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Femininity by Grace Timothy

Throughout my life, I’ve been told I look like my Dad. It’s nice to look like my lovely father, but let’s face it: how many 5-year-old girls want to look like a man? So I fast became the sort of child who wanted to be a princess.

As much as my mum tried to make me the dungaree-wearing, mud-pie-wielding adventurer in cool little boots and Katherine Hamnett t-shirts, I craved femininity. The prissy patent shoes with the diamante detailing, the frilly party dress in Pepto-Bismol pink and the little heart-shaped pearl handbag. Thank god I discovered makeup when I turned 14 and realised I could lop off the long straggly hair and finally get a pair of jeans.

Makeup was the little pointed nose I wished for, the wavy blonde Rapunzel hair, and the boobs that never grew in – all the feminine ideals I got from Disney. It wasn’t a smooth ride – I had a bad month layering a sticky, orange panstick foundation onto baby-soft skin that really didn’t need it. I wore liner along the lower lashline a la Kate Middleton for a year before realising it looked better in the inner rim. I got my hair stuck to various saccharine lipglosses. But eventually makeup helped me find my girlishness. No need to simper, be submissive, wear a dress – through those difficult years of adolescence, through spots, greasy hair and gangly legs, a little war paint made it that little bit easier to pull my shoulders back and lift my dad-shaped face towards the sky.

Even though I’m now a ‘grown-up’, comfortable in my own skin and actually androgyny is the style du jour, makeup is still a fun diversion most days, not to mention part of my job. I love colour, love the theatre of it, love how a slash of red lipstick takes you back to an era of old Hollywood glamour. Femininity rarely crosses my mind these days, but one day sent me into a princess tailspin with the rest of my generation: my wedding day. Strangely after a childhood of obsessing over Cinderella, I declined the hours of dress shopping, the castle venue and the elaborate tiara. Makeup was way more of a concern.

I went to see Frederic Letailleur, then on the Armani counter at Selfridges on the advice of countless brides and editors. “I want to look like me but better.” I told him. He nodded sweetly, and took me through the tenants of my wedding look – a very light foundation with a dewy finish, a pink flush over the apples of the cheeks, a gentle contouring of the eye and the suggestion of a pink tint to the lips. Those remain my essentials for a ‘pretty’ girlish day – after much experimenting it’s Giorgio Armani Face Fabric Foundation, MAC Cremeblend Blush in Posey, Barry M Super Soft Eye Crayon in Brown, YSL Luxurious Mascara Shocking Volume and Chanel Coco Rouge Shine in Boy.

Glamour is Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Cruella.

Demure is Tom Ford Lip Color in Blush Nude.

Feisty is Laura Mercier Caviar Eye Stick in Cocoa and Smoke.

All the girls in that one makeup box. Makeup isn’t a crutch for women who feel ugly or a way of plastering over insecurity – it’s my favourite of the trappings of femininity.

Grace Timothy is one of the UK’s leading beauty journalists. Follow her on twitter @gracetimothy

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14 Comments

  1. Kay

    Well Grace, I looked like Starsky thanks to my mum insisting on me having short hair (“what a lovely little boy Mrs Montano” grrr). It’s NO WONDER we became obsessed with ‘girly’ & all that’s fabulous. Thank you for this beautiful post. xXx

  2. Arabella

    Aww, as a gangly, flat-chested, awkward teenager who looked exactly like my Dad (every Christmas my Mum would get out our respective school photos for comparison) this post chimes strongly. I too, chose a career in the prettifying world of make-up. I. AM. A. GIRL. DAMMIT.

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