Celebrity gardener to narrate GardenAfrica radio appeal

GardenAfrica is delighted to announce that gardening enthusiast Monty Don will be narrating our next BBC Radio 4 Appeal!

Please listen in as Don tells the story of Beauty, a Zimbabwean woman and how GardenAfrica has changed her life.

The Appeal will be broadcast on Sunday 3 August at 7.55am and again on Thursday 7th August at 15.27. 

Monty Don presented BBC’s Gardeners World TV program from 2003-2008. He is passionate about organic gardening and is President of the Soil Association.

Read more about Radio 4 appeals here.

Monty Don



The No Makeup Selfie
March 27, 2014, 10:09 am
Filed under: charity campaign | Tags: , , , , ,

As a charity fundraiser, I applaud the No Makeup Selfie #nomakeupselfie campaign. I admire the women who are participating so generously and raising money for a vital cause.

But as a feminist, I am troubled. Why is it considered remarkable, brave even, for a woman to be seen without make up?

I am not the only one uneasy with the #NMS campaign. On social media various people have tried to get around the problem. Journalist Jen has posted a photo of herself holding a sign obscuring her face reading “How I look is irrelevant. But it’s still a good idea to text 70099 and donate”.

Sadie, a feminist and charity fundraiser has written a post demanding to know why our unadorned faces are considered so unacceptable: “Because, y’know, THE HORROR of seeing our ‘real’ faces…It feels patronising and reductive, and doesn’t take into account the myriad reasons that women may have for wearing (or not wearing) make-up in the first place, be they social, psychological, just cause they damn well like it, or don’t like it and already go without make-up on a daily basis”.

Kate, a teacher on maternity leave, has simply said on Facebook that she doesn’t do Facebook chains, but has donated to a cancer charity, a cause close to her heart. And Chris, a Scottish man, has uploaded a picture of himself in full slap complete with red lipstick.

So the #NMS is problematic. And yet, I wear make up. Not always, but often. And profile pictures on social media tend to show a groomed, polished image of myself; whereas the tagged pics taken on mates’ mobiles show a bleary, leery harridan brandishing a glass of wine and ranting at my all-female book club. So I am as guilty as anyone of the presumption of vanity on which the #NMS hinges.

“Mummy what are you putting on your face?” asks my 3 year old daughter, innocently, as I put on some blusher. How I battle with this question. I have written dissertations and research reports, taken questions from undergraduate students on Logic and Ethics, but this simple question kills me. I cannot say (I CANNOT) “I am trying to look pretty” or “I am making myself beautiful”. What does this say to her? That beauty boils down to foundation and mascara, not wisdom, kindness and grace. Or worse yet, that her own unadorned face is not beautiful enough? Let’s face it, she is going to hear that message soon enough, but I’ll be damned if she hears it from me first. The best answer I can come up with for now (and if you have more suggestions, please Tweet me) is this: “Mummy just wants to look different today, sweetheart.”

Make up bag

Make up bag

I have struggled and struggled with this, and have come up with a rule of thumb that makes sense to me. If I am applying make up (or nail polish, or doing any of the grooming rituals) for fun, adornment, self-expression, creativity – for the joy of it, then I am doing it for me and that is fine. If you are applying make up or shaving your legs as a chore – not because you want to but because you feel you are unacceptable in your natural state, then you are a victim of the patriarchy.

For example, it’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone is going to the beach. You are hot and desperate to swim, but you don’t dare don a bikini because you haven’t had a wax. This quite frankly is bullshit. A man wouldn’t think twice about the state of his body – his body belongs to him and is not an object for other eyes to judge. Or its 7 am. The alarm goes off. You are tired and desperate to  hit the snooze button and get another ten minutes’ sleep. But then you won’t have time to blow-dry your hair before you go to work. So you sacrifice sleep on the altar of grooming. (Madness! As long as you are showered and clean and wearing clean clothes, your body is perfectly acceptable for the office). Or you are reading a wonderful book. You can’t put it down. But although you are at a thrilling bit, you put the book down. You really must pluck your eyebrows before you go to the party.

Why would we give up the physical joy of swimming, the intellectual joy of a brilliant book or the bliss of a bit more sleep to groom, groom and groom some more?

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf argues that the tyranny of grooming is a stick to beat women with. Firstly, if we don’t feel confident in our appearance (if we believe we are fundamentally ugly) then women won’t speak up in business meetings, heckle politicians, ask for raises, run the world. Secondly if we are permanently on a diet, we are weakened. Both physically (we literally don’t have the energy to do things) and mentally – because when you are on a strict diet, so much of your mental attention is focused on food that you don’t have any brain power left over to write a poem, nail that grant application…. cure cancer. Thirdly, the sheer amount of TIME spent on grooming means we have less time to devote to marathon training, volunteering at a shelter or running for public office. The Beauty Myth lays out logically and convincingly that artificial, unobtainable standards of beauty are systematically used to keep women in their place. I am summarising a superb thought provoking book into a paragraph so do yourselves a favour and read it!

I am not going to nominate anyone else to do a #NMS. Many of my friends work at charities, or do volunteer work, or quietly help a family back home in Africa. Instead I am going to throw out a challenge to all women: lets support each other, be kind to each other and turn a blind eye to one another’s external beauty, which is only skin deep after all.