Epiphanies often arrive in the most ordinary of circumstances - while you’re lolly-gagging your way along the road to Damascus for example - and this week’s epiphanies were no exception. The first arrived as I flicked through a women’s magazine at a local garage, while waiting for a friend to get a W.O.F. for her car.
The “low spender” amongst them spends a mere $1300 per annum. The “big spender” forks out $1800 a year - on eyelash extensions alone. Well worth the expense she says because, on the weekend you can “get up and not have to bother with mascara”. This woman’s total annual bill is $17,700 which, in addition to long eyelashes included make-up, facials, nails, tanning, hairdressing, a personal trainer, dietician and a permanent hair removal process which handily reduces the number of times “you panic because you realise you haven’t had a wax”. It was a revelatory moment.
The scales fell from my (un-mascaraed) eyes. I do not spend nearly enough money - or time - on personal grooming! Until this moment I’d believed that it was enough to wash my hair with whatever shampoo was on special at the supermarket, shave my legs - at erratic intervals - with a plastic disposable razor, and dab on a bit of cut-price lipstick from Postie Plus. Exercise was a quick canter round the block or a ramble with the dog. Dressing up was a change of lipstick and a change of T-shirt. In extremis, it might involve putting on a skirt. Preferably without removing my jeans.
Engineers and chemists from around the globe had been labouring selflessly to make the achievement of this modest goal possible for every woman. Engineers had created “state of the art delivery systems” like the mascara wand with the “Oscillation Amplifier”. Chemists had developed “Body Polish”, “Quadramine Complex”, “Ageless Serum Primer”, “Advanced Skin Corrector”, “Defence Regenerating Lotion, “Daily Microfoliant”, “Miracle Broth™” and the “Ultracalming Concentrate” that “maybe the Holy Grail of skin immortality”. One savant had invented a hair lacquer that “literally freezes your hair”. Another had devised a mix of Botox and fillers which can be injected into women’s feet so they can “totter around in sky-high heels without pain”.
Doctors had contributed their expertise too. One far-sighted M.D. had developed the technique of drawing blood from female patients’ arms and injecting it into their faces. Immediately post-treatment, the face does look as if it’s been sandpapered rather vigorously, but the ultimate effect is to make a woman “look young and feel youthful”.
The second epiphany followed hard on the (high) heels of the first. It wafted to me on the waves of fragrant air which accompanied two young female houseguests. Both young women were beautiful - and not just in the way that simple youth confers - yet they toted with them an arsenal of cosmetics - what an older friend of mine calls her “panel-beating kit”.
As these gorgeous young things prepared themselves for a party, the house was redolent with the combined scents of their unguents, lotions, potions, gels and sprays. After much bathing, shampooing, conditioning, and the application of arcane, broad-spectrum cosmetic products (see para 4 above) they looked, to me, no more beautiful than they had before: they just looked slightly less like themselves.
I had the same sensation the next day when, trawling through a few more women’s magazines - purely for research, you understand - I came across a glossy two-page spread for Lancome cosmetics featuring a face which looked vaguely familiar. It took me a very long time to recognise that the face belonged to actress, Kate Winslett: she had been so made-up and airbrushed that she hardly looked like herself at all.
My two epiphanies have had the curious effect of cancelling each other out. With enough modern cosmetology and cash I might be able to perfect my appearance. On the other hand, cosmeticized perfection obliterates the individuality and personality of a women’s face.
Almost every woman I know is, to some degree, alienated from her face and body, and subjects herself to cruel self-surveillance. Aided and abetted by the multi-billion-dollar beauty industry, it is hard for women to feel fully at home in their own skins. I am no exception. If the Black Dog has me in its jaws, I become locked in a battle with the image of myself that the mirror reflects - a battle I can never win. However, when I am relaxed and happy with myself, my appearance hardly enters my consciousness. Ironically, this can mean that the worse I look on the outside, the happier I am likely to be feeling on the inside.
So, no need for sympathy if you see me wearing some daggy outfit or other, hair tied messily back with a scarf and bereft of lipstick – I’m sure to be feeling absolutely fabulous.