Make-up should only be used in the service of the one on whose face it sits, says Stylist’s Lucy Mangan
Doing my make-up takes me no minutes on an average day (because I don’t wear any on an average day), five minutes if I’m seeing family, 10 if I’m going to the pub with a friend and 20 if someone has caught me at a weak moment and persuaded me to go out for the night. I would spend longer but I honestly don’t have the skills. If you don’t know how to line or blend anything, you’re maxed out way before the half hour’s up.
In South Korea, however, a minimal beauty regime can take two hours. Rigorous 10-step skincare programmes are de rigueur and then make-up must be meticulously applied to help every woman’s face conform to the country’s narrow idea of what constitutes beauty. This includes big eyes, small cherry lips, pale skin and a high nose bridge, which are problematic in themselves as they reflect a predilection for innocent, childlike features and for aping Western bone structure.
And now, South Korean women are saying no. Their rallying cry is “Escape the corset!”, likening make-up to the physical restrictions women once endured courtesy of foundation garments; foundation garments it was once equally unthinkable we could go without. They are posting pictures of binned items and videos of themselves smashing beauty products to Instagram and elsewhere.
And this is surely as it should be. Because make-up rules (and skincare regimes and all the rest of our grooming rituals) are a veritable palette of contradictions. When it absolutely must be worn and/or worn to produce a certain look, when you will be treated differently and contemptuously if you don’t put it on, it is oppressive (as is clearly being increasingly understood in South Korea).
Or it can be liberating – you can use it to make the best of yourself and feel better about yourself, to express or disguise yourself as necessary (I particularly enjoy the fact that red lipstick can mean ‘I am feeling fantastic and am wearing this lipstick to give you a hint of the unbridled confidence which is currently whirling within me’ or ‘I am feeling terrible and have chosen this lipstick to front it out because the only thing that could make me feel worse is someone knowing’). It can be art, armour or camouflage.
The only thing is: it has to be a choice. The current South Korean campaign is a useful reminder to us all to check now and again that we haven’t fallen into the traps that are all too easy to stumble across. Are you frightened to meet your boyfriend or your colleagues without a full face on? Will they treat you differently? Why? Do you make yourself up to look like you or to look like an influencer or a friend? Why? If you’re wearing a lot more or less than usual is it because you’re gleefully experimenting or because you’re losing confidence? Why? Do you pick a certain lipstick because your partner likes women to look ‘natural’ or because they like a more made-up look? What would happen if you didn’t? When did you last ask yourself what you like?
Make-up should only be used in the service of the one on whose face it sits. I mean, don’t be a d*ck – if 13 layers of Ruby Woo really upsets your granny just wipe it off when you visit. But all other domestic non-granny, professional, public and private times make sure you paint your lovely face – or don’t – on your terms only. That’s the foundation (Bobbi Brown’s Cool Ivory Stick for me, BTW) upon which all the rest should be built.