The Blog

Is Makeup Our Hijab?

Are we truly to believe that the world's women can't be beautiful without resorting to a bit of slap? Our continued existence and propensity for procreation suggests otherwise.

Iranian women are defying the subjugation of their personal freedom by the government. These brave women are risking being flogged and incarcerated for daring to use their hijabs however they desire. The idea that someone could be whipped bloody for daring to bare their head is barbaric. But we don't get wholly off the chastising hook either.

The recent #nomakeupselfie campaign raised a brilliant amount of money for a good cause. At the same time, what was evident from participants' posts that went with it was clear: a dose of fear and, in some cases, even self-loathing. There was evident insecurity and apprehension from the messages of women who dared (and that's regrettably the right word) to display themselves naturally. And that isn't right.

Painting your nails to match and enhance your wardrobe is one thing. Having as a cultural norm the daily application of chemical warpaint is another. I remember the days of my orangutan hands helping one past girlfriend with her fake tan applications. The pursuit of the perennial tangerine dream would be amusing if there wasn't a darker undercurrent. You can see it with the frantic, and gallant, effort to apply mascara perfectly on the Underground. You can feel it, especially as a teen, when you see a girl mate being obliterated for daring to stand out of line, makeup-free, from their peers. You can smell it all day when you've been applying the stuff like massage oil - I should know. Sometimes, looking at an array of identical terracotta faces, it's as if someone quoted Thatcher's 'there is no alternative' to every girl at primary school.

That might sound like the pious words of the ignorant male. But it isn't. I'm not advocating the abandonment of personal hygiene. And of course there's room for women (and men) to enjoy getting creative with their looks. Yet when we cross into a situation of exclusion and possible exploitation, then it starts to matter a little bit more. With our diets feeding a plague of diabetes, is it beneficial that, instead of spending time making and enjoying a real breakfast, a good number of women spend their money and time covering up their own faces?

In any case, women should feel free to wear a scarf or makeup as they like. But when there is legal oppression, as in the Iranian case, and social oppression, as there is a tinge of in ours, we should sit back and reflect upon what's really going on. Are we truly to believe that the world's women can't be beautiful without resorting to a bit of slap? Our continued existence and propensity for procreation suggests otherwise.

In truth, what's more beautiful than a happy girl's face radiating self-confidence through her own skin? What's more attractive than the look in someone's eye fuelled with the sensual fires of self-assurance? I could move on to men and the cosmetic insecurity behind the protein shake, but that's another story.

I'm not saying that women should engage in puritanical cosmetic prohibition. But when cosmetic use is a pre-requisite for acceptability, as #nomakeupselfie posts implied, it's just not right. That's what led Elizabethan women to daub poisonous lead on their faces.

Simply put, we should relax and enjoy the natural beauty we all possess and can see in one another. By all means, enjoy your nail polish for a night out; or wave your hijab in your hands if that's what you want to do. That's your choice. But let's encourage a society where, when the next selfie charity campaign kicks off, women's looks, especially their natural faces, doesn't have any cultural baggage with it. Perhaps then, when girls worldwide see a more diverse freedom enjoyed, all without taking things too seriously, ridiculous repression of individual expression, as there is in Iran, can be rejected from our daily lives.