Making up is hard to do

Lockdown has changed all of us in different ways, big and small. Many of us will be shopping locally, adjusting our travel habits and feeling a renewed gratitude for things we previously took for granted.

One fundamental way lockdown has changed me is that I will be spending far more time “maked” – barefaced and proud – from now on. It might not seem like a big deal, but for me, it’s been seismic.

Since sometime in 1985, the first time I remember watching my very glamorous mam painstakingly applying a full face of make-up, ‘putting a face on’ has always been synonymous with facing the world, to me.

Observing Mama R paint her eyelids sapphire and cheekbones ruby (it was the height of New Romantic, don’t judge) sparked a heartfelt letter to Santa that year.

The big man delivered a stocking full of Avon’s ‘Little Blossom’, a mini make-up range designed for little girls that wanted to ape their mums. “Don’t you look pretty!” the family said, even though in reality I resembled a particularly grotesque Picasso with my slap-it-on-pile-it-thick technique.

It was years before I graduated to mascara, and the rest of the big girl stuff, but a lifelong habit was born. The message I was buying into is that a made-up face is a proper one. It is the only one you should take outside to meet the world.

Creams, powders and pastes became shields; lipstick my go-to armour.

Years later, a friend confessed that for the duration of her ten-year relationship, she set her alarm for the crack of dawn so she could paint her face before her partner caught her sans maquillage. Every. Single. Day. The weirdest thing about her sharing that tale is that I didn’t question it or suggest she might want to reconsider her life choices.

But I couldn’t really talk. If you take the Hugh Grant character in About A Boy’s approach, where every hour of the day represents a unit of time, I used to think nothing of allocating one unit a day to painting, plucking, lining, contouring, blending, curling and later removing it all. Over time my cosmetic collection became the facial equivalent of Imelda Marcos’ shoe cupboard.

The problem was, I also LOVE my sleep. In a clumsy attempt to reconcile these competing time thieves, while living in London in my 20s I became that girl – shakily applying lippy on the tube, trying to stop the contents of my cosmetic bag spilling all over the carriage.

When I sat next to a former Marie Claire beauty editor at a wedding, I interrogated the poor woman about the products she considered indispensable, then went out and bought them all.

Later, I handled the UK launch of an American cosmetics brand and was delighted when they threw in a big bag of freebies as part of the deal.

In the only picture of me holding my newborn son in a hospital bed, I can make out a hint of fresh blusher and lipgloss that I don’t remember putting on. It’s not exactly a Kardashian-level effort, but I clearly didn’t feel comfortable enough to be photographed without a bit of help. It makes me sad that I thought the post-birth glow could be improved with a sweep of “Orgasm” by Nars.

In a world that tells us imperfections are to be covered up and airbrushed, is it any wonder we go to such extreme lengths to camouflage our faces?

Years later, I escaped an anti-capitalist demonstration in Paris by ducking into Guerlain on the Champs-Élysées to take shelter from the riot police, emerging with an overpriced foundation. The irony isn’t lost on me.

I can’t remember the exact point when applying a full face of slap started to feel like a chore, but the “men don’t have to spend time on this nonsense” resentment (unless they choose to of course) started to creep in slowly. The relentlessness of the routine started to feel groundhog-level tedious.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the ceremony of it all sometimes. It is an unshakeable truth that the best bit of a girls’ nights out is painting our faces while drinking gin and dancing to Diana Ross. But having to get up an hour earlier than I’d like day-in-day-out to achieve a basic level of presentability started to feel like a massive imposition.

When lockdown started, and I didn’t have to face the world in person anymore, a revolution in my routine was born. I discovered Zoom’s ‘touch up my appearance’ option (you can thank me later if this one is new to you) and I was only too happy to bin off the old rigamarole.

I’ve spent the past few months being rigorous about skincare, but I’ve only worn full make-up a handful of times since February. I’ve used that newly free unit of time to go for a run most mornings instead; the endorphin high and white space is more transformative than any foundation could ever be. Finally, I’ve learned to embrace my freckles and my many imperfections.

As we start to crawl towards a version of normal, my attitude to make up has completely changed. I now see it as a time tax on having two X chromosomes, and I refuse to buy into the tyranny anymore. Not every day, at least. I’ll wear the basics for important virtual meetings, but the days of full-face are long gone.

If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that time is a finite currency. I don’t want to waste it painting my face just because a multibillion-pound industry tells us we’re not good enough just as we are.

Besides, what’s the point painting a face likely to be obscured by a face mask for the foreseeable future?

A few months ago, breaking up with my make-up bag would have seemed radical. But it’s time to reclaim my mornings and (barely) face the world.

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Hello. I’m Sara. This site is home to my writing for the Western Mail, a newspaper kind enough to publish my internal ramblechats. In 2022 I was named Wales Media Awards Columnist of The Year for this column. Madness. You’ll find me spaffing opinions on feminism, inequality, festivals, tech, art and whatever else pops into my head at 3am the day before deadline. There’s also bonus content, when the muse takes me (WHERE IS SHE TAKING ME? I DIDN’T ORDER THIS CAB! Etc…).

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