WILDCARD: Makeup Masks

SONG: The Long Blondes – Weekend Without Makeup

When I was in sixth-form, my drama teacher asked me to do the unthinkable: come into school without wearing makeup. It was for a play I was rehearsing: Five Kinds of Silence by Shelagh Stephenson, and I played Mary, a sixty year old woman who had spent forty years in an abusive marriage after a childhood of neglect, her only company being two daughters who had also spent their lives being physically, sexually and emotionally abused by their father. It wasn’t a laugh-a-minute kind of play.

He asked me to get used to not caring what I looked like – when you rarely get to leave the house and are habitually raped and bullied for four decades, I can’t imagine you would care about slapping on your Maybelline. I also had to stop washing my hair at regular intervals or using contact lenses.
I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but: forget the harrowing monologues I had to rehearse where I screamed out for my neglectful father and twisted myself around memories of nightly self-harm – it was much harder for me to go to school every day without my face on.

You can judge me all you like for that (I did get 90/90 for my performance though, so maybe don’t condemn me too harshly) but I don’t think that makes me especially vain: I think it makes me pretty much like most females.

Where would we be without our slap? Pretty hideous and unloved, if you go by the multi-billion pound beauty industry that dominates the pages of every Women’s magazine and almost every ad-break on the telly. And if you are ever unfortunate enough to buy one of the many gossip mags (or read those that are disguised as newspapers – you know which ones I mean), then you will know that any unsuspecting celebrity female that leaves the house without having shovelled at least a dozen bizarrely-named products onto her face is branded as being a “wreck”: clearly, she’s so harrowed with some crisis or other that she’s forgotten the common knowledge that the sight of a naked ladyface is highly offensive and can only signal some kind of apocalyptic catastrophe in their lives. Next they’ll become a size twelve or something. I know: the horror.

The scariest thing is it is women themselves propagating this point of view. Basically, we’re all fucked.

This isn’t going to be one of those “but hahaha, for I am superior to all of you!” blogs though, because I have to admit I am thoroughly subscribed to the common view. It feels as though it is in my very genes, embedded in my brain activity like Catholic Guilt or a gag reflex:

  • If I go out of the house with makeup on – BING! I am asked out on more dates. I am respected more by staff in shops. I even generally have more fun.
  • If I go out of house without so much as a blemish stick applied: BOOM. I am a walking monster. People recoil at my presence. Shop staff deliberately send me in the wrong direction. I spend all day wishing I’d got up twenty minutes earlier so I could rub stuff into my pores in the name of attractiveness.

Of course, this is all nonsense, and I must know that really. I get asked out more because I feel more confident. I have fun because I feel good about myself. And I don’t think people really recoil at my presence when I’m not wearing makeup, but if they did it would be because I’m carrying around great big binbags full of self-doubt and defensive guilt, not because they can see what my real skin colour actually is.

The question is: how on earth do I (or maybe that should say ‘we’) shake off this feeling that our makeup wipes are full not only of orange gunk and black smears, but all our redeeming features that could possibly make us worth people’s time and attention? (No, I am NOT going to add ‘love’ to that list – this is not a frickin’ Bridget Jones movie just yet.)

If we can de-program Catholic Guilt and gag reflexes (or so I’ve heard, ahem!) from our brains, then surely we can de-program the feeling that we can’t leave the house without a face painted on? The problem is we aren’t bombarded daily with messages telling us that even saying the word ‘sex’ is evil out of wedlock, or that not gagging is the newest must-have skill, like we are with cosmetics campaigns. Until we aren’t, I just don’t think I’ll ever feel safe without that delightful feeling of my newly-styled hair sticking to the lipgloss I’ve just applied the second the wind blows: okay, so now I have sticky hair, but at least I’m reminded I’ve also got dreadfully sexy sticky lips as well, ergo I must be worth at least some of your time.

Maybe one day I’ll even look like this. Blimey. I’m almost cured. But not quite.



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