Many years ago, a friend gave me a piece of advice that served me well – until recently. She confided that she found it useful to see herself in her mind’s eye as more attractive than experience, and a mirror, told her she really was. I took on board her philosophy, and developed the theory (rather than the practice) that I had to believe in my own appeal in order to convince others. After all, perception of appearances is surely attitudinal, as well as aesthetic. Back in the healthy glow of youth, when looks were the chief currency of dating, this kind of delusional confidence was a definite asset in many areas of life.
Then, last month (bear with me – I’ve had a holiday from blogging), the no-makeup selfie in aid of Cancer Research raised a massive £8m. Exposing our own bare-faced truths and the illusion of our made-up faces played to our shameless curiosity, as well as the vanity of the lucky few who found the time to be multitudinally and ravishingly makeupless. The exercise was a resounding success.As someone with a twice-history of cancer whose own current reprieve may be due to the latest Gold Standard medical treatment, I felt beholden to support the gimmick behind the worthy cause.
Like millions of others, I turned my phone camera to my naked face in mirror-mode, and captured the moment in defiance of cancer. But the moment I’d captured, so the photo revealed, was one that appeared to come from fiction rather than my mind’s eye. At first I balked and deleted in haste, recomposed my face into its best pleasant expression with a glimpse of grin, and snapped again. This time, after I’d deleted, I scoured the room to assess the best position for lighting. Obviously I needed some reflective fillers here, some flattering high-key light to flatten the imperfections and smooth the wavy jowls akin to Peppa Pig’s granny’s. I chose my studio spot, used my fingertips to curl my stubby eyelashes upwards, glanced two thirds on to a camera above with what I imagined was an attractive smile, and snapped again.
‘Good god!’ I said out loud as I deleted the evidence without lingering to agonise over the detail. This was not funny anymore.
The thing is, I’ve been wearing makeup since I was about fifteen. Not a lot, but even a daily lick of mascara is enough to paint a picture of myself as someone (slightly) else, someone who’s replaced by an older, uglier twin sister the moment the enhancements are deleted.
A study carried out by Superdrug back in 2011 showed that a third of women wouldn’t leave the house without wearing makeup. Nearly two thirds of us wouldn’t go to work without it. And so, with the reworked facades we present being the norm for so many of us, it’s no surprise we’re unenthusiastic about the less beautiful truth.
The very expression ‘war paint’ is a giveaway that when we wear makeup, we mean business. We’re putting forward the best of ourselves, enhancing our assets and concealing our flaws, ready to face judgement. Without it we present a kind of honestly which is much more vulnerable.
‘OMG!’ I say to myself as I shuffle through the google gallery of no-makeup celebrity selfies, ‘That is brave!’ And is it? For some, good bone structure and natural beauty mean that going bare faced actually takes years off, rather than adds them on. But for the majority of us, our public front is definitely prettier with some help. I delete the string of selfie attempts, and the coward in me makes a stand-alone charitable donation.
The funny thing is, when I was bald and ailing on the back of cancer treatment, stripped of the delusions afforded us by makeup, the thought of painting on the missing elements seemed pointless. Lashless, browless, hollow-eyed, and ruddy with steroids, I studied my reflection with objective interest. I was quite candid about my condition – I wore no wig and the false lashes I purchased before my first dose of chemotherapy remain today untouched in the bathroom cabinet. I didn’t hesitate to be seen pared down to my most fundamental form.
As someone who’s obviously vain enough to chicken out of the no-makeup selfie trend, how is it that my favourite portrait of myself is from this very naked, unattractive time? It's an obvious cheat.
I look at myself, in a hospital bed, holding our second daughter just after she was born, and it’s glaringly obvious; when happiness is genuine, there’s really no place for makeup.