Thursday, 8 December 2016

Objects of Happiness 4: Lipstick

"What do I want for Christmas?" I quizzed B.A.

"Rose perfume from Jo Malone," said B.A.



"Russian Red lipstick from MAC!"

We are into small gifts at the Historical House, for we are saving to buy a less-historical cottage or flat. Also, I have just returned from a two week "working-holiday" in Poland, and even the eye infection I brought back has not entirely assuaged my feelings of guilt. There was that sad incident when I dropped my brand-new MAC lipstick on Łysa Góra. I wasn't heartbroken, for "Viva Glam 2" turned out not to be a wonderful colour, but the waste, the waste, the expense, the expense.

Make-up is a funny sort of thing. I thought it intensely glamorous when I was twelve, and now I find it a tad annoying. Part of the problem is my Main Audience, who says he doesn't like it and persuaded me to stop wearing the thick mask of foundation I thought appropriate to middle-age. Another problem is the ability to create believably visible eyebrows and eyelashes for myself. Once in a blue moon, I hie myself to a beautician and get them dyed brown.

Bright red lipstick flies in the face of the near-impossible challenge of wearing make-up without looking like you are wearing make-up. It is pure artifice and practically symbolic of 20th century femininity. I was very happy when I was given my first lipstick, which was a shimmering pale pink from L'Oreal. I was either 12 or 13, which goes to show how not strict my mother was compared to other Catholic mothers.

This is just as true now as then, and I had an interesting moment recently when a lipstick-deprived teenage girl looked on with envy as I took a split-second in the ladies' loo to pop on a fresh layer. She remarked on how little time it took me to do that, and I said something like "Thirty years of practice." Naturally I would prefer to look like the teenage girl than to have Olympic class lipstick-applying skills, but I recognized the fascination. My niece looked at my face like that when she was three or four and said "I like your lipstick" in positively voracious tones.

Because little girls are discouraged from wearing it, lipstick is thus a female symbol for Adult Female Life, which appears rather glamorous before you're mired in it. I suspect this is why little girls love Barbie Dolls. Barbie is obviously a Grown-Up and therefore much more attractive than, say, Skipper. I also sacrificed half a week's allowance to buy a monthly Seventeen magazine from the age of twelve because the concept of being seventeen was so glorious (and grown-up), even to someone already allowed to wear shimmering pale pink lipstick from L'Oreal.

Lipstick is a way in which women differentiate ourselves from men (and how female impersonators differentiate themselves from other men) and also from the dreary background we fade into as we age. Don't get me wrong: the anonymity being just another middle-aged women of limited interest to men is quite comfortable. However, there are times when I want to look smart and like I might be interesting to talk to, e.g. at parties.

To escape accusations of frivolity, I will repeat that these Objects of Happiness are not in any kind of order, but merely whatever first strikes my mind when I sit at the computer and am tempted to blog about Pope Francis. It may be a small joy, but is a joy none the less, when a woman tries out a brand-new, just-bought lipstick and discover she likes (or still likes) the colour on her.

I am of two minds as to whether I would give my twelve year old daughter (if I had one) a lipstick; given the contemporary sexual climate, I'm not sure that is still appropriate. As a trad, I think I would delay all the freedoms I was granted by the age 14 to 18 or maybe even 19. Well, except for school dances. I loved school dances so much, it would just about kill me to stop a teenage girl from going to a school dance.*

Imaginary Teenage Daughter: How can I go to a school dance if you don't let me wear make-up?

Imaginary Mother Self: You can wear make-up to school dances if I can veto your outfit.

This reminds me that my mother's primary objection to my school dance outfits was that I wore too much black. Ah ha ha ha ha. Contemporary mothers-of-teenagers should have so little to complain about.

*This assumes, of course, that she was not being homeschooled by me and a cast of friends straight out of My Family and Other Animals.

Question for the Homeschooled: Dances? Do they happen?


  1. Speaking as a graduate of homeschool, dances unfortunately did not happen. But, thanks to the pleadings and cajolings of homeschoolers of my age, the parents seem to have listened, and there are a few dances now being offered in the local co-ops. Swing-dancing is popular amongst most of the homeschooled teenage girls, though not nearly as many of the homeschooled teenage boys, perhaps because they have not yet got over their insecurities about the possibility of looking awkward in front of girls.

  2. Yes, I can see that, for swing-dancing has real steps. Alas, when I was a teenager, swing-dancing was only for grandparents, and so our dance steps were rarely more complicated than the Twist.

    In Scotland boys and girls are forced to learn Scottish Country Dances at school, which socially useful for Burns Night Suppers, New Year's Eve, weddings and entertaining tourists from abroad.

    I loved going to dances so much. I will now mull over whether or not it was worth suffering through math class under a psycho and therefore ending up numerically illiterate. Yes it was. Besides my school had sincerely excellent architecture, and my Catholic faith suffered not a jot.

  3. Having been homeschooled myself, I think that delaying the freedoms one enjoyed at 14 until 18 or 19 for one's daughter is an extremely unfortunate (though understandable and tempting) course of action.
    Yes, homeschoolers catch a lot of flack from contemporary culture. And as far as preserving innocence, I'm totally on their side. Ain't no way MY kids are going to have tablets, i-phones, etc. by the time they're 10 or 6 or whatever is normal these days.
    BUT, you're supposed to be more or less GROWN UP by the time you leave home. Going off to college, or into the working world at 19, when you've been treated like an innocent little child all your life, is not as ok as the homeschooling newsletters of the 90's made it out to be.
    To be an adult, you need to practice being an adult. And the best preparation is slowly being given adult freedoms while you're still under the guidance of your parents. Takes a lot of trust in God and self-restraint and patience and common sense on the part of the parent, but I strongly believe it's worthwhile.

  4. Well, you are probably right! Okay, pink lipstick at 12 (Imaginary Daughter), heeled shoes at 13, red lipstick at 14, wine at the table--heck admission to adults' table--from 14, driving lessons at 15, 11 PM curfew at 16, heavily chaperoned travel abroad at 17, gin-and-tonic with the grownups at 18. Martial arts lessons throughout and sex ed from age 12. Sex ed will include "The Code" and other pick-up artist handbooks, so she will know what she is up against.

    Of course, if she wanted to be a nun, she could politely decline the lipstick, the shoes, etc. One must ponder the possibility--or one must if one has a real daughter, not merely non-existent hypotheticals!

  5. Haha, nice! I'm a fan of "martial arts throughout" and totally agree that "sex ed" ought to include instruction in the social cues and pitfalls...
    Probably wouldn't do a convent-bound girl any harm to wear lipstick and test her vocation ;-)