Me: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?”
Mirror: “Darling, I’ll tell you who isn’t the fairest, and that’s anyone who wears makeup all the damn time. And what’s distinctly unfair is telling an audience of thousands of neurotic women that you wear full makeup even when you’re in the sweaty, grunting throes of labour. If I was a fly on the wall, instead of a mirror on the wall, I’d sure as hell tell you to stop looking at your face and get your head looked at instead.”
Enter Charlotte Tilbury, makeup artist to the stars. Primper and mauler of pristine canvasses such as Kate Moss, a couple of months ago, a feature in the Express quoted her as saying that “being a woman is all about makeup and heels“. As if that wasn’t codswallop enough, it transpires that she gave birth to her recent child in full makeup and a lace negligee because heaven forbid one shouldn’t look one’s best with one’s legs in forceps atop a blood-and-excrement-smeared bed. Who knew! Not only is our claim to femininity rescinded if we pop to the corner shop to buy bog roll without the perfect nude nip, but we must be preened to perfection as we stare, frothing with pain, into the eyes of the latex-gloved doctor wedged between our knees.
I’ve been ruminating on this ever since. Obviously it’d be all too easy to call bullshit and counter that being a woman isn’t about makeup and heels at all. But it’s not as simple as that. Being a woman is sometimes about makeup and heels, since these are tools we can use to our advantage to wrestle back some of the power from our privileged male counterparts and, as such, it’d be crackers not to use them. Aesthetic manipulations such as making our faces more striking and adding a few inches to our height comprise a serious trump card that women have over men: the ability to bump up our external credentials as we fight for victory in the professional sphere. There’s plenty of literature out there on the role of attractiveness – the ‘halo effect’ – and how it’s been proven that we assume good-looking people are smarter and nicer and better at their jobs than unattractive people. So why not utilise the means at our disposal to hoodwink the unsuspecting into giving us a job / pay rise / place at university? Given the tenacious socioeconomic obstacles to gender equality and this persistent game of two halves, here is one round where women have the ace up their sleeve.
Fair play then. The phrase ‘war paint’ exists with good reason. But if cosmetics is all about power and fun, why are we made to feel like utter trolls whenever we dare to bare our faces in public? Family members – adored, trusted, wonderful family members – turn into Hitlers reincarnate when faced with an un-made-up face. “Holy CRIPES love! Are you ill? Are you eating properly? You look AWFUL today.” Numerous women I’ve canvassed opinions from agree. The situation is ubiquitous.
No, makeup and heels won’t be relinquishing their claim to womankind’s wardrobe space and credit card capacity any time soon. However, it’s one thing to flourish the magic wand on occasion, and quite another entirely to feel beholden to a systematic deception about who and what we are to the world at large. My beef lies with the fact that whether or not we wear makeup should be a choice completely divorced from internal complexes and societal expectations, yet this clearly isn’t the case. When you consider that a sizeable chunk of women out there feel that they can’t nip to the corner shop to pick up some bog roll without having first troweled on a hefty payload of eye-wateringly expensive foundation, it’s as clear as lipgloss that beef is on the menu.
So where does this beef come from, then? The answer obviously lurks in the makeup aisles of Boots and Superdrug, and in the photoshopped flawlessness of models bearing down on us from billboards and the side of busses, and in the living, breathing works of perfection cavorting on our TV screens. Advertising magnates and the media at large have got a lot to answer for. Insert standard schtick here.
The alteration of our physical appearance is almost as old as time itself. The Ancient Egyptians were, of course, the ultimate pioneers of kohl – the jazzy cat eye, rather than the smoky smoulder – and used makeup as part of a whole creative system. Used in conjunction with fine jewellery and clothes, cosmetics turned mere humanoids into walking works of art. There is nothing wrong with the appreciation of aesthetic beauty. It’s present in museums, architecture, landscaped gardens. The stimulation-hungry soul demands to be fed, grape by grape, with pleasing bunches of colour; vacillations between symmetry and asymmetry and light and dark; lines and contrasts that are beyond the realm of what’s achievable by nature. If you’re a girl or a guy, and you want to use lotions and potions and general jiggery-pokery to metamorphose into a cat or a parrot or a panda, then by all means go right ahead and brighten up the world a bit.
But there’s a monumental difference between using makeup to transform ourselves from a perfectly acceptable human into a walking work of art, and plastering ourselves with layers of crap in order to feel like an acceptable human in the first place. I write this as someone who used to spend an hour every single morning making eyes bigger, lips darker, skin brighter, spots smaller. Even while on holiday. Even while actually ill. Even while popping to the corner shop to pick up bog roll. Nowadays it’s at most a 10-minute job, which I’m proud to say I consider a slight improvement, and there are even days when I don’t bother. That said, those are days when I struggle not to care whether people think I look febrile or malnourished.
What would we do with the time we saved, if we could quit the habit? To take a conservative estimate of 10 minutes a day spent crafting the visage, 300 days a year, for the final 50 years of my life, this adds up to 150,000 minutes, or 2,500 hours, or 104 days. 104 days!! That’s long enough to master an entire new language. Not to mention the fact that I could also have saved the approximately two hours it took to write this post, and two hours is long enough to watch two whole episodes of House of Cards. Goddamn.
Perhaps Ms Tidbury, as she thrashes and groans in the delivery room with a tenner’s worth of mascara running down her sweaty cheeks, bellowing a crazed chant of “SMOKY EYES TILL YOU DIE”, is simply creating modern art. My bad. If that’s the case: I take it all back and defer to her staggering display of altruism in bringing art to overworked midwives who probably don’t have time to visit the National Gallery any more than they have time to apply three complementary shades of eyeshadow. Should I ever have kids, though, you can bet your dullest, wrinkliest, ugliest bottom dollar that they won’t be making their entrance into this world via a painted lady. Come at me, mirror mirror. I am ready to face your shattered shards.