Making It Up As I Went Along

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I’m the badass one on the left wearing red. Notice how my shoes match my dress. Stylin’ circa 1995.

For whatever reason I’ve always been drawn to make-up. As a kid, I was very much a girly-girl. I wore dresses and colourful tights. Until I was seven I loved nothing more than sitting on my parents’ bedroom floor in a pair of my mum’s flesh-coloured pop socks, so long on my short legs that they rolled all the way up to my thighs. There I would carefully apply my mum’s brightly coloured lipsticks and pucker into her gilded bedside mirror.

Naturally, as I got older I stopped trying to emulate my mum. I lost interest in her make-up and easy-to-snag knee socks, and it wasn’t until I finished primary school that my curiosity in make-up piqued once more. Every time my mum and I went to the supermarket, I’d wander off to pick up shampoo or soap and stop off at the make-up section to eye up the funny tubes, sticks and pencils. Eventually I decided I’d have to invest in my first piece of real make-up. I was probably twelve going on thirteen at the time.

I’m a strangely secretive person. I scheme a lot and over-think every situation. In retrospect I could have asked my mum to buy me mascara in the supermarket. But instead I hatched a plan. I was going to go into town after school, stop off at the Building Society and raid my childhood savings account, then head off to Boots to kick start my first day as a grown up. Everything went to plan. I bought mascara. Rather expensive mascara in fact. The woman at the counter didn’t say anything either. I was so worried she’d ask if my mum was with me. She even gave me a receipt in case I needed to flex my consumer rights. I was so chuffed with my purchase. It was one of those L’Oreal mascaras with a wand at each end, one end white, and the other black.

I simply could not get over the transformative difference wearing mascara and not wearing mascara made. Some time last year I read a book on the history of glamour, which included the story of a New York chemist whose sister would apply a mixture of coal dust and Vaseline to her eyelashes. The girl’s brother recreated the product in his laboratory and sold it under the name “Lash-Brow-Ine”, which was the first mascara ever sold in the US. He soon learned that the product’s cumbersome name was holding it back and decided to rebrand it, combining the vital component, Vaseline, with his sister’s name, Maybel. Maybelline is now one of the biggest make-up brands on earth. When I read that story I wondered how Maybel felt the first time she saw her longer, darker eyelashes.

I remember the first time I wore my mascara outside. Every Friday I went to drama and one Friday I decided to wear it out. I looked in the bathroom mirror, wondering if it looked like I was trying too hard to be an adult. For a year, this strange arm’s length relationship with my mascara persisted and then one day, before starting my second year of secondary school, I suddenly went absolutely eyeliner-maaad. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. I couldn’t wear enough of the stuff!

The teenage eyeliner phase is probably the most awkward. I’m secretly glad that Amy Winehouse became a global superstar when I was seventeen and had somewhat mastered the ubiquitous flick (or at the very least knew when the flick had beaten me and make-up remover was needed). Here’s a photo of me around this time. I’m wearing a lot of eyeliner but bizarrely have no eyebrows. This is down to one of two rather embarrassing reasons:

  1. at some point I accidentally buzzed them off with a razor because I was an idiot with a strange fear of tweezers
  1. I had overcome my fear of tweezers and accidentally shaped my eyebrows into some pink-plucked oblivion.

Either way, I’ve always had issues with my eyebrows and hair removal in general. Even now I still hate plucking them. Instead, once a month, I use an angled brush and paint on the eyebrow shape I want using dye. It’s easier. It doesn’t make me sneeze (surely I’m not the only girl who sneezes plucking her eyebrows?) and there’s no chance of any over-zealous plucking.

I find my hairstyle equally hilarious (I use the term ‘style’ loosely). I had managed to incorporate three totally different shades onto one single head. There’s light brown at the top, black-brown towards the bottom and some kind of blonde-ombré thing going on at the ends. Maybe I was ten years ahead of the trend? Maybe hindsight can often just morph into some sort of personal justification.

