I’ve long been fascinated by the sneaky way women (and sometimes men), use secret weapons in the endless pursuit of appearing to be younger, slimmer or sexier. I’m not talking about the 1950’s practice of setting an alarm clock to allow for a quick slick of makeup and hasty removal of curlers before one’s husband opens his eyes to the dazzling sight of you reclining, slightly out of breath, next to him each morning, like a new-born film star. While I really do love this notion, I am more interested in the wholesale shape-shifting that some women attempt to pull off, and whether their prey are aware of, or even troubled by these acts of metamorphosis.
At an early age I was rewarded for my snoopiness when, to my horror I found plaited human hair in my mother’s scarf drawer. It was the seventies and women routinely used hairpieces to achieve elaborate and exquisite ‘up-dos’ à la Margo from The Good Life. You didn’t really think Penelope Keith had hair that luxuriant and profuse did you? These days no self-respecting woman has time to plait and weave and backcomb. Instead, on their day off, they lurk guiltily in the shadier corner of a salon, praying that no-one that knows them comes through the door while the stylist laboriously glues strips of fake hair to their roots, achieving the miraculous Girl’s World trick of instant and rapid hair growth (but without the need for a plastic cog installed in the shoulder).
Incidentally, I’d like to mention here another childhood trauma I endured, this time in 1981 when visiting my friend Rachel Weaver’s house to play. She cruelly forbade me to lay a single finger on her new Girl’s World, and instead made me sit and watch, while she twiddled the golden tresses like a real hairdresser. The painful memory lives with me still, but having trawled the Google archives for a picture, I think I might now be cured, and can finally put that grudge to bed. What a horrid looking toy it was, and see the disappointing contrast between that aspirational image on the packaging and the real thing? This is exactly what I’m talking about.
So, back to a different kind of weaver: Having forked out anywhere between £200-£700 for her makeover, sneaky Rapunzel furtively exits the hairdressers with a full head of weaves and a mix of emotions. “I hope everyone notices my amazing new long hair…but, no, wait, I actually hope no-one mentions my amazing new long hair! If they do, I’ll tell them that my nutritionist has given me this season’s must-have vitamin supplements, and hope that everyone just goes along with it.” Keeping up appearances includes keeping up the pretence of owning uncommonly natural beauty.
In a rare moment of weakness, one of my good friends, who should know better and is already maximum gorgeous without help, recently fell prey to a mid-life-crisis desire for these instantly longer lustrous locks. With great humour and humility she recounted the hilarious story of how she soon came to regret her decision. By teatime she had already managed to pull one of the looser weaves out. But by two the following morning, the mounting agony of the weighty blonde clumps dragging on her scalp as she tried to sleep, forced her eventually to wake her husband. She begged him to help her yank the rest of them out. Picture the scene; over-tired woman kneels on the bathroom floor, stifling sobs and trying not to wake the kids, while her husband teases large chunks of hair off her head. The relief, she said, when the last one was gone, was immeasurable. Never again, she swears, never again. But how we laughed!
I too have succumbed on many occasions to the temptation to deceive and beguile. It never ends well. Once, having noted Jennifer Anniston’s flirty, fluttery eyelash extensions (no one has real lashes that long) and with a party coming up, I decided to experiment. Forgetting that a box of Eyelure from Tesco is no match for the professional tool kit of a Hollywood MUA, I found myself towards the end of the evening lopsidedly flirting with one fake lash missing. (Perhaps I drank it…?) Later, having spotted this in-balance in the bathroom mirror, I had to remove the remaining one, leaving me looking more post-chemo than post-Brad on account of having unwisely omitted to apply mascara to my own real lashes.
In 2016 it was estimated that British women were spending £161 million a year on their nails. (Not each. That would be ridiculous.) How I have wished for long and strong nails that elongate and flatter my fingers, but, despite what Judy Garland says, I am resigned to the fact that wishes rarely do come true. I once tried to emulate the other ladies at charity balls who have clearly spent a good deal of time and money on their manicures. Having limited reserves of either, it was another box of stick-on jobs from Tesco that came to my rescue on the eve of the RNLI Ball. The glue supplied with these ghastly prostheses is so strong and hard that, with one drop, you could restore the missing arms on Venus de Milo, if they were ever found. As the glue sets, and in a way reminiscent of those worrisome hair extensions, it creates just enough tension on your nail bed to cause a low-level stress headache in each fingertip for the duration of the illusion. Then, when I was ready to remove the nails, which I’ll admit, did make me feel elegant and grown up for the whole night, I was required to purchase a special plastic receptacle, injection-moulded with five little thimble-like recesses in which to pour a noxious solution of acetate. As I sat watching my nails soaking, it was an exciting gamble to see which dissolved first; the plastic nails or my actual nails. For months after, I watched as my ravaged nails slowly restored themselves with fresh growth. Lesson learnt.
