Boots have gone rogue, in a good way. They’ve announced that Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award winning writer and acclaimed feminist is the new face of No7 make-up.
Adichie’s work is truly and worth every bit of the hype. If you haven’t read Americanah or Purple Hibiscus you should do it asap. If you haven’t watched her ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ TED talk do it immediately.
However, this move is definitely peak branded feminism. Adichie is one of a few feminists who has crossed over from literary and theoretical circles into popular culture. She was sampled on Beyoncé’s 2013 track Flawless and last month as she sat front row at Dior’s SS17 show models walked the catwalk wearing t-shirts bearing Adichie’s words.
Vogue are reporting that the campaign will launch on October 21st across television, online and print. In a teaser video Adichie echoes comments similar to those she has previously made about fashion. She speaks about how in the past she feared being taken less seriously because of her love of make-up before detailing how she has come to embrace it as a tool, a way of enhancing her identity.
In the video she says:
‘Our culture teaches us that if a woman wants to be taken seriously then she should stop wearing make-up. So, for a while I stopped wearing make-up and hid my high heels and I became a false version of myself. But then I woke up and I saw in full colour and full confidence again because the truth is make-up doesn’t actually mean anything, it’s simply make-up. It’s about how I feel when I get it right…what makes me happy when I look in the mirror. What makes me walk ever so slightly taller? It’s about the face I choose to show the world and what I choose to say.’
The fact that Boots have chosen Adichie to front this campaign is significant for several reasons.
First of all she speaks eloquently, unapologetically and positively about wearing make-up, she is able to explain how it can enhance a woman’s self-esteem without drawing on the dangerous clichés which have long existed in advertising, playing on women’s insecurities in order to sell them products to ‘improve’ their appearance – the implication of which, of course, was always that women are not ready to face the world without make up and need it to show what our (largely patriarchal) society deems acceptable face. You could argue that having somebody like Adichie play a part in reframing this narrative is ‘progress’.
Secondly, as a woman of colour who has previously spoken about the lack of make-up shades available for black skin it’s important that Adichie has been chosen to from No7’s range which is committed to providing the broadest possible range of shades.
Finally, we have a woman fronting a beauty campaign who challenges both traditionally hegemonic beauty standards and the preconception that being interested in make-up and fashion somehow precludes you from being an intellectual.
However, despite all of this #positivity and #awesomeness there is something that’s worth pointing out here. Beyoncé has been dancing on stage in front of glittery signs that read ‘FEMINIST’ for several years now. Indeed, feminism has generally become more popular in recent years with lots of big household names jumping on what I’m going to call the ‘brandwagon’. Feminism sells products – whether that’s makeup, clothing or albums.
Does branded feminism do anything other than make celebrities and corporations who already have money more money? Does it sort out maternity leave? Does it challenge abortion law?
Adichie’s campaign is undeniably true to her ethos as a writer and feminism. Branded feminism like this is undeniably still feminism. But this is feminism in its glossiest, most well-groomed, articulate and commercially viable form. The question is who really benefits from it?
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.