Last week, I read this incredibly interesting and thought-provoking interview in Dumbo Feather, with the author and journalist Sali Hughes. It completely altered my outlook on make-up. I don't consider myself someone who is very interested in make-up. I was never the teenager who spent hours playing with cosmetics and trying out new looks, although I did have a few friends like this and I loved it when they did my make-up. I wore concealer and mascara and sometimes eyeliner. If it was a really big night out, I might put on some eyeshadow or blusher, but I didn't like the sensation of foundation or lipstick - they felt too heavy on my skin and too much like a mask. I've only ever had my make-up done by a professional once and I hated it. I looked like someone else and definitely not someone I wanted to be! Over the years, not much has changed, but I have come to realise that the make-up that I do wear plays a crucial part in enabling me to face the world each morning. Since becoming a mother, there have been only a few days when I have left the house without mascara. I recall shortly after my daughter was born making a little promise to myself that I would always wear mascara and always paint my toenails. It was as if these two things signified that all was well and I was coping with my new role. I guess they represented some continuity with my pre-baby life. Sali's stance on make-up made me realise that it is not about hiding or deceiving, but about enabling and strengthening.
I particularly like what she has to say about make-up and illness. It made me think about how as a child, I noticed that there was a hairdresser at the hospital. For some reason, I found this strange and fascinating - I couldn't really understand why someone in hospital would want or need to get their hair done. It also made me remember how my mum, maybe a week before she died, asked me to paint her toenails for her. She always had really soft, beautiful feet with immaculately painted (usually red) toenails. Even though she was pretty much confined to her bed by this stage, it was still important for her to keep this significant part of her the same. I have many memories of us doing beauty treatments on each other, even if it was just rubbing face creams in or applying face masks. She would often ask me to brush her hair because she found it so relaxing. I love it now when my daughter brushes my hair, although unfortunately she's not so keen on the reverse! I can see that these beauty treatments, this shared preening and pampering, creates bonds and is an important part of our connection as females. Just before she died, my mother said: "Now don't throw all that stuff away," gesturing to her make-up, "there's some really great stuff there, some very expensive brushes and lipsticks." I still have them all.
Finally, Sali's perspective on make-up, as a way of playing and expressing, has led me to rethink my approach to my daughter and her interest in make-up. She is often asking to "play" with my make-up and I generally feel reluctant to let her because I don't like little girls wearing make-up. It freaks me out and makes me think of those frightening child beauty queen pageants. But, of course, she doesn't see it like that - she just sees it as colouring-in for the face. Most weekends, my kids will find some way to get their faces painted - they are the type who insist on waiting in a queue at Bunnings for half an hour - and I think for them, there isn't much difference between this and trying out my lipsticks. With this in mind, I gathered together a few cosmetics in a little bag and gave them to my daughter. She has been drawing on herself, her friends and her little brothers all week. Mostly they have looked like members of Kiss the morning after a very big night, and sometimes their little faces have glowed all over with the sheen of peach lip gloss, liberally applied to their entire face! This morning, I found my three year old, tasting the make-up, which I think is perhaps taking the experimentation slightly too far...
Anyway, it was a really great article in a magazine full of really great articles. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy.