Seeing red and being seen, part 2: The terrible teens

So from the bad beginning we’ve reached the time at which I started to look at makeup as something I wanted to play with. I wanted to, but I was terrified. By this point I had learned to hide and obey so well that I didn’t even realise that’s what I was doing some of the time. 

A side note- aged 11, I asked my Mum if it would be OK for me to kiss a boy. Yes, you read that right. A boy had asked if I kissed boys, and I went and asked my Mum. She told me no, because if I kissed boys I would have sex with them, and that was wrong. 

My parents, I think, didn’t want me to grow up. My Dad certainly didn’t want me to be more of a girl than I already was, but that’s perhaps a different story. 

Aged about 9 or 10, I got a book at the Junior School Book Fair. It was called ‘Freaky Fashions’ by Caroline Archer (you can still find copies on Abebooks). The second-to-last chapter was about make-up. I pored over the different eyeshadow combinations, longing to try out the crazy colours. Then I asked about getting some.

No, no, no! Eyeshadow was MUCH too old. Eventually, Mum relented enough, when I was about 13, to buy me some blusher. I think I used it once, but was horrified at people noticing it. Noticing me. No! Hide! So it sat in my drawer for years. 

13 was also when I got my first lipstick. I didn’t actually buy one, it was a free gift with ‘Shout!’ one of a slew of teenage magazines that were launched around that time. The only one of those I wasn’t allowed was ‘Just Seventeen’- “But you’re NOT SEVENTEEN!”. Again, I digress. The lipstick in question was from Collection 2000, and It. Was. RED. Very red. Confident, bold, adventurous, noticeable. All the things I wasn’t. I would sit and look at it in my room. From time to time I would take off the lid and gingerly twist the bottom of the tube. Just to look at it. I think once I may even have tried some on the back of my hand. 

The other girls at school, of course, didn’t have the same fears I did. Or if they did, they had worked out what I hadn’t- that now was the time to rebel against the rules laid down by your parents. To buy things you weren’t supposed to. To make mistakes. To kiss boys and stay out late, and wear wild colours on your face.

Then the Body Shop opened a branch in our town. The excitement! What was (to us girls in a small commuter town in the 1990s) fancy bath stuff, and perfume, and, yes, make up. Designed by a make-up ARTIST no less. A girl in my class, Anna, showed me her All-in-One Face Base and my goodness, I was envious. I watched, fascinated, as Kelly Bond applied BRIGHT pink lipstick in class. As Mia used a stick of concealer all over her face as a concealer- and didn’t get told to take it off. My heart fluttered when I saw other girls wearing makeup- and I thought it was fear. No, no, no. Mustn’t. Shouldn’t. Can’t. 

I got brave enough, on a rare random time when my Dad offered to buy me a book, to get a book on make-up. The Usborne First Book of Make-Up, no less. I read that over and over, looking with longing at the least terrifying of the tutorials- the natural look. Tinted moisturiser, clear lipgloss, mascara. Yes. That I could deal with. I’d be wearing it, but nobody would know! 

After some persistence from me, and I’ve never been quite sure why she agreed to it, Mum allowed me to book in for a free makeover at the Body Shop. To say I was excited was an understatement. I fantasised about getting lipgloss, the all-important All In One Face Base. Things that people wouldn’t see. 

What I got was the one-size-fit-all makeover. EVERYTHING layered on. It was the greasepaint all over again. I felt horribly self-conscious and I was wearing too much on my face and then my brother said my eyelashes looked too dark. To be honest, if Mum hadn’t been there with me I might have been brave enough to tell the assistant exactly what I wanted to try. But she was, and I wasn’t. Not for the first time, or the last, I sat there and accepted things I didn’t want.

At 17 I discovered Britpop and finally, FINALLY, got a Just 17 Yearbook, with advice on how to look like Justine Frischmann. Who didn’t wear makeup, just Vaseline on her lips. And so I hid without realising I was hiding, behind a facade of not wearing makeup, just as so many other girls hid behind a face of tinted moisturiser, and mascara, and lipgloss. Like every other lonely, awkward teenager, I had found a mask to wear. It was just that mine was petroleum jelly and, aside from occasional medicated tea-tree-oil concealer, bare, acne covered skin. 

But I still looked at makeup. From then until really quite recently, I would pore over the beauty section of magazines, of the Avon catalogue, of any special offer that came through for lipstick once the internet took off. 

And do you know what? I was always looking at the red lipsticks. (Except when I was eyeing up glitter eyeliner but that’s another story). 

And then, to coin a lyric from a Pulp song (part of the soundtrack of those awkward hiding years), something changed. 

But you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what. 

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