It has always been the same story, ever since I could barely walk and managed to scale my mother’s dressing table in a bid to get creative with her Chanel eyeliner and Bourjois lipstick. You know the one, that maroon Bourjois lipstick 99% of Arab mothers own, wear and have been actively campaigning to remain in production since the late 70’s. She dragged me kicking and screaming to the bathroom and washed my face. She then sat me on my potty (I was only two years old at the time), looked me straight in the eye and said. “Never ever do that again. You are much prettier without.”
Had I known then how often I would hear that very same phrase well into my adult life, I would have invested some serious potty thinking time into what she has just said. Possibly, I would have come up with the necessary answer to that remark well before I turned 32. The thing is, like most two-year-olds, I didn’t really have a concept of “pretty”. I just knew that was makeup, and I liked it, be it on my face, my mother’s or to my family’s distress, our cat.
I knew there was an element of truth to what my mother had said. Her, my father and grandmother had always told me this. Even before I had decided to recreate Boy George’s latest look with the only two items of makeup the poor woman-owned, I knew they thought I was pretty. I knew it because my mama, papa and Nana had told me so. I knew it was not just something she said to keep me away from her dressing table. She really did believe it. But, I could not help but doubt. Not whether I was pretty or not, but doubt my mother’s motivation behind her words. It was not that I thought my mother a liar or manipulator, but as I watched her toss the wrecked pencil and lipstick in the bin and glimpsed the sadness in her face as she put her only two items of makeup to rest, I knew this woman’s motives for telling me I am “prettier without” had to be questioned. Her words made sense but something just did not quite sit right with me.
Twelve damaged lipsticks later, I was presented with my first “kiddie makeup” kit. I don’t remember asking for it but remember being ecstatic to receive it. Maybe it was a bid to keep me away from her dresser, maybe she knew it would make me happy. And it did.
Then came high school. Throughout high school, I was sent to the toilets to wash my face because, as Mr Heard, Head of Business Studies said, I was much prettier without and of course, it was against the rules.
My first ever job, was work experience in the textile section of Debenhams in Lincoln. Once again I was handed a wet wipe. Makeup was not appropriate for a 16-year-old work experience student and, as the manager of the department said, I really was much prettier without.
Boyfriends came and went but the wet wipe theme remained a recurring one. I never stopped wearing makeup, but I also never stopped wiping it off. I wasn’t a rebel. I respected opinion and authority and complied when necessary.
Now an adult, a friend recently commented, “That really is an unnecessary amount of makeup. You really are…..” Yes. You guessed it. Much prettier without.
I cast my mind back to that very first conversation with my mother as I sat on that potty. I realised why her words, and the words of those who followed, failed to impact me in any way or stop my perusal of all things cosmetic, colourful and creamy.
This was not about being pretty. It was never about being pretty. It was about expression and experimentation and creativity. It was about me pursuing who I wanted to be on any particular day and doing it through the medium of makeup. Everyone seemed to think it was about being pretty. It wasn’t. What it is about, is me accepting myself, not embracing the version of myself you think I should be.
For the first time ever I responded with the words that failed me as a potty bound two-year-old.
“This is me and it is part of who I am. I really hope you can accept that. It really is not about being pretty because as we both very well know, I am much prettier without.”