March 2012


Only kidding. I know the answer to that one. It’s “beauty balm”, silly. Although, that said, you’d have thought it’d be something a bit more specific than that. I mean, “beauty balm”. It’s just marketing speak. Doesn’t exactly bring to mind some unique, magical formula. If you ask me, it’s no Boswelox. It’s not even a Pentapeptide.

It does, however, possess that ingredient essential to all successful beauty products. It makes women feel crap. It does this because, basically, it’s tinted moisturiser for the gullible. And if tinted moisturiser can make you feel crap (and believe me, it will), knowing you’re gullible enough to by the version specially marketed to morons will make you feel even crapper.

Tinted moisturiser does bugger all to improve the appearance of normal skin (when I say “normal skin”, I mean the skin of most people. I don’t mean “normal skin” the way skincare manufacturers mean it, which is skin that doesn’t actually need any help but covers the body of someone browbeaten into buying products for it anyhow). The idea that a basic cream with the tiniest hint of colour can “improve skin tone” and “cover imperfections” is laughable. Still, you slap it on and think “it doesn’t work for me. It works for everyone else because it says so on the packet, so I must be exceptionally rubbish and ugly and therefore I need to go out and buy even more stuff” (I know you don’t literally think that. You feel it, though, and that’s enough).

The truly weird thing is, though, that even though the amount of colour in tinted moisturiser is tiny and doesn’t actually cover anything – after all, it’s just a tint – you can guarantee that it WILL NOT match your own skin colour and this will be OBVIOUS. It doesn’t matter if it’s specially formulated for light or dark skins (or even that elusive medium). The colour will be nothing like the colour you are and it will hence make you look a prat who either wants to be mustard yellow or already believes that she is. Normally this kind of colour exclusion is reserved for those whom the magazines like to call “ethnic” (unlike the rest of us, who don’t get a name in print but are probably Master Race in the beauty editor’s heads). With tinted moisturiser, however, everyone’s excluded. I suppose it’s an equality, of sorts.

I am not a fan of my BB cream, but I haven’t thrown it out because I don’t throw anything out. I keep it on my desk as a reminder of my shame at not having easily improved “normal” skin that can be “perfected” by light coverage. Sometimes I mix it with my normal foundation, just to use it up. But I know that’s cheating.

Beauty balm. I’m sure I could come up with a more meaningful explanation of the acronym. But I just can’t Be Bothered.

Ever since my eldest started school I have wondered why the very concept of “doing the school run” makes me feel like an honorary upper-middle class twat. Thankfully, a copy of Easy Living I nicked from my mum’s has finally provided the answer.

Therein I have uncovered a regular feature called The School Runway. I know it’s a regular feature because you, too, can have the opportunity to appear in it, providing you submit a photo to Easy Living  and enough people “like” it. That said, when I say “you too”, chances are I don’t literally mean you. You’re probably too poor. And you probably don’t have an interesting enough job, or failing that, a husband earns enough for you not to have a job at all yet still be able to wear designer labels. Because that’s what happens on the school run. Apparently. Makes me wonder how I ever manage to sneak eldest in without being cornered by the fashion police.

According to Easy Living’s resident “Style seeker”, “the school gates have never been so stylish”. Now, to look at the pictures on pp. 84-85 of this May’s edition, I wouldn’t be so sure, but then, what do I know? The women there look polished, well-turned out – rich, basically – but it’s only when I read the text that I have to accept that they are indeed “stylish”. They must be, because their labels say so.

Here are some examples of what women are wearing as they drop their kids off at school:

  • Prada trainers
  • Hermès scarf
  • Christian Louboutin boots
  • DKNY cardigan
  • MaxMara boots
  • Day Birger et Mikkelsen top

etc. etc. Do you wear that kind of thing when you drop your kids off? I bet you don’t. Sadly, that could mean no one at Easy Living will “like” you.

So how do these women pay for these things? Well, it’s not by doing the normal day-to-day bollocks the rest of us plough on with. School runway mum jobs include actress, musician, fashion designer, risk manager and founder and director of a children’s club. Failing that it’s stay-at-home mum, albeit one who still gets to wear Prada in a single-income household. Between the glitzy chick-lit-tastic jobs and stay-at-home mumdom, there’s nothing in-between. No nurses, teachers, administrators, shop assistants. Perhaps women like that don’t breed. Or maybe they do but they don’t take their kids to school. Actually, that’s just prejudiced, they probably do. It’s just that their clothes are shit.

Not to worry. It’s not like the school runway mums don’t know what it’s like to be a lesser mortal. Let’s here what they have to say:

I never feel pressured to wear ‘designer’. I love it when other mums ask me where my clothes are from and it’s H&M or Gap.

So says the fashion designer, getting in a quick dig at those silly lesser mums who aren’t stylish enough to “mix it up” with high street and some classic pieces.

I swore I’d never be that mum who leaves the house in tracksuit bottoms, but when it’s a battle to get my daughter dressed, my style matters less.

So says the actress, who isn’t wearing tracksuit bottoms (“that mum” is, though. Yeah, you know who you are).

I’ve done the school run in pyjamas and Ugg boots because I haven’t had time to get dressed.

