It seems that a new tax proposal is unsettling our middle class privilege. Social media blew up last Jan. 10 when a congressman proposed a 10 to 30 percent tax imposition on cosmetic products and beauty services in congress.
According to Ako Bicol Partylist Representative Rodel Batocabe, this “Vanity Tax” will ultimately benefit the general public, and will serve as an alternative to raising taxes on basic needs. Batocabe adds that those who can afford cosmetic surgery can surely afford to pay a little more for the luxury. Better to put the burden on that, he says, rather than imposing taxes on groceries, commute fares, and utilities.
Initial reactions were naturally negative; on Twitter #DontTaxMyBeauty trended to express a general disapproval of the proposed tax. According to most, this is a largely anti-woman act, and imposes an even greater burden on already unhealthy beauty standards. With women being the largest consumers of makeup in the Philippines (and the rest of the world), this measure unfairly punishes them for consuming products that they find empowering. More benevolent arguments defended women in the service industry who need cosmetics for work.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it thinks of this situation from a point of privilege. How detrimental is taxation on beauty to society on a massive scale? We don’t consume makeup as often as we need fuel and groceries. The burden of 10 percent on a 300-peso lipstick, for example, only adds 30 pesos. That’s a significant amount, for sure, but how often does one need to buy new lipstick? In the same way that sports cars are (heavily taxed) luxuries, taxing cosmetics and cosmetic services function the same way, just on a much smaller scale. Even sales people who might require makeup to look presentable don’t need to keep replenishing their makeup collection. While it’s true that makeup is an important tool for empowerment especially among women, we have to call it what it is: a luxury.
Perhaps people are resisting this so much is because of the stigma surrounding our taxation system — and we can’t blame them for it. We pay some of the highest taxes in Southeast Asia, and yet government services and infrastructure don’t seem to reflect that. Corruption remains one of our biggest issues, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue is a hotbed of dirty dealings. If you asked us, is imposing more tax really the issue, or do we just have to be better at collecting and disbursing it to the right agencies?
For now, we’re going to give our government the benefit of the doubt. While we don’t reject the Vanity Tax on principle, we do think it’s our right to demand that the money goes to the right place. It would be great if the Vanity Tax were appropriated for healthcare initiatives and services that will uplift the lives of the disenfranchised: health centers, livelihood opportunities, and even vocational training.
Taxation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Developed countries have some of the highest taxes in the world; the only difference is that their taxes actually work for them. The thought of paying a little more for a tube of lipstick may sound like a terrible thought, but if it were to go to the right place, then it might not be such a bad thing after all.