Seeing red and being seen, part 2: The terrible teens

So from the bad beginning we’ve reached the time at which I started to look at makeup as something I wanted to play with. I wanted to, but I was terrified. By this point I had learned to hide and obey so well that I didn’t even realise that’s what I was doing some of the time. 

A side note- aged 11, I asked my Mum if it would be OK for me to kiss a boy. Yes, you read that right. A boy had asked if I kissed boys, and I went and asked my Mum. She told me no, because if I kissed boys I would have sex with them, and that was wrong. 

My parents, I think, didn’t want me to grow up. My Dad certainly didn’t want me to be more of a girl than I already was, but that’s perhaps a different story. 

Aged about 9 or 10, I got a book at the Junior School Book Fair. It was called ‘Freaky Fashions’ by Caroline Archer (you can still find copies on Abebooks). The second-to-last chapter was about make-up. I pored over the different eyeshadow combinations, longing to try out the crazy colours. Then I asked about getting some.

No, no, no! Eyeshadow was MUCH too old. Eventually, Mum relented enough, when I was about 13, to buy me some blusher. I think I used it once, but was horrified at people noticing it. Noticing me. No! Hide! So it sat in my drawer for years. 

13 was also when I got my first lipstick. I didn’t actually buy one, it was a free gift with ‘Shout!’ one of a slew of teenage magazines that were launched around that time. The only one of those I wasn’t allowed was ‘Just Seventeen’- “But you’re NOT SEVENTEEN!”. Again, I digress. The lipstick in question was from Collection 2000, and It. Was. RED. Very red. Confident, bold, adventurous, noticeable. All the things I wasn’t. I would sit and look at it in my room. From time to time I would take off the lid and gingerly twist the bottom of the tube. Just to look at it. I think once I may even have tried some on the back of my hand. 

The other girls at school, of course, didn’t have the same fears I did. Or if they did, they had worked out what I hadn’t- that now was the time to rebel against the rules laid down by your parents. To buy things you weren’t supposed to. To make mistakes. To kiss boys and stay out late, and wear wild colours on your face.

Then the Body Shop opened a branch in our town. The excitement! What was (to us girls in a small commuter town in the 1990s) fancy bath stuff, and perfume, and, yes, make up. Designed by a make-up ARTIST no less. A girl in my class, Anna, showed me her All-in-One Face Base and my goodness, I was envious. I watched, fascinated, as Kelly Bond applied BRIGHT pink lipstick in class. As Mia used a stick of concealer all over her face as a concealer- and didn’t get told to take it off. My heart fluttered when I saw other girls wearing makeup- and I thought it was fear. No, no, no. Mustn’t. Shouldn’t. Can’t. 

I got brave enough, on a rare random time when my Dad offered to buy me a book, to get a book on make-up. The Usborne First Book of Make-Up, no less. I read that over and over, looking with longing at the least terrifying of the tutorials- the natural look. Tinted moisturiser, clear lipgloss, mascara. Yes. That I could deal with. I’d be wearing it, but nobody would know! 

After some persistence from me, and I’ve never been quite sure why she agreed to it, Mum allowed me to book in for a free makeover at the Body Shop. To say I was excited was an understatement. I fantasised about getting lipgloss, the all-important All In One Face Base. Things that people wouldn’t see. 

What I got was the one-size-fit-all makeover. EVERYTHING layered on. It was the greasepaint all over again. I felt horribly self-conscious and I was wearing too much on my face and then my brother said my eyelashes looked too dark. To be honest, if Mum hadn’t been there with me I might have been brave enough to tell the assistant exactly what I wanted to try. But she was, and I wasn’t. Not for the first time, or the last, I sat there and accepted things I didn’t want.

At 17 I discovered Britpop and finally, FINALLY, got a Just 17 Yearbook, with advice on how to look like Justine Frischmann. Who didn’t wear makeup, just Vaseline on her lips. And so I hid without realising I was hiding, behind a facade of not wearing makeup, just as so many other girls hid behind a face of tinted moisturiser, and mascara, and lipgloss. Like every other lonely, awkward teenager, I had found a mask to wear. It was just that mine was petroleum jelly and, aside from occasional medicated tea-tree-oil concealer, bare, acne covered skin. 

But I still looked at makeup. From then until really quite recently, I would pore over the beauty section of magazines, of the Avon catalogue, of any special offer that came through for lipstick once the internet took off. 

And do you know what? I was always looking at the red lipsticks. (Except when I was eyeing up glitter eyeliner but that’s another story). 