Well yes, haven’t we all. Albeit in cheaper boots. Us mums, eh, what are we like?

So what do I wear on the school run?

I wear my work clothes, like normal. And I generally manage to avoid having mummy-badge-of-honour effluvia stains by wearing a pinny until I leave the house. And to avoid wearing pyjamas by getting up on time. And to avoid wearing Prada by not having a rich partner.

So far, so boring.

I do, however, manage feel some resentment at the mothers dressed casually, since I presume they probably don’t have jobs to go to and therefore have, if not richer partners, then at least tidier houses than me. Ooh, I hate them, I do, what with me being a career woman and all.

Actually, I wonder if those sorts of feelings are common?

If only the Daily Mail would write an article about it…

 

 

 

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Morning. Eldest child is rifling through my make-up drawer.

“What’s this, Mummy?”

“It’s an eyebrow pencil.”

“Oh.”

He puts down the pencil, closes the drawer.

***

Afternoon. Eldest child is drawing a picture of his brother.

“Mummy, can I have the special pencil?”

“Which one?”

“The one we use for drawing eyebrows.”

I give him my redundant eyebrow pencil. I’ve moved on to wax and powder these days. He sketches messy, over-defined brows, just like Mummy does.

“Now can I have the special pencil we use for noses?”

“We don’t have nose pencils.”

“Don’t we?”

“No, we don’t.”

Silence.

I don’t want to disappoint him, though.

“I could give you a special pencil for the edge of the lips, perhaps to also fill them if you want a base for lipstick. I’ve also got a pencil for around the eyes. Be careful, though, you mustn’t leave a gap between the line you draw and the start of the lashes. I think that’s all the pencils I have. But I have a lot of brushes.”

He is quiet. Pushes hard at the eyebrow pencil nub, stubs it in on itself.

“No, it’s okay, Mummy. I’ll just use the normal crayons.”

Sometimes I think, so will I.

I am not on a diet at the moment. Although, to be honest, I never am.  I am frequently, however, attempting to “cut down”, to “eat healthily”, to “learn good nutritional habits that will last a lifetime”. I’m not doing that at the moment, though, mainly because I’m now too thin. This will last about a week, then I will be normal aka “too fat”, and it will start all over again.

Being marginally underweight is ace, at least briefly. Several slices of cheesecake separate you from the horrific mundanity of having a “normal” figure, and each one tastes bloody delicious as you chomp your way back. This is different to long-term thinness, of the sort I “enjoyed” in my anorexic teens. Back then I was too damn hungry to be happy. I never allowed myself back to normality. Now the times I’m at my hungriest coincide with me being at my biggest, and feeling at my worst, while my skinny self always tucks into food with gusto.

The journalist Polly Vernon is thin all the time, but where’s the adventure in that? What a monstrous amount of mental effort to waste on staying in the same place, when you could be relishing the highs and lows of constant loss and gain. I like being thin, but I also like not being hungry. I don’t like having to choose, and I’ve spent years trying to think my way out of this.

This is the thing “they” never admit, none of them, all the slimming magazines and diet food manufacturers and nutritionists and gurus: being thin involves being hungry and being hungry involves feeling crap. It’s not something you get used to. It’s not something you can get around by eating particular sorts or combinations of food. It’s not a mental challenge you can intellectualize your way out of. Every diet “success story” involves a person thinking about food all the fucking time. It’s a triumph, of sorts, to do so and not to eat, but it’s not much of one. No one should underestimate how awful feeling hungry is. It’s not just physical pain, it’s mental torture.

Don’t believe that if you were a better person, morally stronger, an apple could make you feel full for hours. It’s not magic. It doesn’t work like that. The same goes for a protein bar, a bag of Special K minis, a Weight Watchers pro-points “treat”. Each is only that big and your needs are greater (but don’t forget – you also need to be smaller).

Don’t believe either that if you were a better person, morally stronger, you wouldn’t care about your size. You don’t live in a cultural vacuum. Being told to “celebrate your curves” is as meaningful as being told to celebrate all your other “failures”, because hey, they make you the beautiful person you are. And you’re meant to think that that’s not patronizing, not at all. It’s just an admission you’re not one of the special people, and somehow it feels arrogant not to accept this. But it’s normal not to want to feel invisible, or mocked, or pitied. It’s not arrogant at all.

The starve/binge cycle I’ve settled into these days is marginal, as is my weight gain and loss. Perhaps no one even notices it but me, but I’m glad I do. That way I can enjoy my cheesecake. And on the days when I’m not desperately hungry or feeling fat, it frees my mind up to think of other things. Like, what does it feel like to be Victoria Beckham or Kate Middleton, with all that money and nothing to eat?

I bet it feels crap.

Here’s a revelation: I never thought I’d say this but I now hate Boots advertisements more than those for Special K. Ta-dah! This may be partly to do with not having seen so many Special K adverts recently (although My special life still haunts the pages of Glamour) but I suspect that, even with a full-on where’s-your-red-dress-fatso marketing assault from The K, Boots would still be topping my hate list on their own merit. So well done to them.

