky afro. So I colored my hair in my bathroom, with three different color kits because the first two didn’t quite show. The result was orange hair. But what brought despair was how dry and brittle my hair became.
A good facial moisturiser.
In a narrow train toilet, although that was less crazy and more uncomfortable.
A greater range of colors (and undertones) in foundations and tinted moisturisers. A greater awareness that dark-skinned women have enormous buying power and are as much interested in beauty as anyone else.
Some years ago in my hometown. It was very hot, I’d been outside for a while, and suddenly felt a gooey heaviness around my eyes.
Buy Boots’ No.7 products here.
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.