Abigail Burdess on the meaning of makeup, the joy of face painting, and why bus journeys make her feel like a middle-aged nudist.
I was watching my kid painting her face as a witch and I realised, to my shame, that I was envious of the fun she was having and turning a little bit green myself.
I don’t wear makeup day to day. Probably because, having to wear it as an actor, it can feel like work – a bit like an astronaut choosing not to sport a massive white onesie in her downtime. Except an astronaut’s job can only be done by a scientific genius with decades of training, and my job can be done by Calum Best with a hangover. Although he’d have to wear makeup.
Also, I’m rubbish at putting it on. To go on TV someone good at it does it for you. When I do it myself I end up looking like an eight-year-old’s drawing of an airhostess. Basically, I have two modes: none, or Strictly Come Dancing. It’s all been a bit of fun. But as I envied my kid, I realised the fun, for me, has worn a little thin. Something is happening.
My own occasional makeup mode – “1970s perfume counter” – is everywhere. Everybody’s doing it: newsreaders, telly scientists and, of course, all the young youth. You know the look I mean: two sets of lashes, lip gloss, bronzer. It’s loads and loads of makeup.
As a daytime look I do find it faintly unsettling. It’s that moment on the number 72 when you think, “Am I on the number 72? Or am I on ITV on a Saturday Night?”
Maybe it’s my age. I’m about to be 40. Maybe I notice all the paint on the lovely girls when I catch sight of my own sallow unpainted 40ish face in that number 72 window, and it looks so very, very underdressed by comparison. It looks, in fact, freakishly naked: a middle-aged nudist on the bus.
It makes me want to shout what you’d want to shout at any middle-aged nudist, “For God’s sake! Put something on!”
It’d be different if I were a naked 25 year-old. But my nude old face looks less and less like the pictures of women I see around me. The only time I see a face like mine it has an arrow on it: you know, to point out which bit is wrong. Usually in a pop-up ad when I’m just trying to buy a lawnmower.
I sometimes think I’d be happier sporting a Strictly mask every day too. But what would I be painted as? The Goths pretended to be vampires: “I eschew the daylight and I live for masturbating alone”, they said with their painted faces. The New Romantics pretended to be pirates, or clowns, or Native American neon highwaymen from the future. If I went the full ITV every day what would I be pretending to be? I’m worried I’d be pretending to be a woman. You know, like people who aren’t women do.
It’s probably Facebook’s fault. Most things are. Someone – let’s call her Patient Zero – put on foundation for a selfie and her friend added a layer and her friend added another and come 2017 we’ll all be RuPaul. Maybe it was me? Maybe I am Patient Zero! God, I hope not.
Because I’ve started to see those arrows when I look in the mirror, too. I think, “I look tired – I’ll just put on some mascara. I look washed out – I’ll just give myself a bit of colour”. And that’s one step away from not leaving the house before I’ve “put my face on”. I mean, presumably RuPaul is only “RuPaul” for show time. I don’t want show time to last all day long.
Face-painting is only enjoyable if we don’t have to do it. If we must wear makeup – to get a job as a receptionist, or to talk about comets on the telly, or to find our own naked faces acceptable, because we’ve bought some bullshit that we’re not really women without it – well, it’s no fun at all. And most men aren’t diligently sponging on five o’ clock shadow to work at B&Q. Most men aren’t drawing on a jawline to leave the house. I think it’s just Craig David and Boy George. And I don’t want to be either of those guys.
So to reclaim the fun, I was thinking that, for the next party, I might go as a wicked witch. I may or may not wear loads and loads of makeup to achieve this look.1995 Views
Abigail writes comedy for the telly, radio and stage. She is also sometimes allowed on them. But not so’s you’d notice. @AbigailBurdess