Remember the seething mass of hormones and embarrassment that was the school Christmas party? Sarah Millican reflects on Avon lipstick, social mobility and why not being noticed by boys didn’t matter a jot.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
Christmas parties always spelt hope for me. Especially at school. Sure, no boys had shown interest in me all year round but there was a reason for that. Boys don’t like clever girls, girls who are polite, girls who’ve never touched a cock but could draw you a really good budgie. Boys, weirdly, like girls who suck their hair, have suckers (love bites) on their necks and are repeatedly average in exams. But I’m not at school to impress boys. I’m at school to learn, to find out what I’m good at, what I enjoy and get ready to shine like billy-o.
But I always thought I had the potential to turn heads. If someone wears make up and short skirts all the time, what are they going to pull out of the bag at the Christmas party? Me, I was pulling things out of bags like a magician. I liked make up and jewellery but never wore them at school. I liked dangly earrings and a lipstick by Avon called Café au Lait. And so to the transformation. What would the boy who sneezed on my desk and rubbed it in (but who I was reliably informed loved me) think when I walked into the Christmas party, all glammed up? Or the boy who bit off his wart for me? I envisioned them both, their eyes wide open, jaws dropping; running, sneezing and bleeding (warts can BLEED) to ask me to dance and maybe kiss me in a couple of years.
In the lead up to the party, I’d buy as many women’s magazines as my pocket money and the extra few quid I earned by cleaning the house (do you need any more Cinderella references?) could stretch to, remembering that the festive issues always come out in November. These were my bible. Without them how would I know that licking my lips and touching his arm would lead to having someone to go the cinema with on a Saturday afternoon? In reality, it meant I ended up with chapped lips, and have you ever tried to touch a boy’s arm while he’s jigging about to Madness?
I think I just wanted to be noticed, asked to dance. And on the day, in my Avon lipstick, River Island earrings, White Musk playfully squirted behind my ears because I’d seen someone do it on the telly, in an off the shoulder black velvet cocktail dress that I’d feather dusted many a skirting board for, I moused into the party. And I did dance, but just with girls. And with teachers too, in an innocent, waltzing kind of way. And I had a lovely time. I was just a Plain Jane Super Brain who never got her wow moment.
And I think I know why. I think it’s a confidence thing. It didn’t matter what I was wearing because I was quiet and invisible. You can’t get confidence from a magazine. My first job brought me out of my shell. My mam told me years later that’s why she’d suggested it. Maybe it’s leaving school and getting out of those gangs you’ve been in for too long that allows you to blossom and become a proper person. There’s no social mobility at school. If you’re a dowdy nerd, you’re a dowdy nerd for five years. But the minute you leave, you can be a funny girl with nine GCSEs and the whole world ahead of her. Head up, smile, eye contact, that’s what makes people look at you.
That’s why it pisses me off when people comment on what I wear. It doesn’t matter. Fuck what I’ve got on. If I’m wearing it then I’ve picked it because I feel good in it. Is my head up? Am I smiling? Then I am currently winning the low self-esteem battle.
Also, there are men who love a smart woman. Who find wit sexy. They’re just not 13.
Sarah Millican is a comedian, writer, reformed workaholic, feminist, cat and dog mam, wife and lover of food.