Everyone who uses makeup daily, lift your brushes up. The proposal to tax beauty products may have been shelved for now (thank God!), but the fight to defend our right to vanity is far from being done.
Like hydrocortisone cream fresh out of its slim tube, our clashing views oozed out of control, revealing an ugly side of a debate that’s decadeslong: Is beauty conceit, or a necessity?
Last week, the internet blew up with probably the wittiest and most direct hashtag reacting to a controversy to date. Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe pitched a “vanity tax” bill that was believed to be the better alternative to a proposed hike in excise tax on petroleum products. After hearing deafening cries of #DontTaxMyBeauty, the lawmaker withdrew his bill last Monday and acknowledged that this will “affect certain sectors, which according to some, would also deprive them of their basic happiness.”
Huh, nice phrase. To call beauty a “basic happiness” is like applying BB cream over tinted moisturizer. Not only are you layering two similar makeup items, it’s also overkill. Happiness in itself is basic, and underlining its basic-ness is like throwing jabs at beauty being simplistic, when—from where we stand—it’s anything but.
Beauty, and the habits in pursuit of it, is almost always packaged as luxury, a status symbol, a marker that attracts power and attention. Vanity is deemed a sin, a close relative of narcissism. If we wanted to do good in this world, we were taught not to be self-indulgent. No plastic surgery, they said. Love yourself, they said.
Beauty is expected
But our society—our country, which idolizes appearance, whether in pop culture or politics—thinks beauty is a need. Whether you’re a saleslady hoping to sell products by looking attractive, an artista charm-converting fans, or just a singleton looking for her half, beauty is expected of all us.
Beauty is tricky. It’s tied too tightly to unrealistic standards we’ve yet to change. A little of it, and we’re accused of being unkempt, unattractive, unfortunate. When we have too much of it—or at least, pursue it by all means—we’re branded spenders, conceited hoarders, sometimes airheads. The right amount leaves us average.
Even sans the vanity tax, we’ve been paying more than we’ve received. We surrender to conventions; our minds become currency. A tub of night cream may buy us time before fine lines sink in, but we’re also hoping that we come off as acceptable, even “on-fleek.”
Our right to vanity doesn’t end with our receipts. It extends to bending from the curve and not faulting imperfections—aging, sunspots, scars, acne, heck, even hairy armpits!—as obstacles to beauty. The goal shouldn’t just be beauty products untouched by tax, but also acceptance of beauty, even in the absence of upkeep. Vanity will be less about appearance and more about embracing selves.
Beauty’s neither a need nor a luxury. It’s a choice, and not an accessory. And when we somehow earn the benefit to choose ways we can feel beautiful and not be forced to simply look it, I hope the choices are as many as our options to become happy.