Friday, 28 October 2016

Skin Deep

Last week, in a burst of very exciting news, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was announced as the new face of Boots No.7. Before I write anything else, I suggest you go watch the video here. In the clip, she re-treads the ground of her Elle essay (which I seem to link to at least twice a year), pointing out that, “our culture teaches us that to be taken seriously, women should not care too much about appearance.” Adichie has no time for that. None whatsoever. What she instead stresses is the magical capacity of make-up to make her “walk ever so slightly taller.” She celebrates “the face I choose to show the world, and what I choose to say.” In a scant number of sentences she delivers a powerful message – one that positions an interest in beauty as something active, autonomous and playful.

As adverts go, this is both joyous and canny: highlighting the ways in which deep thought and surface appearance can happily co-exist. It hails this most articulate of writers for both the dexterity of her words, and her appreciation for a bloody good lipstick. Even better, it revels in the words, actions and appearance of a hugely powerful, accomplished woman – a woman whose skin colour is not always best represented in beauty advertising. There’s nothing patronizing here. No shame, no language of inadequacy and improvement. Just the potentially boundless fun to be found in a full make-up bag.

Add to this the fact that other women included in the campaign launch, like Sali Hughes (whose book Pretty Iconic is tip-top of my to-buy list – read this gorgeous excerpt on cosmetics and sensory memory here), Gemma Cairney (sunshine in human form – listen to her chat about green glittery dresses on Dawn O’Porter’s podcast here), and Louise O’Neill (a damn sharp, damn brilliant writer – take a nose at her columns here), all have a similar ethos: copious brains AND an interest in beauty. That’s what we need to see more of, in ads and elsewhere. Beauty advertising, very rightfully, is often critiqued for being reductive – promoting a hugely limited ideal, and reliant on the suggestion of make-up as a corrective rather than something inventive. The more ways we counteract that, the better.

I thought of the campaign again this morning over breakfast while listening to the PanDolly podcast: presented by the ever-excellent Pandora Sykes (ST Style wardrobe mistress, Instagram aficionado and super-smart blogger) and Dolly Alderton (all-round fab journalist with a dating column in the ST Style, and a newsletter called The Dolly Mail). In this episode, they touched upon advertising, discussing the relationship between feminism and the commercial world. It’s a tricksy one, but they both have some great points about the ways in which we can utilize the sales of clothes and cosmetics to promote more inclusive, encouraging messages – rather than constantly making women feel insufficient.

I think there’s a huge difference between companies being ‘feminist’ in name, and feminist in action (a single empowering slogan doesn’t wipe out most brands’ reliance on slender, white-skinned, glossy-haired youth as its ultimate ideal), but those who do actively try to change the conversation, as with No.7, deserve applause. Given the ubiquity of imagery, promoted products, beauty ideals and a hundred-and-one suggested ways to change ourselves via fitspo, green juice and clean eating (also go read this), anything within that realm which challenges the status quo is always welcome.

This morning I also read the latest installment in Ella Risbridger’s column for The Pool. Ostensibly, it’s a lipstick column: each piece framed by the particular shade she’s been wearing that week. In practice, it is a powerfully honest set of meditations on hospitals, hope, fear, getting through the day, and being a carer for her partner (referred to here as the Tall Man) as he experiences ongoing treatment for lymphoma. It’s possibly the only beauty column I’ve ever cried at. She is warm, thoughtful, and gut-hittingly candid as she documents the huge challenges and small joys of each week.

Her newest piece is full of liberal praise for a blue Nars number. She writes about its transformative powers with glee: “I was, in the six hours and twenty minutes in which my lips were blue, perfectly content: content with my own body, content with my own face, and my place in the world. I felt invincible. I felt extraordinary. I felt like I could fly.” Lipstick has always been an emboldening tool; a thing she describes elsewhere as “part armour, part warpaint.” Here it is also a form of ownership, a bright blue mark of reclamation.

There are so many meanings to cosmetics. They can be anchors, paint-boxes, disguises, mood-boosters, spot-coverers, mask-makers, rituals, a means of metamorphosis. They do not always yield satisfaction (and should by no means be an expectation) but when wielded with a sense of agency, they can be both bewitching and comforting. Whether it's an author looking and speaking luminously in an ad campaign, or a carefully weighted column in praise of blue lips during a difficult time, these are powerful moments: moments worth dwelling on and celebrating. 

The purple shade of lippy I’m wearing in these images is from Revlon. It’s perfectly autumnal. I went in search of something all juicy and dark after seeing a friend who looked so damn good with her berry-coloured lips. Here it felt especially appropriate against the storm light: bright sunshine and grey cloud behind, with my vintage dress and coat in the foreground. Certainly an embodiment of the way I love to do beauty – teetering around in massive heels, make-up reapplied half-way through a hike with my dad so that we could squeeze in a blog shoot on the hill's brow. 