It’s not as though Special K and Boots are so very different in their marketing message. Target Real Woman ™. Subtly imply that yes, you know she’s above all this dieting / makeup / anti-ageing shit anyhow (you do this by getting her to smirk a bit. It works particularly well if she’s Keeley Hawes). Once you’ve done this, chuck the products at her anyhow, because you know and she knows she’ll still buy them, and really, that’s quite funny when you think about it. In fact, you could make this contradiction the advert’s punchline. Let’s all have a giggle at the women throwing their makeover products into a skip in the back garden, at the “girls” going mental in the office loos in preparation for the Christmas party, at the diet-obsessed girl who’s driving her boyfriend mad (“she always looks great to me!” Yes, that’s because she’s a fucking model!).  Ah these silly, silly women. Good we can have a laugh at our own expense. The kind of laugh that reinforces the low self-esteem that keeps you buying crap.

For years I thought no one would ever replace Special K as my most despised marketing campaign in  this respect. I only had to think of the woman in the Special K Bliss advert, trying to convince you she was happy because she’d found some shards of chocolate in her cereal bow, when actually she was probably freezing cold, what with the red swimsuit and atmospheric breeze and lack of calories in her system … You could see it in her eyes, the deadness. And then when the advert ended you thought, yeah, I’m really fat. I ought to make myself feel that shit, too. I used to think nothing could top that. But I was wrong.

It’s not the “here come the girls” nonsense that’s been around for a while. I can live with that. It’s so openly crap, this “girls” bollocks, I’ve found it hard to care (except when the whole “girls” thing gets too much and I find myself confusing buying a Shapers sandwich with fighting breast cancer). No, the thing that has tipped me over the edge is the new “Ta-dah!” campaign. And the thing that really, really gets to me?

The intonation.

That’s it. The intonation. Just the way the voiceover says “Ta-dah!”. There’s so much you can read into it. And being me, I read away.

It’s not said in a showy, full-on way, not the way you really should say it. Just in a little voice, half-embarrassed. I think you’re meant to mistake it for modesty, but it’s more than that. Deep down, you know it’s ridicule.

Ta-dah!  That’s you, all made-up, thinking you’re special, thinking you’re someone who can face the world. But we know you’re pretending. You’re not really okay, but we’ll help you get by.

Ta-dah! Like a little girl who’s been through her mother’s makeup box, made a mess of the lipstick and rouge but still wants to show everyone how lovely she looks. That’s you. Go on, show yourself. Might as well make a bit of a joke of it.

Ta dah! It’s okay, as long as you don’t make anyone think you take it seriously. As long as you play the game but accept your limitations.

Can you read that much into a simple exclamation?

Probably not.

But right now, Boots, in my world you’re making Special K almost benign.

My latest moisturiser is specially formulated to reduce shine, or, as the French packaging says, “pour neutraliser la brillance”. Obviously, that’s what we all want. Can’t have too much of the old “brillance”. Who knows, you might just blind someone.

Now of course, it’s not that I like having oily skin and pores the size of moon craters. Of course I don’t. That’s why I buy this stuff. Still, the phrase “neutraliser la brillance” somehow hits a nerve. I realise it’s just a faux ami (as are all my cosmetics) but the thought of “neutralising brilliance” — engaging in out-and-out blandification — is never far from my mind when I’m slapping on my latest potion.

Of course, it’s not just the blandness  of it all. It’s the reduction of out-and-out failure to desperate, expensive mediocrity. Is it better to look like every other miserable sod who’s “making an effort” – doing the whole “Real Woman” thing, accepting one’s limitations, knowing that while one can’t polish a turd one can at least smother it in concealer – or to go out in a blaze of open-pored, grease-ridden glory?

I don’t know. Still waiting for the day when mega-pores become a sign of beauty, when I’ll fill mine with highlighter and dazzle dust. In the meantime, I’ll keep applying the Effaclar in the hope that it stops me shining.

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Urban Decay, Too Faced, Hard Candy … they’re just not hardcore enough. Until I get a lipstick that tells me I’m a useless slag, I might as well go back to bloody Bourjois…

You will need:

  • primer
  • concealer
  • highlighter
  • sponge applicator
  • foundation brush
  • foundation (cream, mousse, powder, powder to cream, cream to powder, mineral, colour adaptive or light reflecting)*
  • finishing powder (loose or pressed)*

*Choose wisely, ugly one.  You can’t afford to get it wrong.

Start with the primer. Or don’t. You might not need it, except you do, of course you do.

Use the concealer, just the concealer, a slick of gloss, mascara, look, you’re done (except you’re not, are you?).

Now the foundation.

Apply the foundation with a sponge, carefully, get the layering just right.

Apply it with a brush, pretend your face is a canvas, paint it on, just right. Only kidding, don’t do that.

Use your fingers, warm it with your fingers, so it sinks in just as it should. That might not be the right answer. I’m not telling you which one is.

Then add the powder.

Only don’t.

You don’t want to look caked, you want to look fresh and dewy,

like you did when you were 16,

only that’s how you never looked and you’re a useless canvas anyway.

Face it.

You’ll never get it right.

(at least not until you buy the next one)

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