"I think the way things that are considered feminine are dismissed speaks to something larger about misogyny."
This article was originally published on PEOPLE.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche isn’t exactly your traditional makeup model. Which is not to say she isn’t drop-dead gorgeous enough to be the face of a beauty brand, it’s just that she just so happens to also be an award-winning author of internationally best-selling novels and an unabashedly outspoken feminist whose most famous TED talk has found global resonance, and even wound up being sampled in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless.”
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For their latest cosmetics endeavor, called READY, the Boots owned U.K. brand No7 decided to go in an innovative new direction, naming the Nigerian writer as a face of the brand. And as Adiche explained over the course of her interview with PeopleStyle, though she may come from a highly academic background and talk about serious issues, there’s no reason why she can’t also love makeup and enjoy feminine, typically “frivolous” things.
How did you get involved with No. 7?
Well, I was asked and I thought it was kind of funny. At first, I thought, Oh, of course not, it’s not really my sort of thing, and then I realized that it meant the possibility of being sent a lot of free makeup, so I thought maybe this would be something fun to do. I love free things! But also because, for a long time now, I’ve really liked this store and every time I’m in London I spend a lot of my time and money in Boots. I’ve also used No7 products before so I knew they were actually good. I wouldn’t sell something I wouldn’t use.
Do you have any favorite products?
My favorite thing is the Moisture Drench Lipstick. It’s moisturizing and it’s very well pigmented. It’s got a great range of colors, and I’m really impressed at how many of the colors work for my skin, which is not common. I also like the liquid eyeliner because it’s quite easy, and there’s also a nice skin illuminator that’s really more of a sheen. It’s subtle so you don’t feel like you have disco lights on your face.
What’s your favorite beauty tip you’ve picked up from friends or family?
I’m always collecting little bits of information. I don’t think there’s one thing that’s kind of thoroughly changed anything. But my best friend, who is just ridiculously stylish and knowledgable about these sorts of things, told me that it’s always a good thing to do a bit of concealer underneath your eyebrow and I think that’s something that really helps. Not on top because then it’s really overly dramatic, but just a little bit underneath and it makes it seem cleaner.
Do you see any big differences between the way Nigerian women approach beauty versus English or American women?
I think women in all cultures in the world are judged quite harshly for seeming to care too much about beauty and appearance. But I think the judgement is a little less harsh in Nigeria than it is in the U.S. and Western Europe. I think that there are accomplished Nigerian women who wear makeup. Generally, the idea is that if you’re a serious person, you’re not supposed to care about makeup. But I think it’s probably an idea that is much more present in the West than it is in Nigeria.
Do you have any idea why that might be?
I don’t know, but I don’t want to diminish the fact that women are judged harshly for their appearance everywhere. It’s just that it manifests itself differently in different places. The same way misogyny doesn’t present as a single thing in all cultures, everything is contextual. But I’ve noticed that in the U.S. and England there’s a sense in which makeup is seen as frivolous, much more than in Nigeria.
Why do you think makeup is often seen as frivolous and trivialized?
It’s just one more example of how we live in a world that gives women less of a status than men. Sport, for example, is not something that is trivialized or seen as frivolous. If a man is very enthusiastic about sport, it isn’t something we use to dismiss him or his ability or his accomplishment. But for women, when we think of concepts that are traditionally feminine, makeup, fashion, they are seen as frivolous. And it’s small, but I think the way things that are considered feminine are dismissed speaks to something larger about misogyny. And even the fact that we would be having a conversation about why an intelligent woman would want to wear makeup, when you step back and think about it, it’s absurd. Why should that even be a conversation to have?
Feminism, for me, is really a long series of unlearning what I’ve learned. And I find it really sad that so many women have internalized the idea that makeup is frivolous, that fashion is frivolous, and an interest in them is something that one should either hide or find ways to excuse or intellectualize so that it will become “worthy.” I don’t feel the need to intellectualize my interest. I like makeup because I like makeup. I don’t like makeup because I have this deep philosophical explanation of how makeup is really, really about the state of my consciousness.
