Just recently, House Bill No. 4723 or “An Act Imposing Excise Tax on Cosmetic Products, Amended for the Purpose Section 150 of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, as Amended” was submitted to Congress. Many netizens took to social media to express their discontent for the proposed 10 to 30 percent tax to be imposed on beauty products and services, and one of the bill’s co-authors, Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol Party-list has been under fire for proposing such a bill that many consider to be discriminatory against women. Section 150 of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 points to the tax imposed on non-essential goods such as precious metals, pearls, perfumes and toilet waters, and yachts and similar vessels.
The proposed excise tax on beauty products and services is being marketed as the “better alternative” to increasing the excise tax on fuel. But its definition of what can be taxed under this proposal is vague at best. “Cosmetic products, or any substance or preparation intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity, with a view exclusively or mainly cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, and/or correcting body odor, and/or protecting the body or keeping them in good condition,” can be taxable under the proposed bill. For me, products that are supposed to clean, protect, and keep the body in good condition do not seem like luxury goods at all.
Likewise, among many other things, I think the moniker given to it—vanity tax—is problematic. It suggests that people wear makeup because of excessive pride or because they’re conceited. It implies the negative connotation that people wear makeup simply out of narcissism. It does not consider, for example, that some are forced to wear makeup, mostly for work, but generally and essentially to look more presentable. It does not consider as well the fact that makeup is something that society tends to expect of women.
The bill is difficult to accept and the idea behind it hard to tolerate because makeup has become difficult to classify as a non-essential good nowadays, as opposed to what the bill’s proponents seem to think. Makeup has become a necessity for many of those who work in the entertainment industry and in most industries where interaction plays a crucial role. The proposed tax will definitely put a strain on those who are required by their work or by their interactions on a daily basis to wear makeup. The phenomenon of “makeup tax” actually does exist, and as The Atlantic puts it, this makeup tax is what people, mostly women, experience because they invest so much time, money, and effort into doing their makeup because it can affect their relationships and paychecks. Even Deputy Speaker Miro Quimbo agreed when he said, “I don’t think it’s a luxury item at this time because it has become a necessity.”
The rest of the population who do wear makeup do so out of many reasons, some of them being to empower them, boost their confidence, or to play around with the many possibilities of being creative with makeup. For instance, I must admit I feel strongly against this proposal because I have purchased and will likely continue purchasing makeup. I don’t wear it on a daily basis but, when I do, I feel a surge of confidence, because makeup enables me to conceal my skin’s flaws—and believe me, when you’re a stressed college student, there are many—and instantly makes me feel like a better, more presentable, version of myself. But even this notion that people use makeup to give them a confidence boost is rooted in the fact that people tend to feel less confident when they don’t wear makeup because there is an expectation that they will, according to The Atlantic.
Society can tell us to be confident in our own skin, but, at a very young age, we’ve also been told that natural beauty is never enough, so a writer pens in a column published on The Guardian; thus the proliferation of advertisements that target most especially where the insecurities of many lie, hitting them where they are most vulnerable and pandering to their weaknesses, and thus the embedment in our society of makeup as something “normal” for women.
This springs from many causes, and FEM, UCLA’s Feminist Newsmagazine, enumerates some—women who are criticized for showing natural signs of aging and Hollywood actresses who are papped doing otherwise mundane tasks of the everyday simply because they are not wearing makeup, among others. Both cases point to society’s fixation with the normality of makeup that those who are caught red-handed without it appear to be defying the norm. As the article puts it, with media articles like “shocking” or “caught”, there is an impression that these women have become the nonconformists.
Because of the reasons stated above, it bothers me to know that the solons that we have in our country feel that if the proposed tax is too heavy of a burden, “’wag ka na mag-makeup, mabubuhay ka naman.” Yes, we will live, but so long as society expects us to wear makeup and so long as it leads us to believe that makeup has become a necessity for us to function in our day to day activities, the proposed vanity tax will be nothing more but counterintuitive and discriminatory.