Go on, call me anything, but don't call me beautiful

'Beautiful' has become a taboo trigger-word in the beauty industry, writes Celia Walden

19 October 2017 - 11:42 By CELIA WALDEN
Ayesha Curry is one of the new faces of Covergirl's latest ad campaign.
Ayesha Curry is one of the new faces of Covergirl's latest ad campaign.
Image: Supplied

"I am what I make up."

Oh to have been a fly on the CoverGirl boardroom wall when advertising executives ditched their signature slogan "Easy, breezy, beautiful" to come up with this.

It's slick and it's punchy and, with all the back-slapping and the whoops of "nailed it!", no one seemed to care that it didn't make sense.

I get the bumper sticker "you go, girl" logic: I am whatever I want to be and that's just great. But unless something works on more than one level it's not a slogan, it's a sentence. And if you are what you make up, that makes you, what - cheeks, eyes, brows? Help me out here.

But what's a bit of grammatical licence between seller and consumer? What matters most now is that the new taboo trigger-word "beautiful" remains conspicuously absent.

Over the past five decades, "Easy, breezy, beautiful" has made the US cosmetics giant billions of dollars. Then the word "beautiful" didn't just fall out of favour but foul of the feminist law. It's sexist, patronising and reductive.

It's also a threat ("you must be beautiful, or else"), a deliberate belittlement of a woman's accomplishments, and a way for society to dictate the cornerstones of the female identity (I have no idea what that means, but someone on Radio Feminism said it, it sounds outrageous, and I for one will not stand for it).

CoverGirl has chosen "I am what I make up" in order to "celebrate your power to create who you are" and join the beauty industry's entirely unironic battle cry of "who wants to be beautiful anyway?"

Never mind that this is like a library campaigning against the written word or Woolworths opting for the tag-line "Because there's more to life than food", there's a far more inconvenient truth out there: namely that the answer to their implicit rhetorical question is a resounding "everyone".

Literally every woman I know would quite like to be beautiful, given the option. Failing that, most will try not to look completely repulsive.

When women buy mascara or lipstick, they're doing it not in the hope that it will improve their understanding of the socio-economic conditions of northern China

Beauty isn't what women live for, and it is possible to want other things at the same time - intelligence, success, good health and rewarding relationships - but I'm going to hazard a guess that when women buy mascara or lipstick, they're doing it not in the hope that it will improve their understanding of the socio-economic conditions of northern China, but because we'd all like to look better than we do.

Oh but that obsession with beauty's all about viewing ourselves through the predatory male gaze, isn't it? Nope. No man has ever scrutinised me quite as viciously as a woman, and I've certainly never heard one come out with the kind of reductive, superficial comments women can't help but spit out at every public female figure they come across on TV and in magazines, from Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel to Christine Lagarde and Theresa May. Shameful, but true.

Can a desperately contrived cosmetics slogan help us to change the way we think? CoverGirl thinks so. "This is bigger than a new campaign or a tag-line," insists the senior vice-president, Ukonwa Ojo. "We hope to spark a provocative dialogue that shifts cultural assumptions about when, where, how and why people wear make-up."

Oh please. Can't we just wear it, look beautiful and talk about something more interesting? — The Daily Telegraph

• This article was originally published in The Times.