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Put Your Face On

 I don’t wear a lot of make up, it must be said. This is nothing to do with not liking to wear it, I have, for instance, a long standing passion for lipstick, no, rather it’s the fact that I can’t draw.

Yes. Draw. If I apply eyeshadow, for instance, the effect is more Mondrian than Modigliani. I always think ‘sleek elegance’ but my short little workaday fingers are better with pastry than an eyeshadow palette. The brushes I handle best are the ones for painting ceilings and I take much the same coverage approach to my eyelids. Blot it. Sploosh it. This colour of ‘Boudicca Bronze’ looks lush and therefore I require more. I glance in the mirror and remark on my likeness to Andy McNab in heavy camo on a black ops mission.

Then of course I am distracted by the zoetrope of ideas that comes from the collection of words ‘Boudicca Bronze black ops mission’ and instead of rectifying the make-up situation I slump at the desk, lick the pen and start scribbling. Some hours and creative swordplay and chariot riding later my appearance causes a minor terrorist alert in Tesco and on ‘Points West’ Alex Lovell describes how a masked woman was apprehended in a Wiltshire supermarket, armed with a wicker basket.

Mascara next I think. Are you imagining Shelob? If you are that would be pretty accurate. If I am in full ‘party’ mode then my face looks as if I am, once again, Andy McNab, in full camom once more, but also being attacked by spiders.

Lipstick. When I was a teenager, my mum always used to say that if she lost track of me in Kendal Milne in Manchester then she only had to scout the lipstick counters. There I would be, my arms striped in various shades from ‘Aztec Gold’ to ‘Zydeca’. That’s the appeal of lipsticks for me. It is, in point of fact, not a vanity or beauty thing but a language thing. I LOVE the names they think up for lipstick. One of my all time favourite shades was a Miss Selfridge number called ‘Iron Maiden’ and another Mary Quant one from Boots that was ‘Tokyo Rose’.

The transformative powers of cosmetics begin before we even put them on. If we looked at the racks of lipstick without the names we might simply see the red and the, ew, sickly sort of pink, that one is a bit brown or beige, or possibly you’re at the Illamasqua end of the market and there’s a purple,  blue or black.  Meh, you might say and not be tempted. Words transform the sticks of chemical goop. Who doesn’t want to smudge a bit of ‘Moth’ over their mouth or indulge in a lip-squishing swipe of ‘Minx’? Mm? I do. Perhaps tonight, my lady, the pale stain of ‘Fable’.  This is the stuff of myth. You are making yourself up.

My mum used to say ‘I’m putting my face on.’ and there was something in that.  ‘Iron Maiden’  for instance was in a small lip palette and had to be applied with a brush and its effect was much like the pulling down of a helm before a joust. Yes, I am the Iron Maiden my subconscious would note, and I charged at the day.

It’s a mask for the world. You can, in painting yourself in, also paint yourself out. I had a housemate at university who could not face the world without heavy make-up, skin blanked by pancake foundation, eyes marked out like Cleopatra. She would, if you happened on her coming from the bathroom with just her naked face on, turn her head away.

On some days when I’ve braved the make up bag I step out and I know, for a fact, that I have put the WRONG face on. I tend to brave it out. It’s too much of a faff to wipe it all off and start again so I spend the day being more assertive in the queue for the toilets because I’m wearing a couple of shimmering gold coats of ‘Warrior Goddess’  and a dusting of carbon black ‘Dangerous’.

If you encounter me wandering through the woods I might be wearing ‘Vixen’ lipstick with ‘Raven’ mascara, my eyelids swatched with ‘Goldfinch’.  More likely, I’m sporting a swipe of freckles, a line or two of wrinkles and the best lipstick of all. Smile.

 
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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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