What Hannah Betts doesn’t know about beauty products isn’t worth knowing. Here, she shares her favourites. This week: all-time great perfumes, powders and paints
For journalistic purposes, I have been a Victorian servant, lighthouse-keeper, dairy farmer, Arctic explorer, red-carpet celebrity, polo player, Queen, princess, spy and ferret handler.
Throughout, I have harboured one constant peccadillo: perfumes, powder and paint. I am not vain (being happily without the materials), and regard my 40-year-old face with detached interest. Moreover, despite over a decade writing about matters beauteous, I am yet to go native: my face moves, I have never been blonde, sport pubic hair and am bright white rather than some Farrow & Ball take on café au lait.
However, my life is as nothing without the dark arts of pulchritude. It strikes me as sheer misogyny that beauty is so often relegated to second-class journalistic status after traditionally “male” subjects such as sport and wine.
Ornamentation rituals are the mark of a civilised society. Through them we assert our humanity and creativity. Read a face and you read a culture, whether in the 19th-dynasty Egyptian Erotic Papyrus 55001, where a woman nonchalantly straddles an erect penis while glossing her lips, or the garish cartoon femininity of the cast of TOWIE.
Painting a brace face is a one of our most fundamental rituals. Churchill knew this when he insisted that supplies of lipstick and fresh flowers were essential to Britain’s war effort. Liberators of concentration camps reported that a sense of humanity began to be restored with the arrival not of food, but lipstick and sanitary towels (the latter deployed as shoulder pads).
I have interviewed a number of Holocaust survivors and they were the most consummately coiffed, scented and maquillaged individuals. Pride in their appearance was a daily celebration of survival, and a declaration that no one would ever strip them of their humanity again.
And, by God, beauty’s a hoot. Of all forms of hedonism, self-ornamentation must be one of the most blameless. Assuming that women are intelligent enough to dismiss any lingering, pre-Beauty Myth wheedling that they must groom – and we are – the option to express our individuality via gloops and glosses remains the most whooping sort of joy.
As I write, I am recovering from an evening where I amused myself by applying five highlighters under my blusher to effect the killer cheekbones Mother Nature neglected to grant me (more of which strategy anon). I have yellow, grass green and lavender Barry M eye paints at the ready to springify myself come morning.
My toenails are painted with Lauder’s film-star glamorous yet oil-rig indestructible Enchanted Garnet. And I am about to coat my hair in Matrix’s Biolage oil and bask in an oily bath (thank you, Elemental Herbology); coating my face first in Origins' Never a Dull Moment face polisher, then Sisley’s Black Rose Cream Mask. Do such rites elevate my existence? Damn right.
So join me, dear Reader, for my boudoir’s weekly open house. Bring a bottle (perfume and vino), don your most ridiculous shoes, and let’s you and I have ourselves a ball.
Betts, her mark X.