5 things to do after you’ve posted your #nomakeupselfie

nomakeupselfieSo I did it. I joined the thousands of people up and down the country who have taken over your newsfeeds with their barenaked faces – all in the name of beating cancer. I knew the nominations from my friends would come eventually – especially since the ‘body image/beauty thing’ is what I spend most of my time talking about these days.

But as I watched more and more friends being ‘brave’ and bearing all on social media, a million thoughts and questions rattled through my head. Ordinarily I would have been one of the first to jump on the bandwagon and succumb to the peer pressure. I’m also a sucker for feeling involved in a ‘movement’ that’s doing good – like raising over £1 million for Cancer Research, for example.

But my questions included: what’s not wearing make-up got to do with beating cancer? Why is showing our mask-free faces seen as bravery? Why is it the norm that women should paint themselves in their attempts to chase that ever-elusive beauty standard? Why was I even hesitating when – regardless of the arbitrary links between beauty and cancer – it was doing good and could go a long way towards curing cancer for generations to come?

And then came the insecure thoughts. What if people think my face sans make-up is… well, minging? What if no one ‘likes’ it? That overwhelming need for affirmation in the beauty stakes. The crippling need that so many women feel to be seen as beautiful: loved, of value, of worth.

I’ve written in my book and blogged previously about my relationship with make-up. It’s a security blanket I’ve worn since I was 16 years old. When writing the book, I deliberately went without make-up to work on one occasion and also posted a barefaced pic of myself for an Adios Barbie campaign. I wrote about the internal struggle that preceded both of these things and the sheer fear of being seen in public bare-faced. I also wrote about that time when I arrived in Israel and realised I had forgotten my foundation. Night. Mare.

So here’s why I did a #nomakeupselfie: because – regardless of the questions, the insecurity, and not wanting to clog up people’s newsfeeds – there is good coming from it. If by doing this we become more ok with our natural bodies and faces, then that’s a good thing. If we happen to raise a lot of money towards eradicating cancer then, that’s even better.

But there is more we could do. The world’s a bit rubbish sometimes. There’s a lot of brokenness. There are causes we can support – and in so doing – we can grow as individuals and learn more about what it is to be human.

So here are just a few thoughts on what you can do after you’ve posted your #nomakeupselfie:

1)    Sign up for Race for Life

I’ve done this Cancer Research fundraising event a few times – most recently running 10k on Blackheath with lots of other women. Most of us were running in memory of loved ones who had died from cancer. It’s a spine-tinglingly amazing event to be part of. What’s running got to do with beating cancer? Not a lot – but if you have to get fit and join in solidarity with many other women to raise money towards funding research to beat it, then so be it.

Find out more about Race for Life here.

2)    Do something that seems impossible

Last night, I watched the amazing Davina McCall’s story of running, cycling and swimming from Edinburgh to London in just seven days in aid of Sport Relief. That’s 500 miles. She was following in the footsteps of celebrities including Eddie Izzard who once ran 43 marathons in 51 days, and comedian David Walliams’ 140-mile swim down the Thames for the charity. “There is not one piece of me that had ever thought I wanted to do some crazy endurance challenge,” Davina told The Guardian. “Not one… But you just say yes.” It was heartbreaking and joyous viewing. It makes you realise how much humans can achieve if they just set their minds on it.

Find out more about Sport Relief.

3)    Challenge the Beauty Myth  

This is a biggie. But increasingly there is a groundswell of rebellion against this idea that women should be judged on what they look like in a way that men have not been (although men are increasingly being objectified and we need to challenge that too). And that a woman’s highest calling in life is to be hot. Germaine Greer writes in The Whole Woman: “Every woman knows that, regardless of all her other achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful.” Once you start to notice how much the beauty myth pervades our society, it becomes overwhelming. But there are small changes we can make, like watching the words we say to little girls and our grown-up female friends. Sometimes talking about weight loss, make-up and beauty issues is a way in which women bond with each other. But let’s talk about changing the world too.

Here’s my list of Beauty Myth Fighters on Twitter that you might want to follow.