When I was fourteen I dyed the ends of my hair blue, with them then turning seaweed green, resting on an eventual orange-blonde. I dyed the rest of my hair black, then discovered that the black was a bit, well, black. For a long time, until my hair grew out, the roots appeared to be grey. I was going grey at fourteen! Fortunately, a new look was on its way. I was going to dye my hair blonde. But not before I dyed it a rather dull shade of brown. Like this:

In case you’re wondering I think I gave up smiling when I turned thirteen. I don’t own a single photo of me smiling before Transition Year. I also seem to have gone through most of my adolescence believing I had a side fringe when I didn’t.

When I was sixteen, I got my first job, working six hours every weekend as a cleaner. Not exactly glamorous but the influx of forty-odd quid every week meant that I had plenty of money to fritter away on hair dye and horrible eye shadows that I now regret and resent. I found this while cleaning my bedroom last week: Pout duo eye shadow in some horrific shade of blue. I wish I’d been on drugs when I bought it.

I also wish I had been on drugs when I wore it.

As far as I’m aware I only owned two Pout products and both were horrible. During my recent bedroom cleanup I found a second product called ‘eye slick’, which was sort of like lip gloss for eyes. It was grey, shimmery, and from what I remember quite difficult to apply. I think I used dot it along my lash line and rubbed it in to get the ‘dark and sultry look’ magazines always advocate, the one teenage girls go mad for on Irish Debs programmes. In reality, I probably looked like I had rubbed my eyes too hard and smudged my make-up. How ideal.

Luckily, I never really had skin problems as a teenager. In fact, spots were so uncommon that a bad one was enough to keep me from leaving the house. But as a fourteen year old with an interest in make-up and a fear of foundation, I couldn’t quite work out what the middle ground was. At some point I decided to give concealer a go. I remember robbing a particularly white one from my mum, rubbing it beneath my eyes and being shocked by its power to cover up dark circles. The only problem was that whatever way I put it on, it stopped rather drastically beneath my eyes. I had a flawless, well-rested finish that Kate Moss could only dream of. Followed by a lot of pink and some light freckling. I had a strange relationship with foundation for a long time, too. Even now I’m sometimes put off by how gooey it is. I remember trying on a Maybelline foundation when I was fourteen or fifteen, which was so thick that I felt like I was smearing toothpaste across my face.

I think I more-or-less got a handle on my hair colour and make-up regime around the time I finished Transition Year. Unfortunately I also started wearing tops that were a size too small, so as to make my boobs seem significantly larger. At the time I thought I had stumbled upon something brilliant and subtle. Now I cringe and hear my mother’s voice distantly asking “Would you not buy your clothes a size bigger, Michelle?”


Going through these, what you may or may not have noticed is a lifetime love of hoop earringss and earrings that dangle. Nothing has changed. I still love a good piece of metal swinging from my ears. Except when I was eighteen I went to the doctor and mentioned that my earlobe was constantly getting infected and that one of my piercings was getting larger. So large in fact, I could fit paintbrushes and small pencils through it. My doctor didn’t find the situation as bemusing as I did and told me my earlobe was going to snap open soon and sternly told me that I had to stop wearing earrings immediately. A normal person might panic slightly and resent what they had done to their lovely ears. Instead I decided to wear my dangly earrings in the next piercing, right above the one that had almost snapped. As a result, if you look closely at my earrings now, you’ll usually notice that one is slightly higher than the other. They will always remain a little lopsided.

I’m sure there are plenty more mistakes, a litany, I could include. My past penchant for highlighter-colour bras could easily be a standalone post and no doubt future-me will blanch at the purple and plum lipsticks I love and wore throughout college.


Above is a photo of me age-six alongside a photo of me taken last month. I am 23 years old now. Seventeen years have passed and I’ve somehow returned to the same haircut and hair colour. I don’t wear much make-up anymore and have thankfully come a long way since my blue eye shadow days.

Okay, so I forgot to apply my second earring but I’ve more-or-less found my footing, right?


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