Life’s A Catwalk, Baby!
In the impressionable early years of my life my biggest role model, as is the case for most young girls, was my mother. During those few short years when she was actually taller than me (only until I was about 6 you understand – she’s tiny!), I would crane my neck upwards to admire her flowing natural blonde locks, flicked Farrah Fawcett-style, her wide blue eyes sporting sky-blue eyeshadow (…well it was the Eighties), tugging on her skirt for constant attention.
I would listen for the sound of the clanking crockery downstairs which indicated she was washing up, then slowly and silently ease open the cream chest-of-drawers to reveal the treasure chest that was her make-up bag.
Checking over my shoulder at regular intervals, I would slide my grubby, chubby four year old mitts into the bag of booty and set to work emulating my heroine – first a generous puff of delicately-scented powder over my face, then a swipe of electric blue mascara, almost gouging my eyeballs out in the process. I cursed my clumsiness as undeveloped motor skills meant the sugar-pink lippy I was carefully striving to apply took on a life of it’s own and careered off-target, ending up somewhere near my left temple.
A quick spritz of her save-it-for-best Chanel no. 5 and my Mini-Mum look was almost complete. I admired my colourful appearance from every angle in her dressing table mirror, moving this way and that…So maybe I did resemble a deranged and dishevelled Barbara Cartland, but I thought I was the epitome of sophistication. Just time to slip my podgy toes into her slingbacks and…..
“WHAT THE….?! STAY STILL! DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!!”
For some reason I couldn’t quite fathom, Mummy wasn’t looking very impressed with my impersonation. Okayyy, so I may have made a tiny mess on the carpet when the lipstick flew out of it’s barrel and the eyeshadow slipped from my clammy grip, but surely she realised that imitation is the greatest form of flattery…?
And so it began.
My loyal and lifelong love affair with make-up.
Mum may have secured her make-up bag tighter than Fort Knox after that little incident, but I always found a way to set those pretty little pots free, Houdini-like in my dogged endeavours to release them from the confines of their vanity case. Once my little sister Karen was old enough to be my accomplice, we were quite the devious pair of beauty-product blaggers.
By the age of ten, I can clearly remember yanking my mum by the hand into The Body Shop to coo over the bath pearls. Now obsolete, in those days these squidgy little pearlised balls of bath oil that would dissolve on contact with hot water were the height of desirability amongst pre-teens up and down the country.
I would display a selection of them proudly on my bedroom flip-lid desk for as long as possible, until such time that they gathered a dusty fur coat; then I would reluctantly use one in my evening bath, soaking in it’s milky scented goodness in the manner of Cleopatra, emerging wrinkle-fingered and fragrant an hour or so later. Well, I had to get my pocket money’s worth, you understand. I would generally select the pink strawberry-flavoured ones with matching soap and mini bottle of Strawberry Body Wash, the synthetic scent of which was heaven to my childish unsophisticated palate. Give me those over a bag of chewy shrimps any day of the week….
As I grew, so did my appetite for all things beauty, and I would hoard my haul greedily, having to find increasingly cunning hiding places for it to avoid it falling into the wrong hands ie those of my sister Karen, who had a bloodhound-like ability to sniff out my stash.
By my mid-teens I had perfected my signature look, having watched my paternal grandmother carefully applying her salmon-pink pressed powder from the compact, a lit cigarette dangling from glossy scarlet lips.
In my head I had the mysterious look of Marlene Dietrich, all red lips and sexy slim cigarettes, but in reality a moody Ronald MacDonald puffing on a B&H was a closer resembance.
I even matched my pillarbox red lipstick to my favourite NafNaf bomber jacket, then immortalised the look by posing for my passport picture in that very same get-up. I lived to regret that particular sartorial slip-up; I spent the next decade willing that passport to expire….
A night out with my schoolmates would be a major event. I spent enough time getting my make-under just right for school, so you can imagine how much time and effort went into a night out.
Hours were spent in front of the my bedroom mirror applying layer upon chalky layer of foundation, concealer and powder in an attempt to cover my imperfections until what looked back at me was less a face and more a sheet of white A4.
All features erased, I’d set about drawing them all back on again, just as a toddler fills in a colouring book – heavy-handedly in a rainbow of colours. Finally ready to hit the bar, fake ID in hand, we’d totter down the high street like fledgling birds of paradise, slightly unsteady on our skyscraper heels, the sickly aroma of Impulse mingling with Diamond White and a few sneakily-smoked Silk Cuts.
There are two types of women in this world: those that believe in a bit of harmless fakery…. and those that don’t. I’d look at those who didn’t wear any cosmetics with a mixture of pity and disdain. Who were these strange creatures who couldn’t be bothered to take pride in their appearance? Did they really look better without it…. or were they just plain lazy?
Cindy Crawford famously commented that even she “doesn’t look like Cindy Crawford first thing in the morning.”
If a supermodel needs slap to face her adoring public, what hope for the rest of us under the harsh striplights of the tube during the rush-hour?
Later, I’d find out that the feeling was often mutual. Non-believers regarded slap-wearers as slappers: weak, insecure creatures of questionable morals who needed to apply a mask before facing the world. Or they saw it as a feminist issue: why should society not just accept us as we really are? (Erm…because we’re all mingers sans mascara, love, that’s why.)
I still don’t understand the bare-faced cheek of that mentality. Why resemble a ratty grey pigeon when you can be a resplendent parrot?
To me, applying make-up is a ritual that’s worth every minute. Each brush stroke adds another layer of confidence, each sweep of mascara an extra dimension of character to my anaemic blonde features.
Without it I feel naked, exposed, my pink bunny-eyed expression bland and apologetic.
With it I’m fierce, fired-up and ready to take on the world.
I guess it was inevitable that despite A-level grades that saw me accepted into some respected universities, I tossed the offer letters in the bin and accepted a job as a make-up artist for Clinique in Harvey Nicks, much to the bemusement of my family.
Today my love of all things beauty still stands. I run a beauty boutique and go gaga over the latest fragrance or pretty pink packaging.
I understand that beauty runs deeper than a carefully-applied flick of liquid liner, but the indisputable difference it makes to your confidence is not to be sniffed at. Of course there are times when slumping bare-faced on the sofa in your PJs is unashamed bliss, but to venture out into the world ‘sans maquillage?’ No siree, not for me!
I’m not endorsing duck-pouts and scouse brows here; permanent marker is not to be mistaken for permanent make-up, no no no…..but never underestimate the value of a touch of cosmetic camouflage.
As I strut down the street in heels and with my make-up applied just so, the words of one of my perfectly-groomed gay friends echo in my head…
“Life’s A Catwalk, Baby!”