Like the rush to get everyone out to school in the morning isn’t stressful enough, today’s proved extra challenging as I worked to delicately rub lip-stuff off my six year old’s general mouth area that, as her brother appropriately described, looked like ‘a bright red moustache’. Somewhere in between hitting her sister and losing one of her shoes, she had recovered the remnants of a cheap lipstick she got some time back with a comic, smearing it on and around her lips. To look pretty, I suppose.
She loves beauty stuff. And I know that love comes from her insides – an interest in play maybe? A curiosity about lotions and potions, an excitement to be a big girl and to be somewhat glamorous… who knows? Because I try not to model beauty stuff with my children. And the reason I try not to model beauty stuff with my children is because somewhere, deep down, I feel it would be a bad example.
What’s my problem? Let’s roll it back.
I’m a Generation Xer, raised by Boomers, and I think that makes a difference. As a little girl I watched the women ahead of me use a bit of Ponds or Oil of Ulay, some make up if they were going out for a social ‘occassion’ and, sometimes, a home-done manicure. The most my Granny ever did was spritz some 4711 on to mark Easter Sunday and the annual OAPs social in the Midleton Park Hotel.
I grew up with Just 17 and Cosmopolitan, which definitely made you feel like you should at least own an eye pencil and I always kind of wished I had spots so I would have an excuse to buy Clearasil. Because is there anything more grown up-seeming for any young girl as having a morning and evening skincare regime? Purchasing apricot lip balm and translucent mascara from The Body Shop inevitably also made me feel extremely important. And then I grew up.
As a grown up I’ve finally accepted I am too disinterested to have much of a beauty routine apart from washing my face (ad-hoc) wearing sun-screen, make-up occasionally and moisturising routinely-ish. I absolutely love a facial – but only enough to bother twice a year. And I skip all the beauty stuff in magazines, while avoiding it totally on social media. It’s just not of interest and I suppose I’ve learned there truly are no ‘miracle’ creams out there.
The odd time I’ll get a notion to buy something a bit different as a treat, and that’s lovely. Lately I bought foundation and, as I said to a friend who commented that it looked nice on a night out, it’ll probably see me out. Oh, and I had also recently ventured into a bit of retinol as, at my age, I (apparently) need to be focussed on keeping my skin young looking. But it makes my skin flaky and red and blotchy and stingy, which makes me think that in ten years time we’ll be reading about the fact that retinol is the beauty equivalent of nicotine and I should listen to my gut instinct now that flaky, hot skin probably isn’t really a good thing. However attractive passing for seventy when I’m actually seventy-five might seem, perhaps I should focus on looking ok now and deal with old age when it comes.
Pretty low maintenance, you might think. However, compared to my Grandmother, I would be bordering obsessive and it’s become an awful lot more intense for younger generations. Anecdotally, from what I’ve seen of friends and amongst my own sisters, there’s a massive jump between Generation X and Millennials in terms of money and time invested in the beauty industry – which makes me wonder where it’s all going.
I totally understand that lots of girls and women enjoy beauty products and beauty regimes and trying out new make-up styles. There’s a massive fun side to it all. But surely this should be seen as a hobby? Like hill walking? You know – everyone walks a bit, but devoting time to hill walking and all the gear you need is reserved for, well, the enthusiasts. Instead, there is a beauty narrative, underscored by the constant selling of looks and brands and must-haves, that this should-be hobby is actually very important and should be a pretty major part of every woman’s life.
And maybe even that would all be fine, if it wasn’t for the massive growth in the popularity of beauty ‘proceedures’, where I feel the whole thing gets quite terrifying.
Any woman, I’m guessing from 55 downwards, will have had conversations with friends about ‘non-invastive’ beauty procedures. The marketing of these procedures is important to look at. We’ve gone away from the ‘botox to smooth out your wrinkles’ line to a more subtle ‘non-invasive proceedure’ to hydrate, plump and add luminesence. (For the uninitiated, ’non-invasive’ includes the use of needles, making this description inaccurate, to say the least). The use of such words has given injectables a level of undeserved kudos and innocence. As if these little guys are a nourishing self-care must-have rather than what they are – ways of making you appear (slightly? if at all?) younger. Never forget that our obsession with looking younger, however understandable, is weird.
I had a quick chat with my sister some time back about the whole injectables thing and she concluded that although she had no objection to these treatments, she just couldn’t be bothered with the upkeep they would entail. And I feel a lot of Generation Xers are blessed with this can’t be bothered-ness attitude when it comes to beauty – it will save us a pile of hassle, time and money. But the Millennials and Generation Zers haven’t fared as well.
I was at a Hen Party some time ago when, in my opinion – and this is even beside the point – the absolute prettiest girl at the dinner table intimated to me how she was considering getting botox. I chatted along, feigning interest, asking her if she’d done any research etc. all while internally screaming ‘Please don’t, just don’t – you are perfect as you are’. There is currently legislation being formulated to ban injectables for those aged under eighteen years of age in Irish clinics. And this all feels a bit like the tale of The Emporer’s New Clothes. I mean, isn’t it obvious that we should be cautious about the idea of casually injecting stuff into our faces purely for beauty-related reasons? Why are we normalising something which should perhaps be more niche? And if I wouldn’t be happy with my daughter doing it, why in most conversations with women my own age, do I talk about it like I think it’s actually an okay thing to do?
There’s a slow creep effect here, whereby skincare has become a science and time devoted to beauty, a priority. All for women might I add; you may be aware of how men’s skin appears miraculous in it’s ability to look after itself – a splash in the shower and a bit of sunscreen and off they go. This slow creep has made the money spent and time invested in beauty and skincare by girls from an increasing young age appear acceptable. And this growing addiction to beauty is rarely put under the spotlight because mainstream media – particularly media outlets geared towards women – naturally depends on advertising from the multi-billion dollar beauty industry.
But maybe more honest chats with friends could start a more progressive narrative moving in the opposite direction? Shouldn’t we talk about beauty like we talk about screen time? A little is great, but there’s a line whereby it just can’t be good for you.
I would love to see a public beauty health campaign happen – similar to the tracker mortgage ad of old. Couldn’t more of us stand up and admit we don’t always wash our face before we go to bed? ‘I sometimes wake up with make-up on’, I hear you say. ‘I don’t know what hyaluronic acid is’. ‘I’ve never used an eye cream’. It would be cathartic! And we might start to realise that, give or take, we’re fairly grand as we are?
The way things are going, and if my daughter continues to love beauty stuff and trying out make-up and all of that stuff that society actively encourages she do, where will that lead her to when she’s twenty? Or forty? If injecting your face is becoming normal now, what will her ‘normality’ be?
I worry about it…. and Lord knows that can’t be good for my frown lines.