A favourite insult among my relatives is ‘your lipstick is crooked.’ The other day, about to meet friends for the first time in forever, mine really was. It had been so long since I’d put any on that I drew outside the lines. Daughter’s eyeliner, formerly perfect Amy Winehouse cat-flicks, was equally wonky.
Our Lady Masks have slipped, from lack of practice. We stood there, wiping our faces like clowns after a circus, before slinging the lipstick and eyeliner back in its box. We couldn’t be arsed.
When Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1949 how one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman, she could have inadvertently been referring to women emerging from lockdown in 2020.
After months of yoga tops and trackpants and flip flops, must we now re-engage with bra hooks and spike heels and tight clothes? Do we really want to do that mad crayon thing with our eyebrows, smear our faces in opaque brown paste, or glue furry caterpillars to our eyelids?
If you do, great. Go for it. Hoick yourself into your most fabulous bra, head ‘em up and ride ‘em out. Prance like a pony in your pointiest shoes, douse yourself in glitter, pour yourself like cream into your slinkiest, sexiest whatever. Knock yourself out, do whatever makes you feel good. It’s entirely down to you. In theory anyway.
Or is it? What if you are reinstalling your Lady Mask because you feel obliged? What if it’s performative so that you feel you’ll fit the criteria of what you’ve been told a woman should look like? What would Simone say? This, maybe: "Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being, she is said to imitate the male.”
God forbid you get labeled a geezer-bird. Shave those legs, sort your roots out. The Daily Mail even did a lockdown piece on the dangers of going braless, as though women are dutybound not to sag, but to live as though the male gaze has a CCTV camera in our every room.
But as our post-lockdown world loosens to accommodate change, placing tables and chairs in streets formerly car-dominated, maybe we will adopt a similar internal loosening.
Literally, by ditching uncomfortable lady costume, and instead being guided by what feels good, rather than deferring to ingrained pressure about how, as women, we should uniformly look. Groomed and shiny as show ponies is just one option.
This is not, however, to suggest everyone uniformly remain braless and bare-faced. Far from it. Dye yourself pink, wear a TV antenna on your head, accessorise with pineapples – just do it on your own terms.
We’ve all had a break from the Lady Mask, and for some of us, it may now be an even more uncomfortable fit, while for others it will feel comfortingly familiar. Just consider what you are expressing – your own sense of self, or a pre-shrunk template of how a woman is ‘supposed’ to look?