by Mariah Feria

Adichie: The new face of No7 and modern feminism

In October 2016, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie became the most recent face of No7, Boot’s own makeup brand. She appeared in a nature-inspired television advert wearing a full face of makeup, and making statements such as ‘makeup doesn’t really mean anything’, and that it is ‘what makes me [Adichie] happy when I look in the mirror’.

I first got shown the advert in a gender studies class, just after we had finished a seminar discussing Adichie’s book, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. The seminar leader asked us what we thought about it. The class were stunned into silence. We simply didn’t know.

Even now, I’m not sure how I feel about the advert. I understand Adichie’s intentions; she is showing that makeup doesn’t change her as a person, she can still be taken seriously intellectually, and that she doesn’t consider it to be a big deal if you wear it. In her book, she is proud that she is a ‘girly feminist’, someone who likes to wear high-heels and dresses for herself, not anyone else. However, how much of this can be true? Makeup is a female dominated consumer product (although men are increasingly focusing on their appearance too), so how far can it be regarded as not ‘meaning anything’?

At the end of the day, makeup does mean something. It didn’t amount out of a nothing, and is used to enhance naturally feminine features like big lips and eyes, smooth porcelain skin, etc. However, many women do wear makeup without really caring how it appears to others, and just to raise their own self-confidence. So in this regard, I understand the point that Adichie is trying to make. She is assuring women that they can consider themselves well-rounded feminists, and still put on a bit of lippy. She is addressing the dated version of feminism that completely rejected things like bras and makeup, and highlighting the conflict that exists between ‘too sexy’ or ‘too girly’ and being a ‘true feminist’.

On the other hand, Adichie’s status as a respected speaker and feminist does create issues. It’s no secret that girls are obsessing over their appearance at younger and younger ages. In the advert, Adichie is wearing rather heavy makeup, which would definitely be inappropriate for a young teenage girl. Yet, what message is she sending, if she says that ‘look at me, I am a modern feminist, and it’s OK to wear this much makeup’?

Makeup especially can lead to a rather unhealthy addiction. I have friends that spend ridiculous amounts of time and money on makeup, and won’t leave the house unless their eyebrows are done. Whilst I am not this bad anymore, when I was around 14/15, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to school without foundation and eyeliner, and hated my then boyfriend seeing me without it. It can create fabricated body issues that lead to other self-esteem problems, and be the beginning of downward spiral if you’re not careful.

In the advert, Adichie also briefly mentions a time when she didn’t wear makeup, as she considered herself a bad feminist if she did so (something we’ve probably all at least thought about). However, she then says that she felt like ‘a false version’ of herself…for not wearing makeup. Again, this is problematic and has been met with backlash – surely dressing yourself up in a mask every day is more ‘false’ than going bare faced? It also ties in with the message that No7 (and every other makeup brand) are selling: be you, the best version of you…but with our products. But, on the other hand, Adichie is also saying that she felt ‘false’ because she pretended not to like make up and tried to be someone she was not…it really is a conflicting concept!

Being a modern feminist is hard. We are told to aim for the best, but stay true to ourselves. Wear what you want, but don’t play to objectifying media. Our world is full of conflicting ideals. Regardless of your opinion about the Adichie No7 relationship (and believe me, I’m still unsure of mine), the important thing to remember and embrace is the most basic form of feminism: believing in equality for women around the world.