A few weeks ago I met some friends after having done my make-up in the back of a taxi. I didn’t have much to work with in my handbag but I’d whacked on some concealer and a very bright, very bold, stay-put lipstick.
I should have stopped there; I know that now.
But then I remembered every beauty article that has ever encouraged me to “go from desk to dancing” just by cleverly using products as multi-purpose face-transformers, and there in the dark, clutching a grubby compact mirror a few millimetres from my face and trying to catch the intermittent amber of every street light we whizzed past, I smugly dotted some of that stubborn fuchsia lipstick onto the apples of my cheeks and gave it quick rub.
I headed inside, hugged everyone and cheerfully grabbed the glass of wine that was waiting for me. Fifteen minutes later, someone asked what was wrong with my face.
And in the bright, bright light of a pub that has already called last orders, I looked again into my mirror and saw not a rosy glow or a winter morning’s chilly blush, but giant circles of Barbie pink smeared across my cheeks. Mortified, I grabbed a napkin and wiped it on the outside of a cold pint glass before scrubbing at my face with the condensation.
It wasn’t my first dodgy beauty call, not by many a bronze-buffed mile, but it was my first in a long time. I thought I’d moved past messing up when it came to grooming, at least visibly. I still buy the wrong expensive serum and pick at spots and indulge in cheap thrill face-masks at check-outs, but I have accepted that I will never have tumbling curls, a golden glow or pull off the concept “dewy”.
Women aren’t really supposed to fail at things. We’re supposed to get things right first time.
But this was what I think is now called “a fail”, or more accurately a #fail.
And women aren’t really supposed to fail at things. We’re supposed to get things right first time. We have few opportunities for which we are both forced to compete, and be grateful. We carry the fortunes of our entire gender (and any other minority intersection we happen to belong to), and should we flounder, we are not encouraged to try again or to have another go.
My blusher incident reminded me though that when it comes to beauty, most women have failed time and time again. Partly because what society has told us is beautiful is almost entirely unattainable, partly because it is a treacherous journey to be a woman and be accepting of how you look, and partly because all the tools that the beauty industry has given us – to primp and pluck and polish ourselves – are also the things with which we have experimented and expressed ourselves. The failures haven’t stuck with us because we can wash them off, with make-up wipes or preferably a more environmentally-friendly alternative. Women have grown out bad haircuts and blotted off excessive eye shadow and thrown out frosted lip glosses, safe in the knowledge that those mistakes will not stay with them, other than lurking in old photos.
At the pub, once I’d managed to wipe most of what was definitely not a multi-purpose product off my now naturally-blushing cheeks, I realised the whole thing wasn’t a disaster. My friends either thought it was hilarious or just didn’t care – did I mention last orders had already been called?
And it was the tiniest reminder that failures don’t have to be definitive or absolute. That if women can make it through their teenage years of body glitter and the wrong foundation colour, or indeed an after-dark taxi lipstick-as-blusher application, and still not run screaming from a make-up counter, we absolutely have the capacity to clock up more than one failure and still persevere.