Being an only child has its advantages, I believe. Although never having been one, I’ll have to go on assumptions and observations. Our youngest, due to the 5 year gap between herself and her sister and the fact that said elder sister has been living with boyfriend for last two years, is currently a de facto only child. This seems to bring many advantages – the current one being that she is in France with us being indulged and dined almost as we speak.
Thus during dinner conversations she has both parents’ undivided attention and gets to speak about a wide range of topics that interest her. She can ask all sorts of questions and get informative, bizarre, provocative responses that stimulate her little ole brain cells and should enable her to pass any Oxbridge exam without study. For example – do flies get fat?
And this evening – Why do women wear make-up? She asks her father, while looking across the table at me, with my mascara, eye liner and shadow, blusher and lipstick; all carefully applied to look my best for our evening out. Most men don’t like women with make-up, says her father helpfully. Not even Mum’s? She pursues.
Ever the politician, he moves neatly into the two purposes of make-up – to enhance and to conceal. I of course enhance, I say, given the lack of foundation, powder and being locked in the bathroom for 6 hours getting ready. Yes, he sensibly nods. Your mother is enhanced.
Exactly, says youngest daughter – why would you get up so early every day just to put on make up? I’d much rather sleep. Yes, we nod, we all know that.
Concealing is the issue, we all agree. Putting make-up on with a trowel is the problem, he says and then has to have a longish aside explaining what a trowel is and how this is an insulting term and yes, we all know people who do it – girls in her class and some white girls in my senior classes. What about black girls and make-up? We ponder – do they trowel it on too? In fact, what about make-up for coloured women? We wonder as I recall Iman’s foray into cosmetics from my holiday reading on Mr Bowie.
But make up is not new: women have been enhancing their features for 1000s of years – Cleopatra and the Romans to name a few from long ago: a bit of colour for your lips, your cheeks, your eyes, to make the most of what you’ve got. To entice some man (or woman) to take a second look, to pay you more attention, as Antony certainly did with Cleo – and look where that got them.
There must be something in it for us to keep going with cosmetics, for it to be one of the mega-bucks industries of the modern world. Despite my beloved’s avowal that men don’t really care much for make-up, or skinny women either, we persist in buying the beauty myths – the air-brushed models, the lies of the women’s magazines. We agree it seems to be more about women v women – I’ve read the stories for years about what men say they prefer, yet the media (owned & run by men?) don’t seem to believe it and persist with images of women that move further and further from what is real.
My baby girl and I have looked at the sites showing the before and afters of digital enhancement and you have to wonder why. Why is there this seeming compulsive need to enhance, conceal, delude and lie? Is it just to sell more products, to make us – women especially– feel worse about ourselves and accept the nonsense about beauty, attractiveness and love?
We all want love, we want control over our lives –so say the books I am reading about why we lie, but we compulsively lie and delude ourselves about all manner of things to maintain our egos, our sense of self. So, do we buy beauty products (and remember there is a boom in men’s grooming products and gay men are inordinately fond of looking good too) because we want to be loved, because it feeds our view of ourselves as beautiful/loveable, or because we are gullible enough to believe the lies of the beauty industry and the media about how we – men as well as women – should look?
Back at dinner we agreed that daughters tend to do what their mothers do. Eldest daughter wears about the same amount of make-up as me – mascara, eye liner (since about 15 I think, when she started “borrowing” my stuff) and a touch of lip-stick: she’s now just graduating from lip gloss. My mother wore more than me – foundation, powder, etc. But I spent twenty years living in the tropics and only those who never moved from the air-conditioning wore a full face of hours-to-put-on gunk. It was a bit like hair – I didn’t have time for anything fussy or that would, in the case of a face of make-up, melt away within the hour of application.
So, laziness is my reason, I guess and perhaps an acceptance of my own level of attractiveness and understanding that I was never going to be beautiful no matter how much money, time, effort or make-up was expended. Being loved helped too – with modest enhancements, naked face in the morning and worst, panda eyes in the days when late nights ruled and cleansing routines were abandoned.
I have been beautiful in his eyes and now I am just fine in mine. I hope my girls can do the same.