For about six months now, I’ve been conducting an experiment with myself. It consists of a simple thing, that will be normal to many women, but it’s not normal for me – going out into the world with as little makeup on as possible, if any.
A few years ago, I saw a counsellor who set me a challenge – think of something that would take me out of my comfort zone and do it, one day a week, for a month. I thought of the worst thing possible for me – going out without makeup on – and chose to set myself that task. I remember going to work, cringing inside, head bowed low … and finding that nothing happened. I had to ask someone – a woman who always commented on everything I wore or my hairstyle – if she’d noticed anything different about me. She just said I looked a little paler than normal (that’s something for me, as my default shade is white), but she had to be prompted to say so.
I immediately went back to wearing the makeup but felt really pleased that I’d completed the challenge. It made me question why I felt the need to wear makeup all the time and why I felt ashamed without it. Why I felt I looked hideous. I questioned it but I carried on ‘using’ – some habits are hard to break. I’d been wearing makeup since I was 14 – I was fascinated by my mum’s beauty routine and loved trying things from the basket of goodies on her dressing table. I distinctly remember being told off by the deputy headmistress to take off my blue Rimmel eyeliner with Pond’s Cold Cream in the girls’ loos. And the matching nail varnish.
Years later, I remember telling that counsellor that I felt ‘exhausted being me’. I didn’t know quite what I meant at the time but it had less to do with all the challenges of a burgeoning career and more to do with the ‘lady maintenance’ that came with it. I felt I had to be perfect at everything – brilliant at my job, at looking good, at fitness, at home life. Of course, no one can be, and the strain had started to show. The daily armour of clothes and makeup were just a fact of life for me, and the ex-husband who had to wait for me to don it, even for a trip to B&Q at the weekend. While most people ‘upgrade’ their lives on holiday – staying at nice hotels, taking their best outfits with them for glamorous cocktail evenings – I began to love our ‘roughing it’ holidays, where I wore (almost) no makeup and ‘outdoor’ clothing the whole time and went to bed when it went dark. This, for me, was relaxation. No more armour – just me.
When the ‘No Makeup Selfie’ craze started last year, I posted a defiant ‘NEVER’ on Facebook, and then immediately wondered why I felt so strongly about not doing it. I often think my friends look more beautiful without makeup, and their selfies showed it. Why not me? I genuinely thought I looked hideous and it took me until this summer to take one of myself, where I thought, ‘actually, I look ok’. But I didn’t post it.
I only decided to pull back on wearing so much makeup when I watched the movie Boyhood this summer, starring Patricia Arquette. In it, she plays a mother around my age, and the action is filmed in real time over the course of ten years. I was fascinated at how beautiful she looked, with minimal makeup and fresh-faced maturity, year after year. I thought I’d give it a try the next day and then didn’t stop. I went to bars and clubs with just mascara and myself. Nothing changed. Same reaction from women and men, the world continued to turn, I felt more authentically me. I suppose that bit was the real change. I didn’t need a ‘smoky eye’ to attract attention – confidence is the key.
Part of the reason for writing this blog is about presenting an authentic self – look at me from any angle and you get the same person. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog, real life – it’s all the same version of me, seen from different camera angles. If I’m going to be honest on here, then I’m going to reflect that in real life. Here I am. Unadorned, unfiltered. And I like it.
It made me so sad to see the furore surrounding Renee Zellweger and her radical face change. She appeared at a Women in Hollywood event this week and has faced a barrage of criticism over apparent ‘work’ she’s had done to stave off ageing. Beautiful, cute Renee – years of maintaining that facade has carried forward into a desperate need to change her amazing face at 45. The face that’s been key to her career, that has never been ‘classically’ beautiful but able to assume characters so easily, that has made us all love her.
Like many actresses in her forties, Renee’s scrabbled around to salvage something from her youthful image and in the process lost something of herself. She’s been trolled mercilessly about it by the same people who would criticise her for having the temerity to appear in public looking her actual age. If I was her, or Courtney, Jennifer, Cameron or Sarah Jessica, I’d have buckled under the pressure and had the work done too. And look at Claudia Winkleman – a woman I admire greatly, forced to retreat behind her fringe and heavy eye makeup just for daring to go without both for one night when presenting Strictly. Shame on you, Twitter. I thought she looked amazing as we saw her as she really was, for one brief moment.
It feels odd to finally like your face after forty-seven years on the planet, when undoubtedly it was much more pleasing to look at about twenty-five years ago. I remember liking my reflection when I was 14/15 then suddenly hating it at 17/18. Something happened to make me switch and I wonder if it was the realisation that there was a set of ‘lady rules’ I was meant to abide by. I realised with horror that I’d been caught not following them and scrabbled around to catch up. For heaven’s sake, I’d been out in the world with nothing but lipgloss , a sweatshirt and stretch jeans – what was I thinking?! Give me my armour now.
I’ve not completely given up on makeup and nice clothes – I love fashion and beauty and will never stop loving them. What’s changed is that I don’t feel I have to do them. It’s a choice. If I want to have a smoky eye, I’ll have it – I just don’t feel it’s absolutely necessary to cover up my shrinking fortysomething eyes. If anything, it calls attention to them. I will look people in the eye with only mascara for cover and not flinch, but more importantly, I’ll look at myself in the mirror and smile.
My Year Without Makeup:
On ageing and plastic surgery: