Worked up over make-up

Worked up over make-up

I can remember the first time I felt bad for not wearing enough make-up.

I had just gotten into the car of a particularly tactless boyfriend, who glanced at me and said: "Wah, you're very pale. Why don't you wear blush like other girls?"

I was in my mid-20s then, still young enough - or so I thought - to rely on the natural flush of youth.

But that comment planted the first seeds of self-conscious inferiority in my mind (not to mention the seeds of that relationship's end).

Before that, I had never given much thought to make-up, which I saw as mostly a special-occasion chore, along with pointy stilettos and stick-on bras.

As I scrunitised my too-pale cheeks in the mirror, however, other flaws began to swim into my newly critical view: my square jaw, my freckles, my tiny eyes that disappeared into creases the moment I smiled.

Why stop with blush? Slowly, an array of artificial enhancements started making their way into my bathroom shelves, if not always my morning routine. Sleep, after all, still trumped vanity.

But that changed when I moved to Tokyo last year. Everywhere I looked, I saw Japanese women who were always perfectly turned out, running down to check their mailboxes with flawless skin or taking out the trash with eyelashes longer than my eyebrows.

After a while, those painted faces started looking normal and my own bare face decidedly below average. Given the surreptitious disapproving stares I received when I popped to the supermarket around the corner or the convenience store across the street, you'd think I'd neglected to dress my whole body instead of just my face.

Maybe I was being paranoid, but I decided to make the best of it and embrace Japan's miracle-promising beauty products, some of which I had previously mistaken for miniature torture devices. I stocked up on daily acid lotion, eyelid tape to create double eyelids, and nose straighteners clearly modelled on Hannibal's mask.

At one point, my beauty routine took a full 20 minutes: BB cream, foundation, powder, concealer, bronzer, blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner and two mascaras (one for volume, one for length) - not to mention the serum, moisturiser and sunscreen that went underneath all that.

Then, a few weeks ago, I met a Japanese woman who had recently returned to Japan after living in Venezuela. A 20- something with smooth olive skin, she told me she was having problems in the office because her boss had insisted she wear make-up daily for her desk-bound job.

A British friend teaching in a Japanese primary school also related an anecdote about one of his students' mothers, who once had the audacity to pick the child up from school with a bare face. As punishment, the other mothers had gossiped about her, Mean Girls-style, for days.

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