4)    Rethink that manicure

When we hear about human trafficking, we think: that’s awful. And then we get on with our day. But what if you come face-to-face with a woman who’s been trafficked every time you get your nails done? To think that the woman beautifying your nails could be living in a desperate situation brings it all home and reminds us of the need to fight this. In the past five years, at least 90 nail bars have employed 150 illegal immigrants and been fined almost £700,000. The government is cracking down on this through the Modern Slavery Bill currently going through parliament.

Read more about manicures and human trafficking here.

5)    Sign the No More Page 3 petition

So let’s say that in the future we’ve bared our faces, we’ve done the impossible, we’ve killed the beauty myth, we’ve ended modern slavery, we’ve raised millions for the fight against cancer… And then we pick up The Sun and see a naked young woman on page three. Really? Enough of that please. Boobs aren’t news.

Sign the No More Page 3 petition.

PS: Also, check out this hilarious parody of Beyonce’s ‘Flawless’ – “I woke up like this. I got morning face.”


To all the bossy girls

ImageYou just don’t hear the word bossy used to describe men. It’s a word most often used as a negative trait describing a woman; a woman who might be being assertive or trying to lead. She might be being decisive or strong-willed; she might be saying: this is how things should be done.

I’ve been called bossy all my life. The so-called bossyness has got me into positions of leadership – from that time when (aged seven) I started a girls’ football club at school because the boys wouldn’t let us play (I made posters and everything(!) and had to make an announcement in assembly*). My so-called bossyness saw me picked as the first form captain in year seven, captain of various sports teams throughout school, become a senior prefect, homework club supervisor, to being faculty rep at uni, news editor of the uni paper, to leading teams at work and sitting on boards as a full-grown adult.

Thinking back at the times when I was called bossy when I was younger – there was a part of me that liked it. To me, it meant people could see I clearly liked to lead things.

But somewhere along the line, I started to pick up a different meaning. As I started to realise that the term was only used to describe me because I was a girl. Because women were bossy while men were the bosses. Somewhere along the line, bossy started to mean: unattractive. It reeked of a masculine arrogance that had hints of the grotesque when seen in a woman. It suggested that a woman was acting above her station; that women should be seen – looked at, adored – but not heard leading the charge from the front.

Over the past few months I’ve been honing in on the B word – challenging men when they use it – watching the look of realisation on their faces when I ask if they would have described a man in the same way. And then I find myself using it too. Thirty years of social conditioning means the B word slips out – when I refer to some of my strong-willed female friends; when I apologise in male company for being ‘bossy’. When I deliberately keep my mouth shut and act helplessly for fear of being seen as bossy.

Sometimes women (and men) can be bossy. They can be domineering, oppressive, dictatorial, aggravating. Sometimes I can be those things. These negative traits absolutely should be called out. But they should be called out for what they are; not confused with leadership behaviour mistakenly seen as negative just because it is being found in a female.

Because when you tell a girl she’s bossy, it makes her second guess herself. It makes her hesitate. It makes her think twice about putting herself forward. It makes her wonder whether she’s supposed to lead. It makes her count herself out of changing the world.

In the past two weeks I’ve loved being in the audience to see two of the most powerful women in the world: Beyoncé at the O2 and Malala Yousafzai at the Southbank Centre as part of last week’s Women of the World festival.

Amazingly talented pop star Beyoncé – one of the leading women behind the new Ban Bossy campaign (check out the video) – is more than just a pop star, but an icon of our time – a woman not afraid to raise her voice and dare to set the agenda rather than follow it.

Malala too is not afraid to raise her voice in the face of criticism. “Words have power,” she said on Saturday. “If we don’t speak and we don’t raise our voices we can’t see change. When we speak, we make our dreams come true.”

Words do have power. Even simple words like ‘bossy’ can stop a girl in her tracks – whether she realises it or not.

And anything that limits girls from reaching their full potential – from leading – is a barrier to making the world better. Because according to the Girl Effect: “Girls are the most powerful force for change on the planet.”

Because in a world where girls are married off as children, where a third of all women in the European Union have been affected by sexual violence, where girls are victims of female genital mutilation – do we really need something else to hold women back?

So let’s stop using it. Let’s make an effort to ban bossy.

Let’s give girls examples of strong women who aren’t ‘bossy’, but are the boss. Women like Beyoncé, girls like Malala, and women like this amazing one in Proverbs 31:

She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
    she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself[e] with strength
    and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet.[f]
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
    when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.

*The club lasted three weeks.