Growing up in 1970’s Britain, make up was generally something for hookers and tarts. British women embraced the ‘natural look’ not because we’re in any way beautiful (have you seen Kate Middleton before she was Kate Middleton?), but because bothering about how your face looked was generally seen as extreme vanity or for those who were a bit ‘full of themselves’. For a culture built on trying not to stand out, trying too hard to improve your looks was seen as tacky, hiding something or, god forbid, trying to be ‘better’ than your neighbor.
America couldn’t be more different. A country built on self improvement and betterment, America (to those who aren’t), is a country of insanely made up women. Beautiful women who can wield a eyeshadow at birth and haven’t been seen naked faced since middle school. Moving here in my 20’s, I marveled at the manicured hands, the dramatic brows, the eyeshadow and lipstick of every woman I saw on the street – in Denver no less. The home of Crocs. I couldn’t believe that every female woke up and performed ‘art’ on their face, before heading out on the door. I could barely get the sleep out of my eyes. It seemed so elaborate, so indulgent, so much effort in order to look slightly prettier than normal. Like professional sports and the missionary position, I didn’t get the allure.
My mother had a lipstick. 1. Which was applied for Christmas work dinners or maybe New Years eve. I seem to remember it being replaced only once it cracked and dried out. She also had a mascara block, a solid square of black goo which was rubbed with a tiny toothbrush and then applied to eyelashes. That was her process. 2 minutes in the bathroom and lipstick on her teeth as she headed out the door. It didn’t set a good precedent for me. Make up didn’t seem to do much except make your lips a weird orange color and your eyelashes blobby.
After a few years in the US, I attended a make up party. Just to see how it worked, you know.. in case I every decided to put some on for a party or something. A good friend of mine, a former actress, walked us through the basics of makeup application. I assumed it was maybe a 5 minute thing which I could use when I was feeling fancy.
Holy shit! Primer, concealer, foundation.. it was like building a house. And that was before you even starting any painting. Eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, blush, shaders, bronzers, eyebrow gel, lip liner, lip stick, lip gloss. My list of what I would need to replicate her dewy, natural looking beauty covered two sides of my notebook and seemed like it would take me at least an afternoon to get through. Jeez.. I’d need to start the night before if I was going to get it all done. And every day???? Oh hell no.
I clutched my trusty tinted lip balm and called it good.
I resigned myself to a few forays into lipstick (I also wear it on my teeth, just like my mother), and eyeshadow (I looked like Mortica no matter what I tried), but I always looked like what I was – someone who didn’t know what she was doing, and I rarely came out the other side looking better. Usually I looked like a tranny. I didn’t care – I was used to my high shine forehead in every photo. But then I turned 40.
The tiny lines and crows feet which hadn’t bothered me before, suddenly seemed crevasse-like on Facebook. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were age spots from my hours outdoors and creases from my ever increasing workload. My lips seemed to have shrunk and when did I develop such huge pores? This wasn’t a question of vanity, it was personal dignity. I decided to man up and make up with the idea of make up.
My trusted friend took me by the hand, scaled down her process by about 90% and taught me the basics that every American woman seems to be born knowing how to do. I learned how to look less tranny in eyeshadow and I no longer paint my teeth with lipstick. I can hid my acne scars and I don’t look like I’m wearing a mask. I can ‘put on my face’ in about 5 minutes and it only involves 4 things, one of which is moisturizer. I look more put together, less blotchy and slightly less wrinkled.
I’ll never be one of those American women who look effortlessly beautiful and put together, and I still look like a deer in the headlights every time I hit a make up counter, but I’ve made up with the idea of make up. Now waxing… that’s a whole other story.