I recently had the pleasure of having my hair done! And when I say done, I mean a Brazilian hair straightening thingy. The chemicals used nearly burned the entire cornea off my eyes, which according to my sense of logic indicates proper hair treatment. I am now the proud owner of salon-straight hair, every day of the week. Quite a thing for a girl who lives in a windy, small seaside town, where getting dressed-up means putting your slops on, not just going barefoot.
I like to think I wasn’t always a hair slob, but to be honest, even when we lived in Johannesburg I tended towards ‘less attentive’ when it came to my hair (i.e. never bothered too much with hair fan fair – all I needed was a good haircut … until you start to go grey, that is). The reason behind the salon hair is, well, a secret, suffice to say, it’s awesome, and works wonders in the Cape wind – my hair now flutters when the south-easter pumps like crazy, instead of the usual ‘OMG I’m blind from my hair in my face’ look that one usually sports.
I was so chuffed with the new hair that I decided to share my new look on Facebook, which seemed like the appropriate show-off thing to do. Until one of my oldest friends (we have known each other for over 20 years) commented on my post with “is today no make-up selfie day?” (pic below for evidence)
I know, hectic right. He didn’t even see my hair. He just saw my no make-up face. It took me 10 minutes (I’m 40, it takes a while) to think of a response. Sadly, my knee jerk reaction was “Go f*ck yourself”, and the second response was “OMG do I look that bad?!”. I eventually settled on “Everyday”, a slightly deflated revert, but I like to think it was witty .
Over the next few days I continued to randomly think about his comment, and the make-up. Yes, sadly, make-up is something I think about, at least once a year. As a little girl I loved lipstick, especially the smell of old fashioned red lipstick. Nothing else smells or tastes like it. I used to smear my grannies pre-loved lipsticks over my lips. Eye shadow I would apply all too liberally, ideally in blue – to this day I haven’t mastered its use, and continue to steer clear of the stuff. Blusher, oh my, I remember brushing bright pink powder onto my cheeks and looking like a geisha. Thank goodness bronzer was invented, and I was sent on a deportment course as a teenager to learn how to apply this powder. Mascara, the lipstick of the eyes. Glorious stuff, except when you cry, exercise, shower, wash your face, rub your eyes or sleep with it on. Other than that, it does frame eyes into beautiful glassy wonders on women’s faces.
So many make-up memories stuffed into one life, clear mascara on eyelashes before the school bell rang. Lipstick stains on my cheeks from aunty kisses. Raccoon eyes from a long day at work. Blue eye shadow badly put on when I was too young. All wonderful memories. So why don’t I wear make-up as an ageing woman? It’s a great question, and I kind of know the answer. But before we go there, let’s remind ourselves of a few key facts with regards to make-up:
- The Egyptians were some of the first people to have worn eyeliner
- Make-up is a multi-billion dollar industry
- In tough economic times, women engage in the “lipstick effect” – they stock up on beauty products*
- The lipstick effect was originally believed to occur as a result of women wanting to ensure security from a male provider*
- New research shows that women undergo the lipstick effect nowadays not to seek a provider, but to compete professionally, and to attract a partner*
Is that the reason that I only wear make-up for work meetings, held over the mountain? I suppose it’s because I’m competing for work and recognition. I have a provider (commonly referred to as a husband), so I don’t want any of that sort of attention. If I dig deep, a memory surfaces…once upon a time, in my first year of university, I wore make-up: foundation, mascara, lipstick, blusher, the whole bang shoot. I ‘made up’ my face. In fact, on this particular occasion, I even blow-dried my hair. I recall feeling rather chuffed with my effort. I’m not sure what the reason for the evening was, but it was at a cheesy diner and I found myself sitting across from a couple I didn’t know. Innocent enough.
At some point in the evening and after a few drinks, my persona must have annoyed him. He turned to me and under his breath sneered “You think you’re so pretty with your hair and make-up and blah blah” I can’t remember the rest, thank goodness. The point was that he made it clear that I was a bitch, and my appearance wasn’t going to cover it up. I like to think he may have misunderstood me, but I guess I’ll never know. What stuck with me though was that feeling. That feeling of being a fake. Of hiding who I really was behind a skin-coloured mask. I toyed with using less and less make-up over the years. My troublesome skin sometimes made it a necessity to wear base. I eventually met my now husband, and if I ever got ‘made-up’, he would look me in the eyes and say “Where are you in there?” encouraging me to lose the base. But time waits for no one, and I am getting older, and each year I tell myself this is the year I am going to wear base every day. Then I will look better and seem more professional. So, I start the whole make-up buying process again. I love the beauty consultants at the make-up counters who rub foundation (as they call it) onto your hand and neck, and then sell you a bunch of other beautiful shiny objects. I love gloss (but you can’t wear it in Cape Town, your hair sticks to the gloss in the wind – who knew!), and I buy all this paraphernalia, and am certain that this is the year I will wear all these cosmetic products, and appear to the world as hopefully younger, smarter and more professional. And then four weeks in (if I’m lucky), I stop applying the base, then the eye liner, then the mascara. The lipstick always stays, nude or brown, barely there as they say.
It’s a sad little cycle of wasted product and more visible wrinkles and sun spots. The curious thing is that I like make-up, and I believe in it too. I love how some women look so beautiful with make-up on. I love that there are whole YouTube channels about putting make-up on (only millennials have the time to watch those). But I can’t help wondering about why we feel the need to put it on in the first place. To cover a blemish, a zit or a sun spot? To seem more attractive (and find that provider in tough economic times)? To be stronger and more courageous professionally? Or is it to hide who we really are? Beautiful and imperfect women.
What a pity, that in a world of sexual, religious, racial, and educational freedom, we still need to hide behind powders and lotions because we are not perfect, and we should look better than what we were born with. Something to think about as we layer the mascara on our eyelashes and blink at our reflection. But, maybe that’s just my excuse for being a lazy make-up wearer. Whichever the case, my dear friend’s nasty comment did at least spur some thinking beyond vanity and fabulously straight hair.