Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Men Prefer Women Without Make-up: Discuss

Up until a few months ago I spent half an hour every morning diligently putting my face on before I left the house. Then I got together with my Beloved in a flurry of passion, and stopped bothering. This was only partly because he said he preferred me without: mainly it was because of laziness. That half hour could be better spent luxuriating in bed with him until I couldn't put off leaving the house any longer.

Now that our romance has mellowed into a more comfortable, less frantic state, I'm still not bothering with the slap. Partly because this summer's monster bout of hay fever gave me itchy eyes, and partly because, thanks to the near-drag-queen glamour of my onstage persona, make-up has started to feel like hard work. I sometimes catch myself thinking about my stage make-up the way I used to think about the A-line nylon dress I wore in Boots when I was sixteen: it's a uniform, and I can't wait to get it off. Before every gig I sit down to the painstaking ritual of bringing Tricity Vogue to life: first, create a blank canvas of thick foundation, then add the sparkly pink eye shadow, then paint on the liquid eyeliner with as steady a hand as I can manage, sloping up from the eyes at the corners to make them look bigger (a trick I learned from a drag queen, funnily enough), then layer upon layer of vibrant lipstick, strongly arching brows, blusher, a round black beauty spot, and finally, the moment of truth .. the false eyelashes. These are, quite frankly, a bugger. The glue sticks to your fingers, and the first couple of attempts usually leave your eyelid smeared with rubber and the eyelash hanging off one end of your eye by a tendril of glue. The secret is to attach them to the line you've drawn in liquid liner, rather than your real eyelid, but if you botch the first attempt you have to draw the line all over again, and wait for it to dry before you glue up and go for a second take. It's worth it though. False eyelashes are my favourite dressing-up-box toy. The number of times friends have come up to me and stared bemusedly into my face just before I go on stage, muttering 'You've got amazing eyelashes, I've never noticed them before,' without a clue they're fake - even though they've seen me, and the stunted little lashes nature gave me, pretty much daily for months.

But false eyelashes only work in their proper context, as I've learnt to my cost. In my early twenties I got into wearing them when I went out clubbing, until one night I brought home a charming young man, and left my make-up on when we went to bed (as you do, when you've got a charming young man with you). I woke up in the night screaming that there was a spider on my pillow. Closer examination revealed it to be a false eyelash. Which meant that one of my eyes had a blank white patch around it where the eyelash had peeled away, but the other one was still fluttering at full-throttle, making me look a bit like something out of A Clockwork Orange. Needless to say, after his disturbed, and disturbing, night, the Charming Young Man didn't stay for breakfast.

I've learned the hard way that when you like your look extreme, you risk scaring the looker out of their wits. I once had a part in a children's TV series where I played an evil jewel thief who stole a pearl necklace and was chased across Birmingham by a small yellow car. I took a Dior ad in to show the make up artist - white face, red lips, black eyes - and she sighed resignedly and told me I'd need to be there an hour earlier (5am) to give her time to do it. I thought I looked fantastic - but when they showed the video to a five-year-old focus group, they all screamed at the screen when they saw me: 'Arrrrgh! She's so ugly!' Lesson learned.

So when I went to a big party recently with my Beloved in tow, I toned it down a lot. Okay, I still had the red lips, but the rest of my face was looking almost natural. Only to have my Beloved staring all agog at a young actress-musician all night, who was wearing the most immaculately applied, 40s-siren style make-up job I've ever seen. White face, black eyes, and red red lips. Apparently the standards of grooming which my beloved applied to me, did not apply to the goddess before him. In fact, I don't think he even saw the slap. To him, she was an iconic beauty who belonged to another, more glamorous, world. When men say they prefer women without make-up, do they actually mean it, or do they mean they can't be arsed sitting around for half an hour while you're putting it on before you go out? - even though, once out, their eyes may be irresistibly drawn to a mysteriously more vivid face than your own, without them necessarily making the logical connection between half an hour messing about with little pots and brushes, and the finished work of art?

Or am I attributing my Beloved with more gullibility than he deserves? Here's a thought: does a make-up-free face signal to other men that you're off the market? In which case, a man encouraging you to lay down your lip brush, and your doing so for him, is a sort of unspoken pact of commitment between you. I've certainly never been encouraged to go bare-faced by any of the glamour-bedazzled men I've pulled at gigs. (In fact, many of them have asked if I..d consider wearing the full stage ensemble in the bedroom - but that's a whole different story.) If they took me out, there was a tacit understanding that it was my job to look like a jazz singer, not the girl-next-door. On the discovery that an off-duty jazz singer is the girl next door after all, they would beat a hasty, disillusioned retreat. I reckon my Beloved might be a keeper.

So what have we learned? That the inappropriate use of make up may bring on extreme reactions of fear, hostility, or, if you're lucky, adoration. That make-up makes you look different to your everyday self. Which is maybe why your fella might ask you not to wear it: if he's fallen in love with your real face, that's the face he wants to look at all the time, which is fair enough really, and a lot less like hard work.

Meanwhile, I've decided not to be churlish about my actress friend looking like a million dollars at the party the other week. This actress-musician (let's call her 'Charlie') was at a crucial turning point in her career, with her band's single due for release on the Monday. She could have been catapulted to stardom by the end of the week, or not. But she was dressing as if she was already there. Her immaculate make-up put her up there among the 'beautiful people' - and it told everyone that was where she belonged. Good for her. Because you're never going to get there if you don't act like you deserve it. And late in the night, when my own red lipstick had wiped itself off on glass rims and male cheeks (only my Beloved's of course), she rummaged in her handbag and whipped out a small pot and brush with a conspiratorial air and invited me to try on her red instead. It was in a pot because the lipstick case had broken, but she'd managed to salvage the lippy itself. She had the same lip brush as me. But no mirror. So I painted it on blind, the way she must have been doing all night. And, as she nodded approvingly at my good aim, I felt a moment of powerful female bonding. I loved the fact she kept her favourite lipstick in a little plastic pot. And I loved the fact that she knew it didn't matter, because it was just a tool - like a carpenter's chisel.

In fact, I felt so warm towards her after our lipstick moment, that I invited her to come onstage with me and do a duet at my next gig. Then again, maybe that wasn't so wise. I'm not sure I want to share my stage with someone who can do their make up so much better than me.

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