I remember someone once taking me out to dinner and commenting favourably on my lack of makeup. It seemed churlish and disillusioning to point out that I was freshly exfoliated, toned and moisturised, and was in fact wearing concealer, foundation, blusher, powder, lip stain, eyeshadow (two kinds), eyebrow pencil, mascara and God knows what else — carefully applied, admittedly, so that it didn’t advertise its existence, but very much present none the less. I just sat there and smiled sweetly, showing my artificially whitened teeth.
So I was amused to read last week that, according to research conducted by a dating website, men prefer women au naturel, sans makeup. A poll of 10,000 single British men found that 68% preferred the fresh-faced look, as opposed to the obviously made-up version — the wholesome, sunkissed look of Gwyneth Paltrow, say, rather than the quasi-drag queen territory favoured by Christina Aguilera.
This is all very nice, and touchingly retro — the men questioned have a major downer on short hair, too (it sounds to me like they’d have us all look like Tess of the d’Urbervilles) — but it does show a lack of familiarity with the ways of cosmetics, and more specifically with the fact that the flawless “natural” look takes an absolute truckload of product to achieve. Two trucks, if you’re really going for it, with maybe a smallish backup van for emergencies.
I believe in makeup: in my book, there isn’t a woman alive who couldn’t be improved by a bit of well-applied slap. This is because naturally peachy complexions, rosebud lips, long, curling eyelashes and a natural flushed glow around the cheeks are rarer than hen’s teeth if you are over 30.
This doesn’t mean that women without makeup are unattractive — on the right face, in the right place, soap and water and nothing else can be drop-dead gorgeous — but such women are the microscopic and very lucky exception to the overwhelming rule, and even they could arguably benefit from a slick of lip gloss or a hint of mascara.
And for every natural, wholesome goddess, there’s a slew of whey-faced, hairy-toed lentil-muncher types, who could really benefit from a bit of lippy (and the rest). Not wearing makeup is an admirable expression of personal confidence — fabulous if you’re Kate Moss, less so if you aren’t. By extension, there is nothing wrong with a wee bit of grooming: everyone looks better with their legs waxed, and few people, upon seeing them, will mutter darkly about conforming to patriarchal stereotypes — a cheering improvement, this, which seems to have eluded several women of my vintage.
What amuses me most is that the dopey men clearly look at Paltrow and think, I like her, she’s natural and bare-faced; she looks just the same at 8am as she does at 8pm standing on a red carpet. I like her, too, but even though I don’t have access to her sponge bag, I would be amazed to discover that she didn’t have an arsenal of cosmetics, all the better to achieve that Waspy, fresh-faced perfection.
Look at Cameron Diaz: total fox with slap on, acnefied, oily-faced duck lookalike without. Or Sarah Jessica Parker — sans makeup: like a kind horse. This isn’t to belittle them, both are obviously blessed with natural beauty, but rather to point out that it’s a rare lily that doesn’t benefit from a bit of gilding.
It would be wrong, though, to assume that British women spend the £5 billion they do annually on cosmetics merely to reel in the opposite sex. One of the many marvellous things about makeup is that it is so democratic: you’re never too old, too fat, too plain, too broke.
Women have a relationship with their makeup bag that is largely independent of men. Sure, we may reserve a few items of makeup for a big date or a special event but on a daily basis our relationship with cosmetics is subjective and highly emotional. Makeup is about the face you choose to present to the world, and really, with a degree of competence and a well-stocked makeup bag, that face can be pretty much what you want it to be, from doe-eyed vamp to Paltrow-like ingénue.