Choosing someone like you seems like a really unprecedented move for a beauty brand. How do you hope your involvement might influence the industry?
You know, I don’t know what the hell they were thinking when they asked me to take on this role. Honestly, I don’t know what it’s going to say. I didn’t say yes to doing it because I had some grand idea about changing perceptions, but if it does do something, it’s important to me that I be who I am. I say this because I think our culture often puts pressure on women to be what they’re not. So if this does anything, it would make me happy if there is some woman somewhere who sees me and thinks, I don’t need to hide. And not just makeup, but anything, that idea that just because you want to be taken seriously you then have to hide certain things about yourself, what you like. It would make me happy if a woman said that this No7 campaign made her feel like, Hey, I can be the free person that I am.
And that you can be multi-faceted.
Right, because we actually are. Women actually are a multiplicity of things and it’s important that we be allowed to be all of those things at the same time.
What do you think still needs to change in the beauty industry?
I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. It would be lovely to see more diversity. I don’t believe that there is an objective beauty that falls from the sky. I think that we create and re-create beauty. People who wring their hands and say, well, what can be done? What can be done is editors and people in power can decide very carefully and in a strategic way to show women who tell us that there’s a wide range of figures that we can aspire to. It would be lovely to have women of different shades, to have black women who have very dark skin, to have black women who are light skin, to have Asian women who are brown, Asian women who are light, to have white women who have red hair. Because it’s also the reality, it would be nice if the beauty industry reflected that a bit more.
I’ve also been interested in the way clothes are sold in the world. I feel like it would be nice to see someone wearing the dress I buy who can give me an idea of how it would actually look on me. I happen to have breasts, so it would be nice if the person trying on this dress actually had breasts…0r hips, or a bit of a belly. They’d probably sell more clothes.
I read that you design a lot of your own clothing and patterns, would you ever want to design your own line? You could choose your own models…
I mean, now you’re giving me an idea. I wish I had the time. But I don’t think I’m necessarily special; I think for most Nigerian women designing their own clothes isn’t that unusual. Everybody has a tailor and so you sort of get this idea and then you hope your tailor doesn’t mess it up. I actually find it quite calming sometimes, and I don’t draw well at all. In the past, I have made sketches and shown them to my tailor and the poor guy has looked absolutely baffled. But no, my own line is not something that I’m thinking about.
What role do you see feminism playing, specifically, in the years to come?
I think of misogyny and sexism as strains that exist in our society but that are harder to untangle and harder to acknowledge … I would like to see more of an acknowledgement of gender and the way that gender affects the way we think of public figures and the way we speak of public figures.
I really was crushed by this election, completely crushed on so many levels because I just really admire Hillary Clinton and I make no apologies for it. It’s interesting to me because often it’s the expectation that even if you support Hillary Clinton, you’re supposed to preface your support by saying, Well, she’s not perfect. I recognize [that] to be misogyny. Because who is perfect? Especially when you’re running against a person who is the very definition of imperfection. And yet, it’s her who we constantly have to explain. It’s fair to say I’ve been more than frustrated by the way Hillary Clinton’s public image has been very unfairly created.
What do you think feminism needs to do to take that major step forward?
I find it interesting that there’s a lot of talk about class, but then very little talk about gender. What I would like to see is that the discourse be more rounded, more holistic. It really annoys me when people say women, and they actually mean white women. There’s been a lot of talk about how women did not overwhelmingly vote for Hillary Clinton. But, in fact, black women and Hispanic women overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. White women did not. And so it’s important to ask questions about how gender intersects with class and race: What does it mean? I really want something more complex. I just want more, I want more. And I don’t know how it’s going to happen. I do have to say that I think there’s been a bit more of an awareness, and even if it’s not complex, it’s a step forward.
What advice would you give to any concerned young feminists out there right now?
I would say that there’s a moment to despair. I think it’s important to acknowledge the way one feels. I also think for young women, you have to keep standing up, you have to keep speaking, you have to keep pushing back. And if it means having to make obvious arguments every day, f—ing make them. It’s important, it’s so important. What happened in this election was deeply personal, it’s not just a repudiation of your ideas, but who you are.