There’s a photo of me aged 2 and a ½ where I’m sitting on the floor in floral fleecy jammies. I’m staring Narcissus-like into a hand mirror; pink lipstick clutched in my pudgy baby fist, and smeared inexpertly across my face.
A photo taken not 2 months later shows me with heavy kohl scribbles ringing my eye sockets. My Mum, driving me home from daycare, had turned around to find me rummaging through her purse and gleefully going for the pencils and powders. Unable to pull over, by the time we arrived home I had crafted myself into the splitting image of specky Harry Potter or a cartoon woodland creature.
A few years later, I remember playing ‘Grown-Ups’ with my older sister. Fancying ourselves as sophisticates, and raised on a strange diet of Grease, Clueless and SpiceWorld, we insisted on wearing spandex Olivia NJ leggings, clopping around in our Mum’s old platform heels, and parroting Cher Horowitz’s, ‘Ugh! As if!’. We cut up stripey McDonald’s straws to cigarette length and pretended to smoke. But while this invoked our parents’ furious chagrin (and a month-long ban on Nickelodeon and thickshakes), my former ‘girlish’ emulations drew laughter and are still doled out as cute anecdotes at dinner parties.
In my teenage years, makeup was a spack-filler for my acne-ridden face and insecurities. I applied concealer in thick splotches to hide my red pus geysers, enraging them even more. Like a bride or sun-exposed tomato, I’d also always been a blusher. Painfully awkward and hyper-sensitive, the tiniest things – talking to a teacher, glimpsing a Boy, the word ‘menstruation’ – would send the blood rushing to colour my cheeks. With class presentations an almost weekly torture, I packed on the foundation and face power; though, like a lobster donning Groucho Marx glasses, this was probably a futile effort in facial disguise.
Around this time I was also told that I had eyes like the Damien Hirst shark-in-formaldehyde, or a snowman. In an effort to bring some brightness to my coal-lump peepers, I started experimenting with mascara.
Last year I finally saw The Eye Has to Travel. To appropriate the grand dame of fashion’s own words, I became ‘simply mad!’ about Diana Vreeland. I couldn’t get over her infectious joie de vivre, her oracular vision (here was the woman who took an interest in models’ freckles, and famously shot Barbra Streisand in profile) and her wild aphorisms (‘Why don’t you rinse your blonde child’s hair in dead champagne?’, ‘Why don’t you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?’). I loved the fact that DV wore rouge on her ears, Kabuki-style, because she thought it was fabulously attractive. I am yet to see anyone else sport red ears.
Make-up. It’s difficult to unpackage why we wear it. Are we socialised to think it’s womanly and glamorous – and accept it as a norm because it lacks, for example, the patently insidious effects of smoking? Is it a mask for insecurity, or a confidence-boosting war-paint? Is it just a way to enhance our natural beauty? Despite my occasional forays into the world of metallic eyeshadow and neon lips (which draws stares of curiousity rather than appreciation), I suspect my motives are less artistically self-expressive than Diana Vreeland’s. And yet, like the quotidian process of applying foundation, powder, bronzer, eyeliner, mascara and lipgloss, the reason why I wear makeup is complex and many-layered. The shadow of gendered norms, the slick of confidence…at least I no longer get told I look like Jaws.
[Post-script: BUT when I judge that getting tricked up is too expensive and time-consuming, I will definitely follow in Tracey Spicer’s footsteps…hopefully also from the position of high-powered journalist. Now there’s a lady with perspective!]