In December 2017, I helped organise a 2,000-person protest against period poverty outside Parliament Square. The days before the protest were an insane jam-packed fight to the finishing line where every minute was filled with organising, calling, tweeting and zine-making. As I looked at my schedule for the day of the protest itself, for the first time in a month I began to feel guilty. I had pencilled in an hour and a half to blow-dry my hair, do my make-up and change into my outfit. I immediately felt like a neon sign screaming ‘NOT A TRUE FEMINIST’ was hovering over my head.
It’s not surprising that we’ve reached a point in 2018 where questions around whether you can be a true feminist and still contour your cheekbones fill the Google search histories of many a political young woman.
The second wave of feminism took place in the 1960s and was largely fighting for women and girls to have choice over their identities. Up until then, a woman’s femininity was not an option, it was a rule. These second-wave feminists fought to break down the culture of beauty, making sure women could be valued for more than their looks, sex appeal – and ability to keep a clean house.
Fifty years on, we modern-day feminists are left in a bind. In a world where choices are abundant, the choice to dedicate time and energy to frivolous fancies, such as fashion and make-up, seems to contradict all that our feminist forebears fought for. I see fashion as self-expression, and have rather alarming fondness for the colour pink. But if I was choosing these fashion predilections with the goal of securing myself a man, you’d have to argue I was going about it the wrong way. From what I’ve seen, 23-year-old men want girls in jeans, with beachy waves and an IDGAF attitude. I show up to parties in oor-length tulle and sequin capes, and am more often than not mistaken for a children’s party entertainer rather than a potential love interest.
But what I love about feminist fashion is that it has no rules. Over the past five decades, women have changed the world without ever having come into contact with a stick of lipstick. They’ve also done it in floor-length gowns with a bouncy blow-dry. Look at Emma Watson and Megan Markle, women who ooze old- school glamour and sophistication, meaning when they open their mouths and deliver their feminist manifestos it’s like a sneak attack. Or Alicia Garza, founder of Black Lives Matter, who has spent the past five years protesting and changing the fabric of the world we live in, her long, flowing braids and red lipstick an iconic symbol of change.
Sarah Sophie Flicker, national organiser of the Women’s March, looks like a character from a fairy tale, with flowing lace dresses, jet back hair, pale white skin and red lipstick. She is one of the most fashionable people I have ever met – and spent last year raising three children and resisting the Trump administration one two-million-person protest at a time.
My friend Jameela Jamil (who’s written an essay for my book, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink) has a mantra that I try to remember every time I find myself questioning this topic: ‘A woman never needs a manicure. She may want a manicure. She may enjoy a manicure. But she never needs a manicure. She needs food and water and sex but a manicure is simply her hobby.’
I truly believe that feminism is about two things: women having equal rights, and women having equal choices over what they do with those rights. At the #FreePeriods protest we were fighting for the rights of women to have access to menstrual products, and within that ght it was my choice to wear a red tutu and a full face of make-up.
It’s your right to be able to leave the house with greasy hair and no make-up and be taken seriously, and it’s also your choice to understand that and still want to look like a glowing goddess with perfect brows and do the same. That is true equality.
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies) is published by Penguin, priced £12.99