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.
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.
It was one of those gorgeous, free evenings: the kind where work had been finished, dinner cooked, and I could subside with a glass of wine. As I sat in the living room, Kate Bush blaring out (who else?) I began thinking about all the brilliant women who inspire me. Kate has been a presiding influence in my life for years. I adore her keen creativity. The theatricality and continual reinvention. The songs that reach the nerves.
I grabbed a pen and paper, and began scribbling down other names. All the extraordinary women who’ve affected me on one way or another. The list grew and grew. In fact, I think it may be never-ending. That evening was several months ago, but I’m adding in new names all the time. Some of them make me want to grab life by the handful. Others write such astonishing words that I’m left reeling after reading. Others still I admire for their empathy, their compassion, their never-ending interest in others. I wanted to share a few of them here. I’ve written before about the significance of celebrating others, but this goes beyond mere celebration. It’s about acknowledging how we all, in our own way, owe a debt to so many others. In fact, less of a debt and more an acknowledgment of countless riches: of a multifaceted set of influences we all assemble for ourselves. So, here are just ten women who currently inspire me.
Her prose is poised and crafted, whether it’s a sharp-talking essay or beautiful, aching portrait of the Biafran war in Nigeria. She’s also someone I love for her unashamed celebration of being smart AND reveling in dressing well (and telling off anyone who thinks there might be an incompatibility between the two).
Diana is in her seventies. I occasionally visit her house for mum, which will involve a cup of tea, a tour of the greenhouses, and a return home with an armful of whatever is currently in season: whether it’s the tongue-curling tang of tomatoes straight from the vine, or wind-fall apples.
Diana is curious, vivacious, and full of life. That’s how I want to be.
I bumped into Tahmina by chance at a book event. We met a fortnight later for a very enthusiastic, drawn-out chat over ice-cream. She’s the same age as me and, alongside doing her degree, is the editor in chief of XXY magazine.
Meeting other driven young women is always exciting, especially when the conversations spiral from feminism to fashion and back again.
The image tapped directly into how I felt about my own spine (read Rosalind’s beautiful piece about Scoliosis here). It was a visceral, gut-punching reaction.
From her ability to explore her own trauma through her art to her always fabulous outfits, Kahlo is someone I think about a lot.
Louise writes books that can be difficult to read, and I mean that as the highest compliment. She tackles the kinds of things we need to talk about more (body image, pressures placed on women, rape culture, feminism), and her YA books Only Ever Yours and Asking for It are both compelling, disturbing works. This list is rather biased towards writers (given that it’s my own career too), but Louise ranks highly because she leaves me feeling braver and more willing to tackle challenging subjects. Plus, she’s hilarious on Twitter.
I wrote my dissertation on Woolf. Spending several months in the company of her words was both a privilege and a pleasure. Her sentences fizz and sparkle. Whether it’s a deft observation in an essay, or the galloping rhythm of life passing by in The Waves, I always surface from her works wanting to read, write, and live vividly.
Hepburn purely makes the list for looking so damn good in wide-legged trousers. Also for her brimming wit and sass in every movie I’ve seen her in. I always feel a little more assertive after watching her act.
Where to begin? My mum is steel-strong. Despite being the smallest member of our family, she exerts the most power by far. She’s a ruthless editor, spying stray split infinitives and telling me off for using too many adjectives. She’s a gorgeous, gorgeous writer. She’s a red-headed, well-dressed, always-organized, ever-thoughtful woman who somehow manages to keep our family glued together. I have endless respect for her, and endless love.
I could write an entire list alone composed of the female poets I adore (hey Kate Tempest, Elizabeth Jennings, U.A Fanthorpe, Mina Loy, Greta Stoddart, Sarah Howe, Greta Bellamacina and countless others!) but Alice Oswald is particularly special.
Her sense of craft and music astounds me. Her poems are so alive to space, to landscapes, to bodies, to intensity.
Every time I put down one of her collections, I have to grab my notebook and begin scribbling.
Artist, textiles designer, clothes maker, multimedia goddess – Delaunay’s imagination manifested itself in so many forms.
Artist, textiles designer, clothes maker, multimedia goddess – Delaunay’s imagination manifested itself in so many forms.
Moving between different fields and ways of thinking/ creating is such a wonderful skill to have. Delaunay said that colour was “the skin of the world”, and her bright, beautiful work – whether it’s a poem dress or a patchwork quilt – gets me itching to pull out paints, fabric, and needle and thread.
As I said, this is but a handful.
My original list also included people like Erin O’Connor, Janet Mock, St Vincent, Flo Morrissey, Cindy Sherman, Angela Carter, Grace Jones, Ida Kar, my great-great maternal grandma, Anne Fadiman, Amandla Stenberg, Jeanette Winterson, Mara Clarke, and many, many others.