LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From the skies to the stage, women are taking a stand for equality by wiping off their make-up, sparking a bare-faced trend that won rising numbers of followers globally but also triggered vocal defenders of the benefits of cosmetics.
An online #nomakeup campaign dates back about three years to when US singer Alicia Keys vowed not to wear make-up anymore but it has gained momentum this year with other celebrities and industries following suit.
British singer Jess Glyne made headlines in February when she took off her make-up during a Brit Awards performance while singing “Thursday”, a song about not wanting to wear makeup.
Airlines Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus this month updated guidelines stating air hostesses no longer had to wear make-up.
A spokeswoman from Virgin Atlantic said the move was made to reflect a change in the aviation industry, where highly coiffeured female hostesses were once nicknamed trolley dollies, and Aer Lingus said it reflected “changing dress norms”.
University student Yim Ji-su helped spark a debate in February about daily sexism in beauty-obsessed South Korea by ditching her make-up and shaving her hair into a buzz cut.
Abi Wright, founder of UK-based Inspiring Margot, a company working to build women’s confidence in the workplace, said wearing make-up should be a choice, not an expectation.
“If, as women, we’re expected to wear make-up then that simply says our appearance is more important than our skills and abilities,” Ms Wright told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It highlights yet again that our society associates a woman’s worth by appearance and nothing more.”
In Britain, discrimination at work over make-up or clothing is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 but this law has come under scrutiny since a 2016 campaign by Nicola Thorp who was sent home from work without pay for refusing to wear high heels.
This prompted a parliamentary inquiry that led to guidance setting out how the law might apply when an employer required female staff to wear high heels, make-up, or revealing clothing.
The United States has similar laws with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stating standards can be different for men and women as long as it is generally consistent but there has not been many challenges to sex-based employee dress codes.
The trend to go bare-faced has been picked up by the global cosmetics industry, which was worth at least $48.3 billion last year, according to market research group Mintel.
New cosmetics companies like Glossier Inc, which was valued at over $1 billion this week, are offering products that cater to various skin tones and emphasise a natural “no-make-up” look.
“No make-up is really a symbol of being empowered and being comfortable in your own skin, not having to hide behind something,” said British make-up artist Lee Pycroft.
“It’s positive because it’s taking away the association that women have to look a certain way to fill a certain role,” said Lee Pycroft, who has worked with celebrities like actresses Anne Hathaway and Laura Linney and supermodel Elle Macpherson.
But the bare-faced movement has divided opinion over whether this is a serious assertion of female equality or the focus on make-up as a negative for women was overblown.
Ria Cooper, 25, who at 13 became the youngest transgender woman in Britain in 2007, said wearing make-up could be positive, transformative and more than skin deep.
She set up a beauty salon in northern England in 2018 to support and guide other trans women with beauty tips who might not feel comfortable at traditional salons.
“I believe woman are beautiful without make-up, but I also believe make-up does do wonders,” Ms Cooper said in a phone interview. “Make-up makes you feel beautiful and more confident.”
Make-up artist Pycroft said she has seen firsthand how it can change a woman’s demeanour, having done several make-overs for domestic abuse survivors and other vulnerable women.
“Having seen the way make-up can be used as a tool to help people, it can have a very positive part to it,” she said.
“Make-up is often thought of as superficial and a bit fluffy, but it can bring about the person that we’ve forgotten about. It can be really empowering.”