Warpaint

My grandmother was a very glamorous woman. I honestly can’t remember a time when I actually saw her without make-up, her face camera ready. When she passed away and we went through the thousands of photographs left behind there was only one in the entire lot where her hair was not perfect. She was in a bathrobe sipping her morning cuppa with her hair in rollers. Still her makeup was already in place for the day. To her, being able to apply her makeup before anyone saw her was the sole reason the master bedroom had an ensuite bathroom.

She wasn’t a particularly vain woman, but she grew up in the theater. Her entire extended family was in some way a part of the troupe. Some were comedians, others singers or seamstresses; she was a dancer. Drilled into her head at a very young age was the fact that her face was her calling card. She needed to be a good representative of herself, the family and indeed the entire acting troupe. A flawless face was essential and a rule she never forgot, even when she left the stage.

My mother is also very rarely without a fully put together face of make-up. In her case though, while some of it was learned from her mother, a lot of her use of make-up was a way to fit in. For large parts of her life she felt slightly out of step with those around her. Her way of compensating was to always make certain the face she presented to the world fit in with the expectations around her. It was a defense, a shield placed between herself with all the aspects she found different about herself and the world.

When I reached a certain age (i can’t remember exactly what age it was to be honest as it was always background and then sort of encapsulated me as I grew) I was given the basics of face powder, mascara and a tinted lip gloss. Sort of the starter kit for young ladies. There was always the admonition that young ladies did not go about with shiny noses. It was also made clear that the difference between a girl and a woman was that a woman wasn’t completely dressed until after she applied her makeup.

My way of rebelling against this thought was to go with black or deep purple lipstick, heavy eyeliner and ghost pale powder. Not an original rebellion, I know, but it fit within the parameters of what I was given and left little room for gentle correction.

When I went off to college, I went far away to a place where I knew no one and I am pretty sure no family member of mine ever set foot. I used a combination of scholarships and student loans to pay my way and I worked a string of random jobs to make up the difference. while there was enough money for books, food and (when I left the dorms behind) rent, there was not a lot extra. Making virtue out of a necessity, I, for the most part stopped wearing makeup during my daily life, only bringing it out for nights out or special occasions. As most of my friends did the same, it wasn’t that noticeable a stance.

If someone was wearing makeup the first question you asked was “Oh, going somewhere special?”

When I entered the workforce, post college, in the field of architectural history, the question ended up shifting to, “Oh do you have a meeting today?” Because that was when the make up came out. Otherwise a light dusting of powder, a swipe of mascara and lip balm or gloss was the norm. The makeup starter kit returning for daily use.

Then things changed.

It seemed like they all changed at once, but in reality it was a series that took several years. My job changed to one where I was sitting at a desk all day instead of moving around. A string of familial deaths occurred as the elder generation took turns departing in what seemed like an almost organized fashion. At times, I thought there was a time table they worked out that no one bothered to share with me. Several other stressful events occurred along with the grief.

In this mix, my weight began to increase.

A side effect of my increase in weight was that I stopped wearing makeup all together. Mascara dried up, compacts were buried in drawers and lip balm only came into play when the winter brought painful chapping. I told myself it was because the computer screen I looked at all day didn’t care if I was wearing makeup, but the truth is applying makeup meant that I had to look in the mirror. I didn’t want to do that.

I did not want to see me, because I no longer looked like me.When I finally reached a point where I was ready to do something about my weight, the hardest thing I had to do was look in the mirror. For years, I limited myself to a quick glance to make certain there was no toothpaste spatter on my face and that my hair wasn’t standing up like a crazy person. That’s it.

But in changing, I had to see me.

This was essential.

In the movie ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ there is a line that often gets overlooked. Marilyn’s character has been photographed in a compromising way and she enlists her best friend, played by Jane Russell, to get the film back before it can be developed and the photographs released. The two devise a plan and as they are getting ready to implement it, Jane’s character says ‘All right, lets go get the warpaint on.’

It is a small line, but I think an accurate one, at least for my family. Both my mother and grandmother, in their own ways viewed makeup as a type of war paint. As I began to battle with my weight and forced myself to see the actual me instead of thinking of an image of myself long out of date that I kept in the back of my mind, I discovered it was a battle.

I too turned to warpaint.

In this I actually include skin care. Each morning, I wash my face and I evaluate. Do I have clogged pores that might need a good clean out later? Does my skin look dull and in need of an exfoliant? I evaluate the products I use and whether they are having a positive or negative effect. What serum does today call for, is my skin looking dry? And the hardest part of all, occasionally I compliment myself. The criticism is easy, the complements took some time to work up to.

Then I move on to makeup, treating my skin like a canvas for however I am feeling that day. Some days it is a full face of war paint, other times it is the starter kit of mascara and lip glass with powder to knock the shine off of my nose. Regardless of my decision, it requires that I look at myself and evaluate how I am feeling. To be present in my skin instead of retreating solely into my mind.

Losing weight isn’t just about what you eat and how you move. Don’t get me wrong, diet and exercise are HUGE components obviously. But losing weight, at least a lot of weight, requires being present in your body. To pay attention to what it is telling you, to understanding how it works. That’s one of the reasons that no one weight loss plan fits all humans trying to lose weight. It is also the reason that makeup and skin care are essential to my weight loss plan. It is a battle with myself, between who I have been and who I want to be, both inside and out.

When I go into battle, I wear my warpaint.


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