There are days when I look at my face, but don't recognise myself. Make-up has the power to transform me from the most lacklustre version of me, to a goddess. But why does a flick of eyeliner and an arched brow, feel such a defining part of who I am?
My make-up bag and me
Like most of the women I know, I have a complicated relationship with my make-up bag. Without it, I feel naked, exposed and not myself - with it, I feel complete, protected, the best version of me. I can't remember the exact point at which I began to rely on make-up, but it was probably almost as soon as I discovered it. It was Year 7 of a brand new high school, a 2 hour bus ride from where I lived. I didn't know anyone at my new school save my older brother and sister, who spent most of their time trying to pretend they didn't know me; a hard charade to pull off when you are 1 of about 8 non- white people in your school, and you share a surname and identical monobrows.
"That year was a defining one in my life; it was the point at which I began to develop a sense of self. It was the point at which I became self critical."
That year was a defining one in my life; it was the point at which I began to develop a sense of self, of who I was, and how I thought I compared to other people. It was the point at which I became self critical. It was also the year that I developed vitiligo. Sharp patches of soft white skin began to sprout up all over my tiny brown face; there was nothing I could do to hide them, and in the brutal manner in which 12 year olds approach such things, I was stared at, questioned and humiliated on an almost daily basis. There was no real malice in these comments, but they were attention drawing, at a time when I had no real concept of self. I hadn't thought much of my colour or my looks up until that point - I didn't like or dislike myself, I was just me. The vitiligo brought so many things home to me. I was not beautiful, I was not delicate or dainty like the sought after pretty girls in my class - I was chunky and patchy, with a penchant for tie dye dungarees and a surplus of hair everywhere except my head (thanks Mum).
"I realised I was the 90s version of a DUFF"
The Designated Ugly Fat Friend
When I realised I was the 90s version of a DUFF (thanks Amazon Prime), acceptance was. bitter. It was even harder to accept, given the fact I was the offspring of a goddess. To this day, I still look at my mother as one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. A tiny, bird like waif, a delicate beauty with a grecian nose and almond eyes. She is show-stoppingly, heart-breakingly beautiful. Everywhere we went, people stared, men offered seats and made terrible jokes, women eyed her with extreme caution and often haughty disdain; pure, unbridled jealousy was forthcoming from almost every female in her sphere; including my sister and I. But how I adored rifling though her bathroom cabinets, so many potions and lotions to love; and it was those nosy afternoons, stacking and unstacking those little pots and brushes, that formed the beginning of my love affair with all things beauty. With trembling hands, I opened the shiny black Lancome compact she kept in a velvet case, and drew the dinky little powder puff across my face. My patches became less noticeable, my skin blurred and perfected. I looked just like me, but better.
"The look that I perfected all those years ago, the black eyeliner and solid looking eyebrow - is still the one I wear now, albeit with far better products, and a slew of serums underneath."
Make-up makes it better...sometimes
Make-up certainly gave me confidence. Whether I looked better with my undoubtedly even odder coloured face (patches of white mixed with mismatched foundation), remains to be seen; but I felt better. I stood a little taller in all of my 5 foot glory, I dressed a little less like a Spanish boat hand , and I started to like myself, just a little bit. The look that I perfected all those years ago, the black eyeliner and thick looking eyebrow - is still the one I wear now, albeit with far better products, and a slew of serums underneath. And despite the onset of babies, sleepless nights and eternal multi tasking, I am never without it. I don't rely on it in quite the same way as I did, to entirely construct my sense of self, to feel good enough - but I rely on it as my me time, my moment to myself, 5 minutes to equip myself with the paint and armour required to do the tough job of living my life. Because for me, my other defining moment with make-up was not the wearing of it, but the taking off. The husband, then the boyfriend, spent the first 6 months of our relationship assuming my eyeliner was tattooed on. I slept in my make-up, terrified he would wake in the night and not recognise the woman next to him. But then, after a particularly long and hungover day at the office, I arrived at his flat and felt the immediate need to wash the day and its stale stench of whisky off me. I went downstairs with my wet hair and make-up free face trepidatiously, ready to analyse his reaction and judge his commitment to me; but as I entered the room, nothing about the way he looked at me changed. He didn't see it, didn't notice, didn't care. He only saw me, as I am, and accepted it, and loved me, as I am. So while I'm the first to admit that sometimes a little make-up makes it all better, I also know, deep down - that real beauty, the lasting kind, is not simply skin deep.