I don’t know if anyone caught X Factor on the telly the other night? To be honest, I stopped being interested in X Factor after Andy Abraham unjustifiably lost out to Shane Ward way, way back in Series 2 – just like I stopped being interested in Strictly after they got rid of Arlene Philips to ‘refresh’ the show (The BBC replacing the only female judge (65) with someone 35 years younger who had no professional understanding of dance, and keeping the three male judges (age range 43, 52 and 64) on the panel, whilst denying any account of discrimination against older women in the workplace. #EverydaySexism?!) Anyway… I digress… that’s a blog post for another day. Back to me in my living room…
So it was Sunday night: I was waiting for Poldark to come on and flicking across channels, when I came across the new series of X Factor at the judges’ houses stage. Woo! Judges’ houses! No more staged scripted drama that we see in the first rounds, no more sob stories with sorrowful music playing from afar, no more poor souls who have only been let on the show for the sole purpose of us at home laughing at their awfulness from the safety of our sofas, the wheat has most definitely been separated from the chaff, and this was going to be highly enjoyable, talent saturated viewing from start to finish! Which it (arguably) was, for a bit. And then 17 year old Samantha Lavery turned up for her audition with Simon, flanked by Mel B and Emma Bunton as his guest judges at his swanky house in Malibu, and was told by Simon that she had ‘over-styled’ herself, and therefore seemed ‘distant’, as if there was a ‘mask put up’; that he wanted her to ‘peel away the mask’ and see her ‘without so much makeup’ so that he could ‘get to know who [she] really [is]’.
This was before she’d had the chance to sing yet.
So Sam was sent away to audition later and to return smelling of make-up wipe freshness. I couldn’t work out what was most upsetting: The fact that a 17 year old was denied her right to sing based solely on her appearance by a man who – if we’re counting Botox as makeup – was wearing far more than she was, with no consideration of the effect it might have on her confidence, her insecurities, her self-esteem, her audition – what she had actually come here to do – or, the fact that two former Spice Girls – THE SPICE GIRLS for crying out loud, worldwide symbol of Girl Power and general fabulousness, whose finger snapping number one hit ‘Wannabe’ has been used for Project Everyone’s inspiring #WhatIReallyReallyWant campaign video to promote universal gender equality – just sat there either side of Simon as he proclaimed his internal turmoil over a contestant’s appearance, acting as if this was totally okay. And only contributed their opinions on the matter when asked by Simon ‘does that sound bad?’ by saying ‘Yeah it does… she’s allowed to experiment… that’s what girls do.’ Are you kidding me?! How is that okay? Mel B was there for Pete’s sake! If anyone is going to fiercely speak their mind, it’s her! Why did no-one challenge him and call him out in the moment for what he said? Why did they stay silent until the moment that they were asked to speak?!
As you can probably tell by my increased use of excessive punctuation, I was livid, and so took to twitter to see if I was alone in my feminist despair. I was relieved to find that I was not. I’ve included a few of the tweets I found below for you to peruse through:
“Literally all the girls were wearing makeup so why does he single her out like that before she’s even performed. Absolutely horrible #XFactor” @buterabelle
“There is no way Sam taking her make up off made them “get to know her”. What a load of crap #XFactor” @Inventfulname
“Ugh. If Sam wants to wear makeup, let her wear makeup. Shaming someone for wearing eyeliner is ridiculous, particularly a teen girl #XFactor” @TooManyEmmas
“@SimonCowell sent one of the girls off for wearing makeup? Who is he to judge what she wears or what make up she has on @TheXFactor #XFactor” @gemylouxx
“Simon asking a girl remove her makeup is disrespectful AF. On what planet does your appearance effect your ability to sing? #xfactor” @BroderickDamien
“Simon Cowell, perpetuating the idea that women wearing obvious makeup are somehow being dishonest. Someone’s not with the times. #XFactor” @Panayisalad
“I’m actually so pissed that Simon forced Samantha to take her makeup off. Let her be. #xfactor” @finejustins
Sisters, I salute you! But amongst those tweets, there were also a lot of these:
“I’m so happy that Sam has got through! I thought Simon was a bit harsh at first, but she does look so much better natural so… #XFactor”
“Wow… Samantha Lavery without all the makeup is stunning. Good call Simon. #XFactor”
And I get it, you might be thinking – what’s the big deal? It’s only some make up. She did look better without it anyway…BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT!
In a time where, as a female, you can’t escape the constant torrent of images depicting ‘beauty’ that are everywhere, thanks to the patriarchy – extensive make up adverts, anti-aging products, the weird distorted image of beauty that now exists in the western world where even the most ‘beautiful’ celebrities are photoshopped for magazine covers – there is no denying that women are constantly being told that we are not aesthetically good enough. Women must be flawless and keep up an appearance of perfection. This cultivates an attitude that the natural face isn’t enough. Hence why some women feel the need to wear make-up. And then you have the other end of the scale – makeup-shaming – where you wear so much makeup that you are accused of being too insecure, being a “certain type of girl”, even preventing people from getting to know the real you, and in Samantha Lavery’s case, being accused of wearing a ‘mask’. So following these beauty standards as a guide, so kindly given to us by the wonderful society we live in, you should aim to meet a weird, indistinguishable middle ground; you should wear makeup, but not too much; you should look natural, but the type of natural created by a blending brush, as genuine natural is far too repulsive to be viewed by the average pair of eyes. No matter how hard you try, you will inevitably be shamed for either wearing too little or too much makeup, and so you can never be good enough. Soz.
But then some women just wear makeup for themselves. Not because of societal pressures or the patriarchy, but because they enjoy it. A form of self-expression. Did Simon ever consider that Sam might be wearing makeup for herself, and not for anyone else? Probs not. And so by asking her to take off her makeup, which he believes is showing the real her, is no longer her expressing herself, it’s her expressing who he wants her to be.
You want to wear makeup? Fine. You don’t want to wear makeup? That’s fine too. We need to understand that makeup should be used as a form of self-expression, and not to reach an unattainable state of perfection. There is no one-size-fits-all beauty routine. The world is made up of a complete mixture of faces – and that’s beauty in its truest form.
People need to start realising that it is not okay for men to tell women how they should think or feel or dress or live their lives. Because ultimately, this is a man telling a woman how much she is worth. Which makes for a rather uncomfortable prime-time Sunday night viewing. ITV take note.
It’s not about whether Sam looks better with or without the eyeliner. It’s about the fact that that moment was her time to show her talent on a singing competition. Just think, if Louis had told the gay duo Bratavio to take off their make-up and re-audition, there would be uproar! I can see it now: how dare he criticise self-expression and innovation! They are so brave and fabulous for being who they want to be! But for some reason the rules are different for women. And that needs to change. Because it’s these easily brushed off incidents that underpin the foundations of sexism in our society. Okay, so it was just someone asked to take a bit of their makeup off. But in a world where a talented choreographer and professional former dancer can be sacked from the judging panel of one of the leading British TV shows for the unavoidable (and beautiful!) act of aging, where do you draw the line?
Written by Tender Youth Board member, Rachel.