herald

Tuesday 18 September 2018

In which I realise being beautiful is a full-time gig

'Housework is a thankless task," said my mother, regularly and riotously, when I was growing up. I found myself echoing her words around the same time I discovered how to use a washing machine.

Unlike other 'jobs', there is no defined point of execution, no sense of accomplishment, no emblem of success.

"It never stops" was another oft-quoted gripe of my mother's. Housework is indeed a relentless grind.

The very moment you feel you've got ahead, somebody carelessly plonks a basket of laundry in front of the washing machine or launches themself on the couch or rips open a box of cornflakes.

There is an even more thankless task than cleaning, though. With the upkeep of a house you can, at least, hire a cleaner. The upkeep of oneself, however, cannot be delegated.

You can't ask someone to get their legs waxed or their hair highlighted on your behalf.

Besides, you already have to hand over a sizeable portion of your wages to the beautician/hair stylist/manicurist/brow artist/lash technician... the roll call of beauty professionals that a woman employs is ever expanding.

I remember a time when 'the works' in a beauty salon comprised a leg wax, an eyelash tint and a spell under a rickety sunbed that sounded like it was about to explode at any minute.

The beauty business has since exploded. It has propagated or perpetuated (I can't quite recall which came first) the age of perfection. Treatments that were once unheard of have become essential.

Fabulous

Discovering a new treatment or technique is a terrible thing. The beautician hands you the mirror and your delight is quickly supplanted by horror.

You look fabulous, and that's the problem. It dawns on you that you'll have to come back to this beautician every month for the rest of your life.

I recently got a treatment called 'Hair Botox' (essentially a mega conditioning treatment).

As I lay in bed that night, running my fingers through my newly lustrous hair, I was overcome by a sadness.

It occurred to me that I'd never be happy with my hair again unless I had just stepped out of Dylan Bradshaw.

It's Pandora's box, and as a vain woman who wouldn't be entirely averse to eating placenta if you told me it could significantly turn back the clock, well, I need to exercise caution.

Besides, you can't run a 3-litre jeep on a Nissan Micra wage.

So I've weaned myself off the too-good-to-be-true treatments. Tanning is gone – too much time and money to look like you have occasional impetigo.

Eyelash extensions are the beauty equivalent of cocaine – it's a habit I just don't want to develop. Likewise, Shellac – I have friends who can't hit the town without a top-up.

They say women spend one week a year on personal grooming and that's before we even consider trips to the beauty salon.

There are also women who spend one week a week on personal grooming. This is what I don't want to become.

Promotional models, socialites, you know the type. Looking good is their job but I can't begin to imagine how exhausting it all is.

Men look at women like this and see the finished picture. They are blinded by the white teeth, hypnotised by the heavily lined eyes and stupefied by the magnificent breasts.

Women see the hours and hours of work that has gone into creating the illusion.

I moonlighted as a stylist and this ilk of woman almost always asked for clip-in hair extensions to be brought to the shoot – to attach to the hair extensions that were already affixed to their heads.

They came coated in fake tan, nails Shellaced, eyelashes lengthened, bodies completely hairless. I suspect many of them used Botox and fillers, too.

This is not to judge – if I had the time and the money I'd go the whole hog, too – rather it's to highlight how oppressive our beauty regimes have become.

Like housework, there is no end in sight. There is always something to get 'done' and as age takes its toll, there is less and less time before the whole sorry cycle starts again.

It's probably why many women of that ilk end up opening their own beauty salons – it's the only way they can justify the unending procedures.

Upkeep

I got a sense of their life the other day when I went for three treatments in quick succession. I started by getting my brows done in The Brow Artist, another place I'm sorry I discovered as I won't be able to live without them from here on in.

Then it was off for laser hair removal in Dundrum where every few months a technician and I do the laser kama sutra.

Following that, I went off to get my hair highlighted and tell the hairdresser what holidays I had planned.

It took an entire eight hours – a work day. And this was only the bread and butter, the light and heat, of personal upkeep.

I still have youth on my side. What happens when I don't? My mother reckons eyesight deteriorates as you get older so that you can't see how awful you look in the mirror.

"When does it end?" I asked her when I came back from my eight-hour Salon Odyssey.

"It doesn't," she answered calmly, before showing me a leaflet for a new laser that promotes collagen.

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