Then there’s Spanx. The word makes me shudder with disgust. Yes, I admit, I’ve tried them too. It turns out that unless you are built like a twiglet, these hideous garments simply re-distribute the wobbly bits to places where you didn’t have them before. And the shame of being found out! Never mind Bridget Jones’ ‘big knickers’, at least Hugh Grant was randy enough to see past them, but I know for a fact that even the tamest of touches, like when someone puts their hand on your waist on the dance floor, would instantly break the illusion, because, where there should be a soft curve they find instead a cast-iron structure not unlike a pot-bellied stove. (Yes, the over-heating is an issue too) This would surely be most unsettling for any would-be suitor?
When I first started using makeup there was no such thing as what we now know of as ‘Contouring’. The development of this kind of smoke and mirrors has become ever more sophisticated and new and captivating technologies are available to our young shape shifting protégés. A brilliant foil to this trend is a You-Tuber called Sailor J in her Contouring 101 video. If you have ever wanted to discover the secrets of this dark art, to unleash your cheekbones’ true potential and give yourself a Barbie doll profile, this is a must see! One of the best lines is, “…if men find out we can shape-shift, they are going to tell the church.”
Men are muscling in on the chameleon action. Aside from the tidal wave of Drag that we are currently paddling about in, I have noticed some sneaky manipulation of face fuzz, where a few day’s growth on a fat face is trimmed to create the illusion of a chiseled jawline. It’s clear that metrosexuals are no stranger to the tweezer, the tanning salon and the botox doctor, I’m just not sure who they think they’re kidding.
All these techniques for pulling the wool are fairly innocuous compared to the more invasive and terrifying lengths that some people are prepared to go to transmogrify.
• Painful filler injections in the face, anyone? Oh yes please! I can self-administer at home now, if I like.
• Does my bum look big? No?! Then I’ll get a surgeon to pump it up till it shines like a balloon.
Interestingly, have you noticed that, sometimes, the more fake the external features, the more fake a person is on the inside? Just saying.
One of my most favourite outspoken women, Kathy Burke pointed out recently that women are wasting their time if they think that all this titivation makes the slightest bit of difference to attracting a mate anyway. In fact her exact words were “Most men would f**k a ham sandwich.” (I could listen to her all day.) But on the whole, women continue to out-do one another in the race to be the fairest of them all. They don’t even look the same as they did thirty years ago! The aesthetic evolution of the human female is accelerating out of control. Where will it end? It doesn’t bear thinking about. Will every future high street, wine bar and parent’s evening jostle with monstrous Kardashian clones, their razor sculpted ‘bonestructure’ and knee length nylon hair sending sparks through the dim half light of wind-powered light bulbs? That’s one dystopian image I almost can’t bear to look at, but can’t look away either, because it’s just. So. Weird.
Cradling my newfound Burkian wisdom I have begun to tackle middle age with a fresh new mantra. Good health is itself beautiful, and, while I have it, I should work on keeping it. Im hoping that starting each day with a tall glass of lemon water and organic apple cider vinegar, ending each day coated in night serum, and with a slathering of Factor 30 in between, will pave the way to keeping my chops at optimal glow long into old age. I’ve ditched the peroxide at last, and have accepted a more subtle salt & peppering (This will aid the transition to nursing home, too) Being a six-day-a-week vegetarian, doing yoga and keeping my weight down is helping.
Covering my jowls with cat is also effective.
But most of all, telling myself I am good enough, and not giving too much of a rat’s arse-lift about how I look should help me through life without any more cause to stick, pull or paint on any more extraneous appendages. I hope I can encourage my beautiful daughter to follow suit, but alas I fear it may be too late to turn her away from the madness. Lord save us.
I finish with a verse that was illustrated most disturbingly in a storybook my grandparents gave to me when I was little. It stuck with me.
After the ball was over
Jenny took out her glass eye.
Stood her false leg in the corner,
Corked up her bottle of dye.
Put her false teeth in the tumbler;
Hung her false hair on the wall.
All the rest went to the bye-bye,
After the ball.
Ps. Just so we’re clear, that was written before Jennifer Lopez was famous!