Do Northern women in the UK really wear more make up?
People have been wearing make up, or some sort of cosmetic body art, for roughly 100,000 years according to historians. Evidence of red ochre used to paint the body has apparently been found dating back to the African Middle Stone Age. Trends and fashions in make up have obviously changed significantly over time and we’re not slapping so much ochre on our cheeks anymore.
During the early part of the 20th century make up was chiefly associated with women of disrepute. Pale skin was seen as the ideal, whereas rouge was seen as ‘common’, and some used arsenic to whiten their skin and make themselves look more upper class, signalling you had never toiled outdoors.
We can trace another big shift to the emergence of the Hollywood movie star system in the 1920s. Suddenly make up was aspirational. Big American brands started to emerge leveraging all the glamour of Hollywood and suddenly people wanted to have bad reputations like Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe.
But there is one belief in particular that has always hung around, that thing about Northern women wearing loads more make up than everyone else. More blusher. More tan. More eyelashes. Is it true?
I recently spoke to a journalist from Sheffield and she was keen to point out that yes there was a time when the ‘more is better’ aesthetic rang true in the North. In communities with strong working class roots, it’s important to look like you’ve made and effort. If you’re wearing a uniform all day then you want to sport a different uniform at night. One that tells the world that you’re special. But this ‘more is better’ aesthetic isn’t limited to Manchester and Leeds.
“Yes there is that woman in Liverpool who is mooching about the shopping centre on a Saturday with her rollers in her hair – readying herself for a big night. Glamour is taken very seriously,” my friend said. “But thing is it’s not just her anymore.”
This aesthetic is rapidly becoming the norm acrossthe UK. We’re increasingly influenced by global celebrities such as the Kardashians (with Kendall Jenner pulling in 68.7 million Instagram followers alone). The result is that girls in Penge and Merthyr Tydfil are just as likely to follow her style.
Young women now have greater expertise when it comes to make up application. There are more tutorials. More bloggers. So whether you’re hanging out in Sheffield or Soho you’ll see contouring, and tooth whitening. (Americans have always viewed the British as having horrible teeth but we’re rapidly catching up with their white tooth ways). Things like lash extensions, HD eyebrows, extreme waxing, laser treatments, Botox and fillers — all are evidence that the softly, softly approach is being pushed aside by a wider group of women than before.
And while we’re talking about make up and wearing loads of it, can we also put to bed the idea that wearing make up ismeaningless? Or that the more make up you wear, the more stupid you are? Make up plays a significant role in shaping how we feel. Whether it’s rubbing ochre on our cheeks to after a sleepless night with a newborn or arsenic to signal intellectual superiority, make up is a signal to the rest of the world.
Wearing lots of make up does not a stupid woman make. Men who wear it — such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Prince and Leigh Bowery — are seen as geniuses rather than self-obsessed silly billies.
I think Sali Hughes puts it best in her acclaimed book about beauty and make up, Pretty Honest.
“During the darkest periods, beauty takes on an extra significance and, for many, can become one of our most effective coping mechanisms. When we’ve lost a job, are going through a divorce or grieving a loved one...in fact I remember spending an hour choosing which lipstick to wear to my father’s funeral. It seemed the only thing I could control on such a tragic and unwanted day.”
There you have it. This ‘more is better’ aesthetic might be a symptom of society spiralling out of control. It might be that we’re clinging to our blusher brushes for support as we hurtle into what Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian journalist calls (post Brexit and Trump), “the new age of endarkenment”.
Or it might just be that it makes us feel good.
Image source: Imabeautygeek
- Article by Anniki Sommerville