My Face is on the Table

Why on earth are they asking me to write this?
What do I know about beauty?


I was always known as a plain child. My mum had no interest in making me look pretty so I usually had a pudding bowl haircut. Although I continually begged her to let me grow my hair long, as soon as I managed to scrape it into very small bunches she’d take me to get it chopped off. But I was encouraged to read, and on holidays we always visited museums and old churches, so at least my mind was being beautified.

When I was about 13 I started experimenting with make-up, but I had little idea what I was doing and my mum was no role model. Miners, Rimmel or Outdoor Girl were the brands of choice. If I’d wanted to get a bit more sophisticated, it would have been a thankless pursuit, as there was so little to buy. Hardly any of my friends wore make-up – maybe a bit of kohl round the eyes, but that was it.

I got a bit more interested in cosmetics in the early 80s when I moved to London and started going to exciting nightclubs. Back-combing was the order of the day, but there was still very little in the way of hair products. Boots Country Born was the only hair gel I could get my hands on and most hairsprays left you with rock-hard hair with bits of stuff flaking off. Elnett was available, but it was only for very special occasions, as it was too expensive. I still only wore cheap make-up and was blown over when someone showed me their Clinique face powder.

Lucian Freud hated all cosmetics, and I’ve always remembered something he said to me: “They should rename libraries beauty parlours, as nothing is as attractive as an interesting mind.”

As I got a bit older I finally found my make-up look: light foundation, smoky eyes, red lipstick and the one product that I really can’t live without – my blusher.

Yet I have never been obsessive about putting my make-up on; there’s no blotting, lip lining or any of those shenanigans, I’ve got better things to do. On an ordinary day I think it might take three minutes to apply and for special occasions never longer than ten. Usually after a couple of hours I have black smudges around my eyes and my lipstick has disappeared. Luckily, like the Queen, I can reapply without a mirror.

I have never relied on my looks as they were not really up to being relied on, which is a blessing because as I approach pension age, I don’t hate getting older, and I think that I have improved with time. Being a chubster helps, as I hardly have a wrinkle on my face, and the delicious food that I eat keeps my skin delightfully plumped up. On those rare occasions when I do try to lose a bit of weight, my face looks hangdog and I develop a turkey neck.

But what I think helps the most is being happy: I finished ‘proper’ work at the end of June and since then I have felt that a huge weight has been lifted off me. I am actually working more hours now, but I am painting, which is something that I love, which does not feel like a nuisance but a giant privilege. People have noticed and have told me how good I look and I find that I am wearing less make-up. I have also got a friend 20 years younger than me who is enchanted by my ‘crinkly cleavage’. He took a photo of me in my studio a couple of weeks ago and although I haven’t got a scrap of make-up on, it is one of the loveliest pictures I have ever seen of myself.

Lucian Freud hated all cosmetics, and I’ve always remembered something he said to me: “They should rename libraries beauty parlours, as nothing is as attractive as an interesting mind.”

I don’t think I’m quite ready to go cosmetics-free though, as I love how it perks up your face first thing in the morning and a bright lipstick will always lift any outfit.

But I hate the over-made-up look that girls go for now. I often go past night clubs and see what I think is a group of drag queens outside, but it’s not, it’s girls with very thick make-up, false eyelashes, hair extensions and ridiculously high heels, and I just want to shout at them, “You will never look this good again. Make the best of it and be yourself.”

But now something even more shocking has emerged: face contouring as practised by Kim Kardashian. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to plaster their faces in all that stuff, completely hiding their real face. I presume it is done to attract boys, but what do they do when they go to bed with them? Do they wake up with their whole face smeared on the pillow?

Not that I am completely innocent. I’m keen on clip-in hair extensions, which I like to use to make my hair look fuller. I also had to have teeth implants a couple of years ago and in the meantime I had false teeth. So in the evening I’d take out my teeth and hair and put them down with my glasses, which have become a part of ‘my look’. One day I glanced over and thought, “My face is on the table.”

What I am saying is, be yourself, use make-up to enhance but not to disguise.

Be interesting, be interested, and that will make you beautiful.


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