I inherited my uneasy relationship with cosmetics. Just as many people adopt the politics of their parents and vote that way all their lives, so I adopted my mother’s attitude to make-up. This was, at best, a suspicious one.
Some people don’t like to look at medical implements in sterile packets. I catch work experience kids with their eyes glued to the items on my table-top, trying to cope with the unfamiliarity and finding things a little unsettling. Needles, syringes, cannulas and catheters are all just everyday tools to me.
Yet I don’t like to watch them doing their make-up in the lunch-break. No because I don’t approve, but because – like them – I’m squeamish of unfamiliar, somewhat personal equipment. Lipsticks, poking out of their plastic holders, are sticky, bright and phallic: I am always amazed by the unselfconsciousness with which people smear them over their lips. Skin colours powdered into plastic containers look like a grown-up’s painting set, but with limitted colours and rules about using them that I don’t understand. Glistening concentrated skin-colour in tubes, for putting on top of spots – on top of spots, that surely need access to the air – just make me squirm. This is my unfamiliar: a little bit gross and mysterious as witchcraft, with its pots and packages, its colours, its brand-names, its prices!
See me shuffling past them all in Boots, furtive as a prepubescant teenager in the condom aisle. The saleswomen who are there to consult and advise, read my body language a mile off and never approach. I might stare for a minute but I never buy anything. I wouldn’t know how to use it if I did.
Of course, other people have done my make-up for me over the years. They have even made it look nice. But it feels odd: there is something foreign stuck to my skin. It has an odd, soft, smooth or clammy consistency about it that isn’t part of me: my fingers keep going to touch it and within five minutes I am wiping it off. I use the present tense but the last time I tried foundation was actually at the trial session for my wedding five years ago. On the day, it was strictly ‘simple-eye-make-up-only’: never has the make-up artist found a wedding so easy. Nowadays the experience would probably be worse because the damn stuff would collect in my wrinkles, too.
But I do appreciate that it’s probably me who’s weird and not the people wearing it. I’ve been weird since school. Peers were trying to make themselves look older with varying degrees of success, while I was the geeky, inarticulate kid who was confused – the older people I knew all wanted to look young.
Then there were the college years, when a lot of my friends used make-up to look ‘interesting’. I loved some of the looks, but somehow dying my hair fake colours was an easier way to express myself. By our twenties, some friends had stopped using so much (a lot of vets and nurses don’t, especially on the night shift; outdoor people, ditto) and others had perfected an intimidatingly professional look. I never changed my spots.
So a rollicking great Thankyou to the Cancer-thrashing selfie campaign: not because it raised so much money (although I’m sure that will help some deserving people somewhere) but because it normalised, if only for a fifteen minutes, not wearing any make-up. I couldn’t resist joining in and nominating a few like-minded friends.
I find it fascinating that there are people who find it difficult NOT to wear make-up: the girls with pretty faces who, in a fake stereotype I picked up in the secondary school playground, are the popular, well-groomed ones. Imagine them finding it difficult to remove the slap and say: ‘look! This is me! This is what I look like!’
I don’t know what you were worrying about, any of you, because you all looked lovely. I actually thought that most of you looked better, but that’s perhaps my inherant bias speaking. My inner child was very pleased to hear that others can be as far out of their comfort zones not wearing make-up as I am wearing it.
My inner adult on the other hand, feels a little sorry for us both. I hope that anyone reading this who is not fond of their barefaced reflection, finds peace with that. You do not need to hide behind beauty products: you are not supposed to be permanently glossy.
And hey, maybe one day I’ll lighten up and find some hidden creativity, stop being so grossed out and give my life a little more colour.