A few weeks ago, I was going on a night out. As any of you who are parents of a small child will know, this is a rare and precious occasion. I thought I would mark it by actually wearing some make-up. Yes, yes, don’t judge me, but I am one of those women who genuinely can’t be bothered on a day to day basis – and I’m definitely not one of those who chip up at the school gate at 8am with perfectly blow-dried hair and an immaculate face. You’ll be lucky if I’ve brushed my hair and teeth to be fair.
Anyway, as I say, I thought I’d bung on a bit of lippie and mascara, but I couldn’t find my make-up bag. I searched high and low, and it was nowhere to be found. We’d returned from a week in Barcelona a little while before, and it occurred to me that I might have left it in the apartment in Spain or lost it in transit. Fiddlesticks, I thought, (or a slightly less family-friendly facsimile of ‘fiddlesticks)’. Now I’ll have to get new make-up. I started to do a rough tally in my head of what I had had in the bag and what it would cost to replace. Reader, if you are male, you’re probably thinking twenty quid? Maybe fifty if I had a lot? If you’re a woman, you’d have a better idea of the real total: several hundred pounds.
And I started thinking… how did I, a woman with scant interest in make-up and beauty products, come to spend a few hundred of my hard-earned pounds on make-up? And what if I were interested? How much would I have spent? You don’t need me to tell you how huge the beauty industry is (£6.2 billion a year, was one estimate I found). It is quite simply remarkable how much there is to buy – and how much more there is year on year. I know that the basis of any industry is that it has to grow, but it’s fascinating how this particular industry had developed new markets. Dove, for example, the company that ran masses of ads touting the idea of “real beauty”, now tells us that we should be self-conscious about our armpits and buy their special beautifying deodorant. Then there’s teeth whitening, anal bleaching and my new personal favourite, labia blush. Yes, if age, race or just being a normal woman gives you cause to suspect that your labia lack the ‘natural’ neon pink blush of a young Aryan virgin, you can now use cotton buds to apply a chemical dye to the tender and vulnerable mucous membranes in your most delicate place. Call me crude (although I prefer pragmatic), but in my experience, if someone is close enough to examine the colour of my labia, they’re unlikely to back out of the whole experience because of a slight variation in hue. It seems to me that in its effort to grow, the beauty industry spends a lot of time thinking of new things to make us feel bad about, so they can sell us things to make us feel good about the things we weren’t worried about in the first place.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that beauty and make-up mean more to many (or most) women than me, and as I have said in this blog before, I don’t believe women should be telling each other what to do or not do. But I do ask you to think about it for a moment with me. How much are we spending on it? Not just money, but time, effort and thought? And how much, if we let it get to us, does it stand in our way? Do we become self-conscious if our bums are not size eight, our teeth are not snow white, our labia pink and our eyelashes jungly? Do we hold back in our personal relationships, think less of ourselves, ask for less, aspire to less? While it’s lovely to look good and have someone compliment you, desire you, and do things for you, maybe it isn’t everything. If we weren’t spending hundreds of pounds on make-up, or having sleepless nights worrying about our weight or the colour of our twinkles, what might we achieve?
Anti-feminists are always quick to point out that the female sex has never produced a Churchill, a Mozart or an Einstein. There are a million good reasons for that, but while I am not a historian or a sociologist, I believe without a shadow of a doubt that Winston, Wolfgang and Albert did not give a moment’s thought to the hue of their bumholes. Men are generally better than us at finding a healthy balance in their own heads between the way they look and who and what they are.
I’m always so conscious of the extraordinarily short time we’re alive on this planet. Years seem to pass in a heartbeat, and decades disappear, leaving me peering round bewildered and wondering what the hell happened to the nineties. Time goes, and then you’re dead. We can’t use every second well, and I’m all for frittering time away on fun, laziness and meaningless pursuits, within reason. So my wish for you all this 2012, is that you go forth, wear as much or as little make-up as you like, but try to spend at least some of your time, your money and your energy wisely. Be defined (and judge yourself) by your actions, not by the way you look. And by the way, you look lovely today.
PS: the make-up bag turned up. It's basically full of a lot of half-dried up old tat. Revising my estimate, it's probably worth around 50p.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.