Coat - liberated from my Mum's wardrobe - a 1940's WW2/Post WW2 "Utility" coat, with Utility label intact. The construction is extraordinary, as seen from behind in the last image.
Dress - featured numerous times here and elsewhere over the last 6 years - vintage, from a 'pound' basket at a vintage fair when I was in my mid teens. The mended rips have re-opened and extended, but it's a stayer.
Ridiculous heels - charity shop. They gather dust on a shelf, apart from the occasional foray in a backpack, to be whipped out for 10 mins before practical footwear resumes.


Ivana Split said...

I really liked that ad too. I think there is nothing wrong in enjoying make up. It can be a lovely tool to express one's creativity. Just like fashion, it doesn't have to be is what we make it to be. It seems she realized that, realized that she should do what makes her happy and not worry about what others say- always a valuable lesson- it's something we all know but often forget. We should enjoy in those little pleasures....Lately I haven't been wearing any make up, but it is not because I was worried that I won't be taken seriously, I just didn't feel like it- and that's another kind of reason. I do think that make up can be a great tool...and I like those lines about how that blue lipstick made that other woman feel empowerated and even made her better able to cope with a difficult time in her life (illness of her partner).

I do agree with that article about the danger of clean eating. Certain types of food are becoming eliminated from everyone's diet without any proper reason (for example gluten) and in the end it won't be for the better. One blogger friend of mine who has MS always tries to explain to everyone that gluten isn't bad, but that she can't eat it because of MS- and really there is no reason why people should avoid it. Generally speaking, I do think that people in the West eat too much meat and sugar but that doesn't mean we must eliminate it from our diets. Food is there for a reason...all food. It is not our enemy.

here is a relatively new food disorder connected with this (first mentioned in 1996),called Ortorexia...when a person only eats healthy food and perceives herself value only in connection with food she/ he eats- once people start 'clean eating', it is easy to fall in this trap- and it is no small matter, it is a disorder and one that needs to be treated.


I was overjoyed when I read that Adichie was the new face of Boots No. 7. I admire that woman so much and she's been a personal inspiration for a while. All of the women here that you've featured are incredible, I will have to check out more of The Dolly Mail. Your hunter green coat, orange heels, and deep lippy couldn't be more lovely together.

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Gorgeous! With those legs ending in such a glamorous orange. In the previous post too: amazing blue coat. I wish I would own something so chic for the cold winter. A unique piece that dress me all up!
But....oh motherhood. There is no time for... anything! I must be glad when I can wash my hair. Also, breastfeeding in not a good friend of my wardrobe and my style (forget about turtleneck! which we both love).

However, the expectations of how women should look (attractive and silly, serious and proud, charming and cozy...) depending of her roll in society is always a interesting theme. The eternal fight between being feminist, stand for the place of women society, and enjoying fashion, playing with the "superficial" part: the aesthetic.
Personally I never felt bounded to lipsticks. I am a mask kind of person. I like to put the attention on my eyes. It is my weapon.
But I have to be honest. As more self confident I feel less interested in make-up I am. As more sexy I feel, less complex are my outfits. As more I grow up, more lazy I become when I dress up. It doesn't mean that I don't care anymore (this is dangerous) but I realized that when I feel the most beautiful is when I am the most natural. The most close to....lets say: nudity.

Of course, I have fun with clothing and make-up. Exactly as you do: like a playful game. Playing with the possibilities, with the transformation. In fact, today is Halloween and I am looking forward to wear may black pamela hat and to put my dark purple lipstick on! Because my favourite alter-ego is the witch inside of me.

I am sorry for the lack of comment I made lately in you block but....yeah, no time. Now Fauna is deeply sleeping and I using my chance. I am very very happy that you keep coming to my blog despite your busy intelectual lifestyle. Thank you, I appreciate it.

Lola Byatt said...

I have also really been enjoying Ella's lisptick articles, they really are great! You are absolutely right in all of this, as ever! The two don't go together in the media do they? It's either or and it has often left me confused. I LOVE dressing up always have done, always always always! but there has been a period of time when I have been down and all i wanted to wear was a hoodie and sweats and this went on for quite some time and at that point i had a person show interest in me and he said what he found appealing about me was that i don't seem to care so much about my appearance. and it made me uncomfortable as i wondered why should that be a good thing? I honestly think that at the time he was attracted to me i was in such a "i only care about me" phase in my life that i came across more content/nonchalant...and my hoodies/sweats had little to do with it. I also have the same sort of things being said about my choosing to never wear make up. i don't wear make up because i feel much more comfortable without it, i prefer my look without make up but if i preferred my face with make up on i would apply it always. but people do often make comments like above. like i take myself too seriously to care about such things. I watch beauty tutorials all the time, i find them so much fun!

Nikoletta Jonkisz said...

Great blog post and lovely look! The coat is stunning :)

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