Dear Cosmetics Industry,
I’m writing to complain about the negative influence you’ve had on my life. I’m usually reluctant to send pissy letters but if I don’t nobody else will, and that kind of attitude leads to complacency and passive acceptance of unachievable feminine ideologies.
The primary issue is that, though I am now 35 years old , I still believe buying a new lipstick will change my life. This is filthy emotional exploitation on your part. I blame your advertising campaigns for their inspirational branding and their ambitious claims.
All those lipstick shades, too and all the promises about the person I could become. There’s Red Salsa, Sugar Floss, and Ruby Queen. Audacious Damson, Angry Apricot and Tricky Terracotta. All those names perpetuate images of fat shiny lips, of hot sex and nakedness, of women in suits with business acumen and sunbleached concave stomachs. Quite frankly, a new lippy offers a new personality for me and – oh, my god, all that gorgeous choice! Just one slick and I’ll become a skinny neon-lipped bitch with fire in her belly and men clamouring to hold my laptop bag in an airy Italian train station.
All those lipstick shades, too and all the promises about the person I could become.
My palm sweats when I hold a new tube – for it is compact, angular, state of the art. I love to sniff the soapy scent, get the creamy feel of it all over my mouth. Then as soon as the right-angled stick has lost its sharp edge, been rounded off by hard pressure against my thin lips, I look in the mirror at the results. And nothing. Absolutely nothing changes. But your make-up consultants are so proficient at manipulation; they see my disappointment at 567 yards and circle in.
‘You’d probably suit a blue-red, Madame, those orangey-reds are hard to pull off. Give Red Siren a go.’
And the cycle goes on.
As a girl, I was introduced to cosmetics in my mother’s bedroom for the purposes of the school prom. Her in a Bon Marche tracksuit surrounded by all these gilt-topped tubes and shiny tweezers, and me in a padded bra with thickset eyebrows. My prom dress was on a wire hanger, spaghetti straps to match my spaghetti legs.
My mother made me new eyes. A conker pencil re-aligned the boundaries of my mouth and I was coloured in with wet-look gloss. No lips became a vixen snarl. I peered round the edge of the mirror almost as cautiously as I did post-giving-birth twenty years later – and there she was. Me. But I had become pretty. The same me – only better. And all because of you, the cosmetics industry. My mother gave me a whoosh of her signature scent behind my sticky-out ears .
‘Tah dah. The finishing touch. Now you’re pretty. Remember, women are nothing without their make up,’ she whispered. The industry did a good job on her.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pointing the finger of culpability solely at you – or my mother. You’re merely providing tools for the job – self-improvement you’d say – the means to be as beautiful as a woman can.
I have lost myself to make-up and I hope you will consider some form of recompense for the numerous years I have lost to self-hatred and commodity fetishism. Compensation in the form of gift vouchers or eyebrow pencils (in Maroon Brown or Jet Black please) would be perfect…
Rachael Smart writes essays, short fiction and poetry. Recent work has been published in The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 2018 and Unthology 11. She is writing her first collection of short stories