Skincare relaxes me but makeup stresses me out. There is a simple reason for this: I am bad at makeup. I am so bad at makeup that even on my most hungover, jetlagged, puffy-eyed-from-cry-watching-Steel-Magnolias-and-drinking-gin-the-night-before days, I look better than I do on my best nights out wearing makeup. I was so excited when I bought one of those Charlotte Tilbury eyeshadow palettes because, a friend told me, “even an idiot can do a smoky eye with these”. Idiot-proof smoky eyes!
I gazed upon my palette like the Nazis in Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark looking at a religious relic. Alas, this holy find had about as beneficial an effect on my face as the Ark did on the Nazis, whose faces melted like wax when they looked within.
“Waddya think of my smoky eyes?” I asked my boyfriend, fluttering my painted lids at him.
“Is that a fashion term for looking like you’ve got two black eyes?” he asked, in his best I’m-being-supportive voice.
It’s not surprising that someone who was bottom of their art class throughout school should fail to become Rembrandt when painting her own face. So I do get that this is more about my shortcomings than it is about makeup. But I also slightly resent that I’m supposed to become a Rembrandt just because I’m a woman, and women are expected to wear makeup when they go out. If you don’t, it’s seen as something of a statement, like not brushing your hair (and don’t even get me started on my hair issues). I make enough statements in my day job not to want to bother at night, so I keep giving it a good go, because I live in hope that one day I’ll figure out how to apply concealer without resembling a beige clown. But as I ram eyelash curlers against my eyeballs like I’m remaking Un Chien Andalou before going out, while my boyfriend waits for me on the sofa, probably watching Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark, I feel pretty envious of him.
Until we get home, and he gets straight into bed while I spend 20 minutes going through my skincare routine. At that point, I feel sorry for him and his dry, grubby face and very pleased for me and my moisturised, clean one. My skincare ritual is the closest I get to religion these days and, like religion, it gives me a (probably false) sense of control and a (definitely real) sense of wellbeing. There is no question I look better thanks to skincare: left untreated, I am more husk than skin, and I can show you my legs to prove it.
I got into skincare in my 20s and while I don’t do the 10-step Korean routine currently beloved of beauty bloggers, I do use multiple cleansers and serums and something called – I kid you not – “essence”. I spend more on essence than I do on clothes, mainly because I haven’t bought any clothes since I had my twins and felt too fat to bother. But you’re never too fat for essence. To me, skincare is like handbags, and makeup is like high heels: the latter is about outward show and the former is for personal pleasure. I know some women find confidence in heels and makeup, but I am not one of those women. No woman buys a handbag thinking, “Boy, this will really pull the lads tonight!” She gets it because it’s just for her, it makes her life easier and, hey, anyone can carry a handbag. This is how I feel about skincare. It’s just for me, and even Clownfingers McKlutzface here can do it.
And yet skincare has become controversial. An article headlined The Skincare Con went viral last week, mocking women’s increasingly elaborate, extreme and expensive skincare regimes; ultimately, it argued, women are mugs for buying all this crap that doesn’t work. Cue hysteria among beauty bloggers, which seems ironic because nothing is worse for a lady’s skin than hysteria.
There are generally two defences of skincare: one, it does work and here are some independent clinical trials zzzz snore blah whatevs; two, we know it doesn’t work, but we like it. No woman should have to justify spending money on herself to feel good. Also, newsflash: women aren’t idiots. We would not spend billions on stuff that is completely ineffective; we know moisturiser won’t – contra the adverts – “reverse the ageing process”. But it will make the ageing process feel less dry and flaky. Which is nice. It also makes you feel you have some kind of, if not control over the ageing process, then at least a handle on it, and the means to make yourself feel better along the way.
People often style skincare as something you do for the future, to head off wrinkles or what have you. But for me it’s about feeling good in the present, and I’d rather eat my moisturiser than have Botox. Those 20 minutes in the bathroom are often the only time I get alone during the day, doing something just for me. Other women get this from makeup; some get it from exercise, and good for them. But for me, the truth is in the essence.
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