I have a selection of books from my childhood that sit upon the bottom shelves and that the husband periodically tries to throw away (without getting rid of a multitude of build your own model aeroplane plans, I hasten to add) and which I occasionally come across when looking for something else and take an impromptu trip down memory lane. It happens a lot because I am invariably looking for something I have put in a Safe Place. This last week though, I haven’t so much found a long-lost book, more thought of it and smiled inside. It stands amongst the corner cobwebs with the pink Abba annual and the book of famous forgeries, next to the fairy tales and the world atlas, part a set of hardbacks you’re supposed to keep because otherwise why would someone have given them to you, many Christmases ago?
On the front cover sits a young woman on a horse, attractively backlit and wearing the kind of knitted jumper someone’s mum would have made who understood the need for everything to be oversized rather than fitting nicely, it’s title “Teenage Beauty” enticing the young-and-interested-in-growing-up to the exciting secrets contained within. Inside its still-glossy pages there is advice about spots (everyone gets them), sleep (you need a lot when you are a teenager) and eating healthily (you are what you eat, drink lots of water, your cheekbones will magically appear when you are in your twenties), exercise (find something you enjoy) and washing (do that lots). And, of course, hair and makeup for all manner of different occasions.
Not for the teenaged me the guidance of the youtube star and beauty blog, instead I had my trusty manual (honestly, I took a lot of it word for word and looked very odd indeed for long periods – how my mother kept her mouth shut is beyond me…actually, it isn’t entirely, at around the same time – 1986 – she was reading ‘how to bring up teenagers’ books) and devoured magazines, making my way through Jackie and Mizz and 19 and Smash Hits and graduating to Cosmo and Elle (and never Good Housekeeping, I mean, why?) and soaking up the problem pages, the relationship analyses and how to make the best of (and decide which are) your best features. My sister used to practice on me (she made me look like I’d been punched in the face once, possibly intentional) and I on younger relatives in turn (she never let me return the favour, funnily enough).
I learned from experience that following the instructions on how to apply those blushers that had four shades including highlighter wasn’t necessary, and neither did anyone (apart from people in books and magazines) call it rouge. I spent hours perusing the makeup shelves in Bodyshop (and the soaps and the shampoo and the hair dye) and slowly built up a small collection of powder and paint that moved beyond the clownish (my dad delighted in buying makeup sets for his daughters, the more garish the better for some reason) and the electric blue towards Heather Shimmer and lots of (black) eyeliner (why did no-one call it kohl?), a little for the day and more when going out. Which was a lot, at one time.
And then I started work. And then I had a family. And makeup became something that was squashed out, something I had little time for. I’ve always been one of those people who would rather spend those extra ten minutes in bed, rather than getting ready, you see. I’ve never been one of those women who wouldn’t leave the house unless they were properly done, hair and nails and everything; I’m more the sort who’d forget to wash it off, or forget I had it on and rub my eyes in an effort to make myself wake up. Forgetting to take care of myself is a long-running theme.
And slowly, over the years, makeup became something different. It aged and solidified into a mask; a cover up to hide the fatigue or the sadness; a show. Lipstick to create a smile. Concealer to hide a bad night. The more makeup I wore, the more there was to hide. Yet another uniform to put on for the working day; a professional face.
And now? The mask is gone. The real, tired me is on display and makeup has changed its role again. No longer concealing, hiding, but performing an act of self-care.
Thank you to everyone who joined in my twitter thread on makeup.