Paint: an evolving relationship with makeup

29 Jan

I was fourteen and going through a messy argument with a school friend. You know the sort. The final straw for me was when she said, with real vitriol, “Your mum forced me to wear eyeliner to the disco!”

Now, you can come for many things but come for my mum and our friendship is done.

What my mum had done, generously, was offer to do our makeup for the evening. She did a nice green eyeliner for me, with mascara and a coral lip to go with my blue halter top and pleather flares. It was 2001, man. Dark times for fashion. But whatever, I looked fly and a guy I couldn’t see properly without my glasses tried to put his hand on my bum when we slow danced for thirty seconds, so I guess someone else thought so too.

That green eyeliner was not the first makeup I wore (I’m from a theatre family, so I was in wizard moustaches and princess blush from toddlerhood). It was, however, an important step in my long and evolving relationship with makeup. Soon, I had my own green pencil, and it came out for many special occasions, along with a pink and gold mix lipstick and later, a Barry M turqouise eyeshadow. Styling.

As you can tell, my mum was and is a huge influence on my concept of beauty. She’s beautiful, feminine and, when she wants to be, incredibly glam. I have often felt like a total let-down because being ‘put together’ does not come easily to me. I’ve pretty much only just learned how to dress myself and I didn’t rock a bold lip until 2009. But I am improving, and I thank her for being a role model in womanhood. Also for teaching me the ‘chin down’ Twiggy photo pose so we have great snaps.

Mum also taught me that most situations in life are an acting job, and if there’s one thing that makes any acting job easier, it’s the right costume. See: the two weeks I spent at Ancient Greek summer camp before starting uni. Yes, that’s a thing. Listen, we partied. We also made jokes about the aorist middle. But we partied.

Anyway, someone told me that I would definitely get a boyfriend at camp. This was a convocation of public school boys who’d spent most of their lives in all-male boarding, and some of them in knickerbockers, after all. So I dutifully wore my Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse and a relaxed brown eyeliner every single day.

I did not get a boyfriend at camp. But I looked and felt great, and I realised that sometimes you need a little bit of costuming to approach the day with confidence.

Nowadays I find I’m unusual among my female friends in wearing makeup on a frequent basis. I often wonder if it’s a class thing. I have a working class body (boobs big enough to need straps thicker than a piece of string, which a posh guy once told me was his biggest turn off) and a working class face (as my sister once put it, you know we’re not posh because you can see up our noses). And yeah, I prefer to wear something on said face every day because I can’t rely on my natural glow. I’m a common-as-muck interloper who doesn’t bake her own bread, run marathons, support charity or eat chunks of frozen banana instead of sweets. So, you know, I need a leg up to look halfway human in the morning. Blame the brief period of social mobility in the 1960s, idk.

But seriously, there’s nothing to beat the feeling of being on point that having a nice outfit and makeup gives me. My daily makeup routine is generally a CC cream (I’m currently evangelical about the Bourgeois 123 Perfect), concealer (Mac – discovered when I was meeting a friend after several years and realised I had a huge spot and ran into a department store on a desperate hunt for cover up, which was pointless because she has never worn a scrap of makeup in her life, see above), eyeliner (Collection 2000 felt tip), powder and more often than not these days a light blush (Canmake from Japan). I’ve recently got into brow pencil, even though I make a joke about starting a band called ‘Badly Drawn Brows’ pretty much every morning.

For a night out, the big guns. I use a Boots foundation if I need extra coverage, and the Kate Moss for Rimmel contour kit even though my Scots potato face has no cheekbones to accentuate. A full load of mascara is a must. Highlight I’m still working on, but I remain hopeful that I’ll one day look glowing rather than slightly pasty. Then a great lip seals the deal. I love a classic red or hot pink, but recently tried Revlon Black Cherry for fancy dress and kept it for regular wear because who doesn’t love feeling a tiny bit witchlike?

As you can tell, my collection is cheap and drugstore. Yay for bargains. I have the odd luxury but there is such a thrill in picking up a cute lippy for £5, even if I regret that after an hour when my lips get that nice ‘freshly cooled lava’ crust. There’s a reason sales of lipstick rise during recession. It makes you feel good.

For that reason, I don’t have time for those who say ‘I don’t like girls who wear makeup’. One dude said this in front of me when I was wearing a very sexy red strapless mini-dress and corresponding pillar box lip with fully done eyes. I looked fab so therefore can only speculate about his motives. To such killjoys I can only extend the middle finger and say:

I don’t give a flying (insert your own swear word here).

If I feel foxy in makeup, then I’m damn well going to wear it and be happy. If I’m my best self au naturel, I’ll choose to go bare. Women are subject to this horrible double standard wherein we’re criticised if we look rough but at the same time it’s vain and even ‘deceptive’ (again, something I’ve heard in real life and a bizarrely Biblical era attitude) to put nice colours on our eyelids. Amy Schumer pretty much nailed it in this song. It’s a load of nonsense.

Frankly, all people of all genders should feel free and unencumbered to wear or not wear makeup as they please. A desire not to look like a three-day-old corpse is nothing to be criticised. Nor should we shy away from vanity. I want to be more celebratory of my body and being alive in it. After a lifetime of growing up female and being told that liking yourself is an undesirable trait, I’m tired.

Equally, there are those times that makeup becomes part of an oppressive regime of enforced uniformity that I have observed at close hand both as a pupil and a teacher at girls’ schools. That’s also not great. But as long as it’s your own choice and you make it freely, I strongly believe you should wear whatever you like.

I’m not going to pretend the current teen trends for Sharpie brows and muddy cheeks looks great, but you know what? Neither did frosted lips and the overplucked Xtina brows of the 2000s and we’re all mostly unscathed. At least today’s kids have legit makeup gurus on Youtube to teach them. We had to make do with Mizz magazine telling us that pink eyeshadow would give us that cool S-Club (with conjunctivitis) vibe.

All this rumination started this morning when I set off for work with my hair looking less bushlike for once and my basic face all on and sorted before I left the house. This is a once in a blue moon combination and damn, I felt super. Thanks, Mum, for teaching me to put eyeliner on, and showing me the power of costume. Today’s role might be tough, but I’ve got my greasepaint. Let me on that stage.


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