And then, to coin a lyric from a Pulp song (part of the soundtrack of those awkward hiding years), something changed. 

But you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what. 

Things I Think About Thursday: FoMo and me- a work in progress

I started young with the FoMo.

There’s a story my family tell, often and to a lot of people, about a trip to the funfair on Southsea Pier when I was about 3. Apparently, I went on every possible ride. Some I even went on twice. Then when we were leaving the pier to go home, I looked crestfallen and my mother asked what was wrong. “We didn’t get any candy floss!” was my plaintive reply.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do all the things. I made fun of my Mum at the time when, on holiday, we were in a wine region and she wanted to go to the mushroom museum. But now I think, ‘hey, I’m glad we went! Otherwise I’d always have wondered about it.’ (All I learned: growing mushrooms involves a lot of…um…compost. And for boys of any age, the ‘shiitake’ is the most hilarious fungus.)

My bucket list is lengthy, and I worry, more often than I probably should, that I won’t get to see every place I want to see. I miss parts of conversations and immediately want to know what’s been said. I take ages over menus because what if I never eat there again? I want to make sure I got something really good.

All of these are examples of things I’m trying to let go of because in the end, it all comes from fear. Maybe it wasn’t that way to start off with, when I was very little I just had the appetite for life- rides and slides and candyfloss, oh my! I’d like to get back to that. But to do that, I need to extract and deal with the creeping fear that has wrapped itself around that zest. It goes back at least 20 years, longer in face. Facing being bullied at school, which often took the form of deliberate exclusion, I started to associate missing out on things with being judged, and found wanting. Missing out on things meant people didn’t like me, and at the time I had precious little self-esteem to show that thought up for the lie it was. It was made worse by bullies who dispensed such nuggets of wisdom as, when I was invited to a party, “don’t go, she only invited you to be polite”.

But I’m not a teenager any more. I have friends who care about me as much as I care about them. I’m discovering, and trying my best to hold on to the idea, that the world is full of love and miracles. There are more than enough to go around. I don’t have to act from fear, especially from fear of missing out. It’s not healthy, and it stops me making decisions about how to use my time in the way that will be best for me.

I can’t do everything. But I can do some. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to explore, and adventure, and learn and see as much as I can. Getting rid of the fear of missing out means I can do that in a way that will bring more good into my life, a way that will mean that all that experience is something I can use to expand, to be a gift of love to the world, rather than clinging to my experiences and memories like a miser hoarding gold coins. I want to do enough to feel that I’ve put my own truth into an old saying:

“You only live once. But if you do it right, once is enough.”

Who’s with me?

Things I Think About Thursday: What I learned about fear from relationship breakups

I used to be afraid of all kinds of things. Worrying, anxious. My parents put it down to being the eldest child, but that wasn’t it. I was afraid of being honest. Afraid of trusting anyone. Afraid that someone not sharing absolutely everything all the time meant they didn’t love me, because I’d been raised with the expectation that I would share everything with my parents.

I was terribly afraid of being cheated on. Of divorce. Of being raped. And further down the line, all my worst relationship fears came to light. I had a lover cheat on me. I divorced another, who also coerced me into having sex with him.

And I learned the most important thing: even when the things that you’re afraid of happening in a relationship happen, you survive. Maybe the relationship doesn’t (and if sexual coercion is involved, it shouldn’t. Get help. Leave as soon as you can. Womens Refuge can help you.) survive. But you will.

I was cheated on, and I kept breathing in and out. My friends were still there. I could still create beautiful things. I cried, sure. I even had anxiety bad enough to need medicating. But I survived. In time, I bounced back.

It was the same with the divorce. Growing up with Christian parents (and identifying as a Christian myself- though I would now consider myself interfaith more than anything else), I was taught that divorce was an awful thing. I’m sure I would have been told it was as bad as sex outside marriage if my parents had ever talked to me about sex when I was growing up. The fear I felt at doing what I knew to be right- leaving a bad and abusive relationship meant it took me a long time to own the decision, and to accept that it really was final and I didn’t want to go back. It wasn’t easy. But it also wasn’t the end. Again, I survived.

When the things I dreaded happened to me, that was when I realised that I was stronger than the fear. I always had been, and I always would be. Because now I know that I can get through the bad things and they don’t mean good things will never happen again.

Simplistic? Yes, probably. But I can make it even simpler. What I know about fear, the most important thing anyone can know about their fears is this: they are survivable. They may look like the end of the world, but they’re just a wall separating you from the next phase of your life. And it’s a wall you CAN get past.