On The Lash


Mascara police: don’t dare tell writer Dolly Alderton she’s over the limit.


I have a confession. I found out the other day that you’re meant to change your mascara every three months. I don’t. I buy a new mascara once a month and have done for ten years. On payday, the first thing I do is transfer my rent to my landlord, the next is to walk down to Boots to buy a L’Oreal Lash Architect in Midnight Black. Then at least I know I’m sorted. Whatever happens with my money that month, I’ll have a roof over my head and enough mascara in my handbag.


Mascara. I’ve always been completely in love with the stuff. Growing up, every woman I thought of as beautiful did very well out of it. Models, movie stars, teachers, my mother – they all had the same facial template: thick black lashes feathering out against large, soft eyes. Warm, kitteny faces – it’s a look that’s made up of 85% mascara and it’s the look I love.


I love the process of application. Wiggling the comb through to the tips and the slow, satisfying building of layers. I even like the smell of it. In truth, I’ve romanticized this product to the point of ruin because I spent much of my adolescence at an all-girls school. WIth eye makeup prohibited, traces of it on a Monday morning were the ultimate signifier of a grown-up life at the weekend. I’d apply a few coats of my mum’s on a Sunday night and rub it down off my lashes to leave a dark, dusty residue underneath my eyes.


Since then, I’ve spent my life being told I wear too much mascara. The more I hear it, the more I apply. Women I know see me without makeup and tell me how nice I look “natural”, over and over again, in an obviously loaded way. And every boyfriend I’ve ever had has, at one point or another, looked down on my big, cartoon, Tweetie Pie lashes and patronisingly explained that I “don’t NEED all this”.


Well. Here’s the thing, everyone. I don’t NEED your backhanded compliments implying that I’m insecure because I like to wear makeup. I don’t NEED you to smugly tell me I should wear less mascara. I know this face and I know it well. I know that dark lipstick doesn’t look great on it. I know after years of obsessing that I have a slightly larger forehead than most people. I know I have a small mouth but a big grin. I totally get its snub nose and excitable right eyebrow and ducky top lip better than you ever will. I’m stuck with this funny, uneven face I’ve come to know and love and I know it looks great with lots of mascara, whether I NEED it or not. And, hey, while we’re on the subject, I don’t NEED an almond croissant and a flat white for breakfast. None of us need any of these things, but what’s life without a bit of stuff we don’t need to make the ride a bit more colourful?


Occasionally I manage to spread the gospel. The summer before last, after filming at a festival, I was retouching my make-up in the loos when I drunkenly befriended Olly Murs’s totally charming mum.

“God,” she said. “Haven’t you got lovely long lashes?”

“No!” I said excitedly. “I’ve got really normal ones – I just wear loads of mascara.” I frantically dug Lash Architect out of the bottom of my bag. “No-one wears enough, you see! No-one gets it! The secret is applying LOADS!” And just like I had practiced with girls at school and university, I sat Mrs Murs on the loo and crouched next to her, asking what brand she currently uses as I combed it on layer upon layer upon layer, until her lovely eyes were beautiful framed in a thick, feathery flurry of jet black.

“Oooh,” she said, looking in my compact. “I look gorgeous.”


Understated? No. But gorgeous? Yes. I learnt about make-up from my mother, the 1970s model, and every time I put on my mascara it connects me straight to her and all she taught me. Minimalism? I don’t know you. I know thick lashes, smoky wings of grey and brown eye shadow and eyelid corners smudged with brilliant white. I know nude, frosted full lips and cheekbones blanketed by shimmering blusher in diagonal sweeps. The hair I grew up around was thick and bouncy, scented with Elnett and flowing in big trajectories of flick.


I’m sure many make-up artists and stylists would argue that all this isn’t particularly chic. But it’s bold and glamorous and fun. As Euripides said: “know first who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.” So – fine.  I admit it. As far as looks go, wearing four layers of mascara isn’t very cool or aloof. But do you know what? Neither am I.


L’Oreal Paris Lash Architect Mascara, £10.29



Dolly Alderton

Dolly Alderton is a writer and journalist.

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