Students' make-up covers a multitude of sins

Ann Mroz

"Do you like my eyebrows? Shaved 'em off. Shaved all my eyebrows off."

And thus last autumn a superciliary star was born. Bailey, the endearing Year 10 student in Channel 4 series Educating Yorkshire, for a short time owned the most famous eyebrows in Britain, as well as a cheeky face hidden beneath industrial quantities of Maybelline.

And the Scouse Brow is now appearing in schools all over the UK. A multitude of students go through the bizarre ritual of shaving off their eyebrows and drawing them back on with a thick pencil, often giving themselves a look of perpetual surprise in the process.

Young women and their strange ideas of attractiveness may perplex and exasperate teachers, but for many students it would be unthinkable to venture out without a full face of make-up, whatever the school rules say.

The pressure on girls to look beautiful at all times is enormous. But it is not just any kind of beauty. It is a flawless, unachievable, airbrushed and digitally manipulated beauty that serves to diminish any talent or success a woman might have.

A virtuoso cellist? Doesn't matter unless she looks good in a ballgown. A brilliant classicist? Doesn't count because she cares more about Latin than lashes. Just type "famous brainy women" into Google and see what comes up: "50 hottest smart girls", "Celebrity babes with high IQs". In academic terms girls may be performing better than ever, but the message they get is that it's not enough. You may be Ada Lovelace but society would rather you were Linda Lovelace.

So hurrah for actor - and Ivy League student - Emma Watson, who drew attention to the issue so brilliantly this week.

Harry Potter's Hermione Granger and star of recently released biblical epic Noah took to Twitter to reveal the huge array of cosmetics used to beautify her for the red carpet, with a photo of her wearing a backless black dress bearing the legend: "I did NOT wake up like this."

The image of women projected by the fashion and film industries is, as Watson pointed out, "dangerously unhealthy". It thoroughly undermines girls' self-confidence and leads to a well-rehearsed list of problems - anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder, as well as all kinds of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

So beneath the superficial problem of make-up at school lie a whole host of sensitive issues that teachers have to grapple with. Yes, schools must enforce their rules on cosmetics, but it's hard when wiping off the mascara takes a girl's self-confidence with it.

When more than one in 10 people asked to name a famous female scientist answer "Isambard Kingdom Brunel", we all must work harder to ensure we value our young women for their intellect and talents rather than their looks. You may laugh at that answer but try answering the question yourself. In fact, how many clever women in any sphere can you name? It is shockingly sad that our society fails to recognise and promote intellectual women. Girls need strong, clever role models more than ever before.

Let's remember amazing women such as Hedy Lamarr, not for her face or films but for her invention of the spread spectrum that paved the way for wi-fi.

Let's make our young women proud to be highbrow - and let's make sure it's not drawn on with an eye pencil.

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Ann Mroz

Ann Mroz

Ann Mroz is the editor and digital publishing director of TES

Find me on Twitter @AnnMroz

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