Life is Beautiful

Kim Wilde Jackie

Never mind the usual milestones, columnist Lucy Mangan charts her life through neon cheeks, leaky lip glosses and the heady scent of Body Shop White Musk


It is a glorious thing to live your teenage years at a time when the fashion in make-up is perfectly matched to the exuberance of youth. Happy the sixties teenager who could trowel on the metallic and mascara and know that she was only doing herself good. And as for the eighties – well, was there any greater fortune than to live your most vital years in that unique time in history when you were not just permitted but all but required by statute to have a fluorescent face. All notions of choosing your make-up to suit your colouring and face shape were abandoned. Cool girls swept on their bright pink blusher with a brush the size of a baby’s head and an enviably insouciant grace. Lesser mortals stabbed at their faces with stubby fingers and left two fuchsia stripes where they hoped their cheekbones might one day prove to be.


I improvised a version of the blue mascara recommended by every beauty editor by mixing a cast-off azure eyeshadow from my beloved cousin Katie with water and trying to apply it with the thin end of my comb. The price of beauty, it turns out, is two scratched corneas and a trip to casualty. From what I could see, though, I looked good.


A few years later came the mass obsession with Body Shop unguents. We used to descend on our local branch every Saturday like locusts on a cornfield and strip the shelves bare. Every Monday morning, the entire school stank of Dewberry and White Musk. Teachers had to be carried out on stretchers. Your worth was judged by the size of your Barbara Daly brush and your dedication to the exfoliatory arts. At the height of our fervour you could have chucked some broken glass into marmalade and we would have bought it as long as you called it “Orange Facial Scrub” and promised us suitably sloughed skin. When I think of the money I wasted, I could weep. If you could translate tea tree shampoo into pension contributions I could have retired by now.


In your twenties, you become more sophisticated and start tailoring your purchases to products and colours that help you to accentuate the good and ameliorate the bad. It is, on the whole a relief not to have to improvise lipstick from Smarties as you did when you were seven, or take pot luck with stolen goods as you did when people started shoplifting at secondary school, or accept the occasional bout of unidentified burning rash because the entire class is sharing two glosses and an single Bourjois eyeshadow. But you do sometimes yearn for the collective enthusiasm and camaraderie that existed around the facepainting project. Putting on your make-up in the peace and tranquillity of your own bathroom has its charms, but from time to time you do miss the screaming laughter and excitement of eight girls passing a handful of products around and trying to get their mascara on safely before someone jogs their elbow and takes their eye out.


In your thirties, make-up takes on an element of maintenance – a bit of panel-beating here and plastering there – rather than mere decoration or joyful experimentation. By now, your make-up bag is an archaeologist’s guide to your beauty evolution. The uppermost stratum is the useful, current stuff – sensible lipstick, basic mascara, concealer and a nearly-finished foundation that’s going to run out just before you can get to Boots.


Next layer: 32 back-up mascaras, 18 leaking lip glosses and an emergency lipstick that doesn’t really suit you but is too expensive to throw away.


Next layer: evening versions of the previous ones. More expensive, more glittery and more lovely. You look better just for owning them. (They do not, however, help you solve the conundrum that has pursued women down the ages; what to do if you’re meeting a man for a date at 7 o’clock on a summer’s evening – late enough for proper flirting and proper make-up but still early and light enough to cause him to recoil in horror from Amazing Clown-faced Woman if you do pitch up in full slap.)


Next layer: untouched palettes, compacts, lipsticks of all kinds that you will never use but that are too, too gorgeous to give away. You feel vaguely guilty about denying them their beautifying destiny, but you cannot be parted.


Final layer: 702 congealed, dusty and broken tubes, pots and jars dating back to your prehistory – there are probably a couple of Smarties down there somewhere too – that you could never throw away because they contain too many memories, of summer holidays, childish passions, first discos, shares secrets, private hopes and public proclamations, eternal friendships pledged and broken, magical kisses and terrible snogs, and it would break your heart to lose them.


There’s more to life than make-up, of course. But there’s an awful lot more life in it than you’d think.



Hopscotch & Handbags: the Truth About Being a Girl by Lucy Mangan, out as an e-book now (£4.99, Headline)

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