“Age, I do abhor thee; youth, I do adore thee”
I was putting on my make-up this morning in front of the mirror when I suddenly stopped and wondered ‘Is it too much?’
These days I only wear a light powder and a little colour on my cheeks and some lipstick (and the lipstick not always). Hardly ever put anything on my eyes anymore as I’ve lost the art of it and my eyes are now a different shape with saggy lids. I wouldn’t know what to do with them. I once tried doing the ‘Cleopatra-cat eyes technique, which involves that little extra upwards flick at the edge of the eye. I was going for sultry and instead I just looked sloppy. I looked ridiculous as if I’d clumsily missed my eye line. So I’m minimalist when it comes to make up these days. Less is definitely better. My big fear is ending up like one of those powdered old gals you see in the supermarket discreetly buying their bottle of gin along with the eggs and Special K. I don’t want to look clownish and grotesque. I don’t want to look as if I’m trying too hard. But when is it too much? Will I know? And when are you actually too old for it all? When do you stop caring about the way you look? Stop worrying about whether you’ve chosen the right shade of lipstick or should have gone a little lighter/darker?
As an awkward teenager, unsure of my looks, I always remember being advised by a family friend that I shouldn’t put anything on my eyes but only on my lips. Or was it the other way around? No matter. The friend was a man about 12 years older than me and he’d said it with all the suave assurance of a man who knew a thing or two about women and what suited them best. He saw himself as something of a ladies’ man and he would often make unreserved pronouncements on my appearance. Trousers don’t suit you. Green isn’t your colour. That dress does nothing for your figure. So naturally one look at my face was all it took for him to suggest my make-up regime. As an older man, I thought of him as an expert on the wiles and ways of women and it was only later that I knew that this level of interest in a thirteen-year-old girl was a little seedy if not downright inappropriate.
As a teenager I went the whole hog; false lashes or lashings of mascara and all kinds of metallic colours around my eyes. To be honest I’ve never considered my eyes to be anything special. They were never big enough or wide enough. They needed all the help they could get. Other girls had pretty eyes that were the focal point of their whole face. At school for instance there was Diane with her pretty green eyes that lit up her whole face. More recently I’ve met Minnie, a woman well past 70 who still has the loveliest eyes which must have been absolutely devastating when she was younger. On the other hand her hair is so thin that she’s taken to wearing what she calls ‘my little wig’ all the time now. It’s a good one and looks perfectly natural, and I suspect that no one would ever guess if they didn’t know. So you can’t have everything as they say. While I envy Minnie her eyes she’d love to have my abundant hair.
‘Well you’ll never be bald’ a man working on the checkout at M&S said to me as if to say whatever else might befall me in life I could always rest easy with a full head of hair. But then I thought. Well I might be bald. I might have to have chemo one day for all we know. I hope not, but you can never tell. And how does this guy know I’m not rocking a wig anyway? But as this chap swiped through my mushroom quiche, I think it was said more in admiration than envy. You know, that grudging admiration we British do so well. Not ‘My, what a lovely head of hair!’, but, ‘you’re lucky, you’ll never be bald’. You’re short, overweight and with unremarkable eyes but on the plus side, sweetheart, you’ll never be bald.
I was thinking about Tina Turner’s autobiography. In it she says how in a new romance she always got anxious about what her new man would think of her when she took off her wig. The big reveal. Would she still be Tina Turner, or just some showbiz gal with bad hair? Thing is if you’ve been hiding your natural hair for so long under a series of spectacularly flamboyant wigs and that’s all people have seen, if in fact your big, fake hair has been a big part of your public persona, it’s bound to be a shock. Your natural is bound to look ratty and unkempt and flattened out under that wig all the time. And it’s bound to be in bad condition as it’s had so little natural air and light. Yeah I’d be anxious too. Her hair was such a big part of her look; that and a fabulous pair of gams. Tina Turner without all that rock-glam hair, well that’s someone else.
So make-up. It used to be about fun and experimenting with colours and effects. I remember trying to copy the look of models in the magazines, which at a time when there were very few black models around never quite came off on my darker skin. Growing up in the late sixties and seventies it was all about the Twiggy look, which was pale and ethereal-looking; gamine with big googly eyes alla Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That was never going to be me; so even at my best, I was always playing a guessing game as to what worked for my colouring and face-type. I hoped that I was playing up my best features, now it’s about playing down the signs of age. Now it’s a damage limitation exercise.