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Why Phyllis Ellis Is One Of Chatelaine’s 2020 Women Of The Year

The documentarian is a Woman of the Year for issuing a call to arms for beauty consumers. Here, she shares her own highlight from this highly eventful year.

An illustration of documentarian Phylis Ellis on a turquoise background

(Illustration: Stefanie Wong)

With her documentary Toxic Beauty, award-winning filmmaker Phyllis Ellis put women’s health at the forefront and corporate giants in the hot seat. An in-depth investigation into the dark side of personal care, the film gives a voice to some of the thousands of women with ovarian cancer who believe that long-term use of Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder is to blame, including survivor and whistleblower Deane Berg. In May 2020, facing thousands of lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson pulled the powder off shelves in Canada and the U.S.—although it maintains the product is safe. (Its cornstarch-based baby powder remains for sale in both countries.) The doc, which also explores other controversial ingredients like parabens and phthalates, is a heart-rending must-watch that will make you reconsider the contents of your makeup bag.

What she’s proudest of this year

“I was in London screening Toxic Beauty with Dr. Philippa Darbre, one of the scientists in the film. She’s been working for years looking at the link between parabens in deodorant and breast-related diseases. Afterwards, a young woman stood up and said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Which is really the biggest question everybody has after seeing the film, ‘What am I supposed to do now that I know this?’ Dr. Darbre grabbed the microphone from me and said, ‘Your hair is perfect, your wrinkles are perfect, your skin colour is perfect. You’re all perfect, but none of you will believe me. Reduce, reduce, reduce and remove and basically none of it you need.’ It was like a mosh pit. I could just see her hands waving because there were so many women surrounding her.”

Meet all of our 2020 Women of the Year here