I don’t wear make-up, except on the rare occasion such as a wedding including – to the relief of one friend – my own. Professionals are enlisted to trowel me up as I self-sedate with small-talk in preparation for the unveiling of results in the mirror. The reactions are usually consistent: a sharp attack of reflux followed by the assurance of a job expertly done before narrowly avoiding several car collisions as I sneak glances at the stranger in the rear-view on the way home. Once there, I am free to gratefully acknowledge the recoiling of my two housemates as confirmation of my aging drag queen status with an eye-roll.
The reasons for going it plain have less to do with wilful rebelliousness than laziness, and a proven lack of skill in the area of application. Early experimentation produced a look consistent with domestic violence injuries; this lack of knack gradually overtaken by a penchant for wide earrings and high hair. Henna became my armour, and I still feel naked without my lobes covered up. Chunky shoes remain the only reliable foundation for keeping my thoughts upright; to the extent my boots were wrestled off me on my wedding day.
Mostly, it just never occurred to me to wear make-up, in the same way it didn’t occur to me to try on a sustainable career, or open a savings account. Or take up drinking wine. Maybe it was because I was the only girl in a household unaccustomed to the power of powder. Maybe it might’ve been different had I moved in more glamorous circles. Maybe it’s just the way it was. Nothing of note propelling me along, reasonably comfortable in the skin I’m in that has seen considerably more gravity-defying days.
Which is why I study my army of sisters-in-law now as intently as my own complexion looking back at me accusingly, engraved by life. The impressively smooth contours of their liquid eye-liner competes with a lack of self-consciousness for my envy. Their ease of application and chatter of cost comparisons leaving me somewhat at sea half-filled with envy and fully with fear. Unable to navigate across the moat surrounding my comfort zone to the camaraderie and empowerment that make-up yields. A chink in the armour of many women I’m uncertain is worth auditioning for a place in my own at this stage. An uncertainty now attacking the assumed durability of my life-long shields and signatures.
Maybe I’ll get a handle on eye-liner. Maybe I won’t get round to trying. Maybe I’m just re-adjusting to the next phase of aging and taking stock of my lack of any. Just as the ambassadors of make-up are beautifully poised on the pages of supplements, cheerfully reconciled to the penetrative value of their product. A conviction that has them vociferously challenging the dismissal of women’s love of make-up as trivial nonsense at variance with ‘serious’ matters. This is patently not the case, idiots.
The recent proliferation of articles by Laura Kennedy and others is an admirable and necessary defence of women’s armour. Few could take umbrage with the defence of make-up in the context of it being seized upon as evidence of its use being at odds with intellectual activities and other worthy endeavours. Which I assume include parallel parking and speedy recognition of TV theme tunes. I haven’t heard non-users of make-up make any counter-claims.
Which is why Tanya Sweeney should have known better than to misrepresent Jenny Beavan and Emma Donoghue’s casual approach to award-ceremony glamour as self-regarding acts of rebellion against scrubbing up. Neither woman claimed conventional dressing up was beneath them. Surely, like every other woman, they should be free to lean on whatever armour gets them through without unnecessary correlation to where they might fit in the intellectual firmament, or an appearance in the dissection of the justification of sartorial choices of other women attending. Neither group require approval from the other. Everything else is lazy stereotyping we’re all apparently against.