A few months, singer Alicia Keys stopped wearing makeup—or very visible makeup—as part of a #nomakeup campaign that aimed to free women from the need to cover presumed imperfections and, in the process, themselves.
Her decision was welcome as a powerful stand, but it also brought back a very old question: Is wearing makeup anti-feminist? Does it make a woman look, and be, frivolous?
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is the latest face of British beauty brand Boots N7, has struggled with that question herself. “Our culture teaches us that if a woman wants to be taken seriously, then she should not care too much about her appearance,” she says in an ad for the brand. Adichie goes on to explain that she stopped wearing makeup for a while, herself a victim of this prejudice. But eventually, she rejected the notion—so much so that she accepted an offer to advertise beauty products.
In a Nov. 22 interview with Racked, she goes deeper into the issue, discussing the beauty industry, makeup, and how—just like everything else that pertains to women—they are politicized.
Adichie explains that her decision to record a testimonial for Boots wasn’t easy, and that it put her in a vulnerable position in which she is still not always comfortable. But her uneasiness was what eventually convinced her to stand up against the stereotype that caring about appearance makes a woman shallow. “I think in the larger sense I wanted to be part of the message that women who like makeup also have important and serious things that they’re doing in their lives,” she explains. “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.”
This, Adichie explains, doesn’t mean that there should be any judgement on not wearing makeup. Speaking about Keys’s campaign, she says she respects it—because at the core, the singer’s decision not to wear makeup is based on the same instinct that, in her case, makes her want to wear it. “That’s my hope and my prayer for women—that women are allowed to be whatever version makes them feel truly like themselves,” she says. For some women, this means no makeup. For her, it means the opposite.
“On the days when I think my cat eye is good, it just makes me happy,” she says. And it should be as simple as that, though too often makeup becomes a matter of debate, especially in the case of prominent public figures. “I just think it’s so weird that women make individual choices and then absolute strangers think they can have all kinds of opinions about them,” she says.
At the core, Adichie’s campaign and philosophy is once again a rejection of the expectations people have on women: their look, their actions, their demeanor. And, as she says, “There is just no point in living life based on what you imagine people expect.”