beauty

"I put on my red lips and pull myself together." Tara Moss defends wearing makeup in Lebanon's refugee camps.

Images: Alessio Romenzi for UNICEF, via Tara Moss (Instagram).

Australian author Tara Moss has recently returned from Lebanon, where she spent a week visiting refugees of the Syrian conflict who are currently living in camps and informal settlements.

The UNICEF ambassador has been documenting her experiences on Facebook, sharing photos and anecdotes that are equally heart warming and harrowing. On the second day of her trip, for instance, a nearby settlement burst into flames, killing four adults and five children.

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“My heart has been ripped from my body. Somehow it has also been mended and returned to my chest again, altered,” Moss, 41, writes. “I have seen so much suffering and injustice here, but also hope, determination and love.”

Despite the obvious importance of the work done by aid workers and ambassadors, a handful of commenters couldn’t resist calling Moss out for something entirely insignificant: her decision to wear red lipstick during her time in Lebanon. (Post continues after gallery.)

Now, if you’ve followed Tara Moss throughout her career, you’ll be well aware red lipstick is part of her trademark ‘vintage’ look. The former model regularly teams a bold red lip with thick-framed glasses, a flower in her hair, a retro frock and/or pinup-esque victory rolls.

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A slick of red lipstick certainly hasn’t stopped Moss from being a best-selling author and a fantastic advocate for women’s rights and other issues, so the suggestion that it would somehow undermine her aid work is laughable, not to mention sexist.

Moss with her latest book - and her lipstick.

This criticism also spectacularly misses the point, and derails an important conversation about the adversity millions of Syrian women, men and children are experiencing right now.

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On Saturday, Moss responded to the criticism in her ever-articulate and on point manner:

Precisely. Having an affinity for makeup, or fashion, or sport, or whatever you happen to love doesn't mean you don't place value on other things in life.

To suggest wearing lipstick is a sign of superficiality or one-dimensionality only serves to pigeonhole women — and it also implies we're not capable of being interested in more that one kind of thing simultaneously. Which is reductive and insulting.

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In fact, women are entirely capable of caring about and taking an interest in the refugee crisis, for instance, while also enjoying self-expression through things like makeup. One does not automatically discount the other. Does Hillary Clinton's scrunchie collection have any bearing on her politics? Nope.

Moss at a skill building class for refugees and Lebanese women, which included a makeup lesson.

Likewise, if an aid worker — or a politician, or a teacher, or an engineer — chooses not to wear lipstick, her work and intentions are no less valid.

Plus, as Moss explains, makeup means different things to different people. For some women who have been forced to flee their country, it's probably a source of great comfort and even personal strength to continue wearing the lipstick or jewellery or clothing they had loved before their lives were irrevocably changed. Why is it anyone's right to declare what belongings are and aren't important to someone else?

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If you want to help Syria's refugees, you can donate to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Appeal here. That's a far more useful course of action than pointing fingers at a woman for choosing to wear lipstick while administering potentially life-saving polio vaccinations to refugee children.

Do you agree with Tara Moss' response?