All Made Up

When I first thought of this post I was tempted to include the word ‘frivolous’ in the title. I didn’t because although it’s about make-up, I am a grown-up who doesn’t actually feel that painting my face is frivolous. In the words of the excellent Georgia Lewis

“Anyone who thinks that lipstick is the enemy needs to grow up and go fight some genuine oppression. If you don’t want to wear make-up, that is your choice. If you do, that is also your choice. If you wear make-up some days but not others, that is fine too.”

So, I like make-up. Ever since my mum banned me from wearing it until I was 16 – an exercise in futility for a 14 year old in the 1980s – I’ve been painting my face with varying degrees of success and expertise. I’ve discovered a few things along the way, among them:

  • Green and yellow eye shadow will make you look as though you were socked in the eye a couple of days ago.
  • Brown mascara is pointless.
  • The mission to find a red lipstick which isn’t too pink or too orange will literally never end.
  • All the nicest eye shadows come in a multi-box and you will never use the other colours.
  • Blusher goes UNDER one’s face powder, not over.
  • Eye make-up primer is your friend.
  • Being able to do 1960s style flicky eyeliner takes a LOT of practice and eye make-up remover.
  • I can wear glittery eye-shadow if I damn well please.
  • Sneezing while applying mascara is messy and irksome.

But I would like to be able to buy a foundation which is colour-matched for my actual skin rather than some mental image the assistant has of an oaken-faced Katie Price. I have lost count of the times I’ve told an assistant, ‘Look, I’m quite pale’ only to find her painting my jawbone with something roughly the colour of creosote while insisting that it’s a ‘natural look’. Perhaps if I was a park bench.

Buying make-up is quite nice too. Especially when the assistants leave you the hell alone to try 17 lipsticks on the back of your hand without interfering except to pass a piece of tissue to wipe it all off. There’s something very appealing about all those shiny little boxes and bottles and mirrored surfaces. Lining up one’s brand new blushers and mascaras is somehow inherently glamourous. In my head I’m a 1950s starlet sitting at a beautifully-lit dressing table applying lipstick to my luscious pouting mouth. In real life, I’m a 40 year old in a dressing gown trying to draw a straight line on my eyelid at 6.30am under a daylight bulb in the spare room.

I’ve gone for a variety of looks over the years. There was the time a Body Shop assistant made me over using violet eye-shadow and purple mascara. The pearlescent amber lipstick I wore all the time after seeing Ofra Haza wearing it in the video for ‘Im Nin ‘alu’ (I did say it was the 1980s). The more successful makeover in Space NK about two years ago when a smoky-eyed goddess rushed straight out of the shop and into a photo booth to get pics for a due-for-renewal passport, thus ensuring a decent passport picture until 2021. I’ve also discovered the best tinted lip balm that was ever made and discontinued (I’m not telling you what it is because I’m still combing ebay for it every few weeks). The 1990s was probably the era I wore the least make-up, how lucky was I that a trend for a minimal, natural look coincided with me being in my 20s and fresh of face? While the last five years have been the era when I’ve worn the most make-up. You know what people say about how one has to do more to look the same as they get older? It’s totally true.

The longest period I ever went without make-up was two weeks at a detox resort in Thailand. It was about the first time I’ve been seen by another human being (apart from my husband) without make-up since my newly-built flat flooded in 2005. Even I didn’t have time to slick on a coat of foundation and some blusher so my face was splotchy as I cried over the high vis of the site manager while raw sewage inched across my lovely wooden floor. At first it felt odd leaving my Thai bungalow bare-faced, but when no-one else within 10 miles is wearing make-up, you tend to look a bit of a tit if you flounce around in full slap. Plus the heat makes it all slide down your face to create a greasy soup in your cleavage after five minutes outside. Putting it all back on at Bangkok airport on the way home was reassuring but fiddly, as though I’d started riding a bike again after 20 years.

Applying make-up is oddly soothing and therapeutic – a combination of lightly stroking one’s face and painting a picture – and doesn’t take nearly as long as you might think. It takes about 10 minutes for me to go from just-got-out-of-shower to ready-to-leave (plus 10 minutes for clothes). Lots of people have their own special tips for optimum application but mine is facing a mirror by a sunny window so rogue streaks are easily spotted and the trowelled-on look avoided. Since I have to be at work before it’s actually light in the winter, the aforementioned daylight bulb stops me looking as though I’ve been freshly exhumed as a result. Hotels, take note: put a well-lit mirror in a part of the room next to a shelf and women will love you forever. Especially if you include a socket for our GHDs which doesn’t require us to stretch the cable to maximum tension and incline our heads at 45 degrees to be able to see in the mirror.

What make-up websites should you look at? Don’t ask me, there are tons. I recently needed to know how to apply false eyelashes and whole seconds of Googling produced more instructional videos than anyone could possibly need. Note: applying false lashes is quite fiddly, you need a steady hand and if you peel them off and leave them on your bedside cabinet you may wake up the next morning and in a befuddlement of hangover, think they are a spider and scream. Phoebe Child did some brilliant posts about make-up and beauty on The Flick. Upon reading them I found that one could never have enough tips about make-up and that I could wear glittery eye-shadow if I damn well pleased, plus she is funny. The Guardian’s Sali Hughes also has an excellent blog with all kinds of good things and in fact, it was one of her make-up videos which taught me how to do the 1960s flicky eyeliner thing (although she claims to be able to apply it on a moving train which I am pretty sure I will never be able to do). Jossbox, which is the subject of the Georgia Lewis post I quoted above is definitely worth bookmarking. Those are all the recommendations I can handle.

Finally, let’s get the whole vanity/feminism thing done.

Q. Is it vain, frivolous and shallow to want to wear make-up?
A. No. Who cares if someone else thinks it is anyway? They are not the boss of you.
Q. Can I be a feminist and still wear make-up?
A. Yes. The two are not mutually exclusive. Refer to quote above.
Q. Am I just wearing make-up to appeal to men/because society expects it of me?
A. No. I like wearing make-up and that’s about all there is to it.

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