Zadie Smith Says It's 'Foolish' For Young Women to 'Waste Time' on Beauty

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 19, author and very attractive human being Zadie Smith expressed her frustration about how much time young girls “waste” on beauty and makeup.

According to The Times of London, Smith told attendees that, after watching her seven-year-old daughter’s habit of “spending a lot of time looking in mirrors,” she imposed a crisp 15-minute time limit. “I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this,” Smith said. “Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a shit if you waste an hour and a half doing your make-up.”

What seems to have informed Smith’s observation about a makeup routine taking “an hour and a half” is contouring. She continues:

“From what I can understand from this contouring business, that’s like an hour and a half and that is too long. It was better than giving her a big lecture on female beauty, she understood it as a practical term and she sees me and how I get dressed and how long it takes.”


Smith’s point is valid, I guess: contouring, as seen on YouTube and in quick-cut video bites made for Facebook, seems like a whole lot of work for paltry, hardly noticeable results. It’s also worth noting that Zadie Smith is conventionally attractive and has cheekbones sculpted by nature and not by expertly-applied cream contour and a light hand. The characters in her novels are often consumed with the idea of beauty as the ultimate form of power; in her 2003 book On Beauty, one of the main characters has an affair with another woman and implies that the reason he did so is because his wife gained weight over the course of their marriage. Beauty as valuable social and cultural capital is something that clearly weighs heavy on her mind.

In her statement at Edinburgh, Smith seems to imply that the act of putting on makeup is a societal requirement for women looking to attract men, and that to spend any time on that activity instead of cultivating the fertile gardens of the mind is a tremendous waste of time. This implication leaves no room for the fact that caring about makeup, beauty, contouring, or how to properly use highlighter doesn’t mean that you’re an idiot focused solely on attracting menfolk. Much like wearing overly-complicated blouses or getting bangs, people have a myriad of reasons for engaging in their beauty routines, and quite often it’s purely for themselves.

Further, beauty bloggers on YouTube smearing full coverage foundation into their face while chatting earnestly with an audience they can’t see aren’t stupid. Makeup is an art, and shooting your own YouTube tutorials requires a very specific skillset, from video editing to proper lighting. There are far more pressing horrors facing women than the tired-ass argument that makeup is a tool of the patriarchy intending to bring us down. Wear makeup if you want! Or don’t!

Senior Writer, Jezebel

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I’ll have you know I waste time in myriad ways-putting crap on my face is just one of them, and it’s nowhere close to being the most frivolous.