‘On my worst days, lipstick is the answer. That and gin’

Jennifer O’Connell: Does the world really need research on what men think about why women wear make-up?

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m wearing make-up in the photograph on this page. If you met me at 7 o’clock in the morning, I would not look exactly, or even remotely, like that.

I only bring it up because a recent YouGov survey of 5,855 people in the US found that 63 per cent of men believe women “wear make-up in order to trick people into thinking they are attractive”.

"Trick" no less. As though slapping on some mascara is akin to slipping a hallucinogen into your prospective love interest's drink, in the hopes they'll get all woozy and mistake you for Jennifer Lopez.

If Malcolm Gladwell's calculation about what it takes to make a genius – 10,000 hours' practice – is correct, I'm practically the Leonardo da Vinci of lipstick.

I know there are people who regard make-up as trivial and unnecessary, and columns about make-up as even more trivial and unnecessary. "Make up shamers", YouGov calls them. They are the kind of people who post comments on news sites, pointing out that there are wars possibly about to break out in North Korea and we still don't know precisely what role amyloid plaques play in Alzheimer's disease. Does the world really need research on what men think about why women wear make-up?


Well, no. Arguably neither does the world “need” analysis on men chasing bits of rubber around fields, but nobody ever seems to question the existence of sports supplements.

Actually, I tend to agree that the world doesn’t need more research about what men think about why women wear make-up. Because it rarely, if ever, has anything to do with men – unless they’re applying it to our faces, or wearing it themselves. In which case I say, pull up a reclining lounger and let’s talk lipstick.

Egypt Wonder

Unlike the men in the YouGov survey, I am qualified to say why women wear make-up. After an introduction to the joys of Egypt Wonder – the gateway cosmetic for many a 1980s preteen – in a friend’s mother’s bathroom, I started wearing make-up properly in my midteens. I have now been slapping it on for a good 27 years, involving over 9,000 individual applications. If Malcolm Gladwell’s calculation about what it takes to make a genius – 10,000 hours’ practice – is correct, I’m practically the Leonardo da Vinci of lipstick.

So here's the secret. We wear it because we enjoy it. Because nothing else on the planet has the emotional or physical transformative powers of a slash of Clarins Joli Rouge. Because it gives us the illusion of control. There's nothing like a smoky eye to convince you that you're on top of your game when the utility room is the scene of the kind of marital stand-off not seen since Paul McCartney divorced Heather Mills, and your own toddler wails when she's left alone with you, because "who will feed me if Daddy's not here?" (That may just be my toddler.)

A mouth made up in Maybelline’s Touchable Taupe gives me the illusion that I am a fully functioning adult, when every single thing in my life suggests otherwise.

So here is the distilled wisdom of my 27 years of dedicated make-up application.

Liquid eyeliner is for people who manage to maintain bullet journals and never go to bed with a row unresolved.

When to wear it: As often as possible. When you’re sad. When you’re happy. When you’re putting out the bins. I wear it swimming – but that’s strictly optional. When I went into labour six weeks early, I panic-packed a bag that included an entire make up kit and not much else. No babygros, no nappies, but at least I looked like me in the photographs. The real me. The one with carefully applied foundation and peachy lipstick.

Concealer: I discovered Clearasil concealer when I was 14. “Why do you put pink highlighter on your spots?” a boy in my class said, mystified. It’s taken me a few years but I’ve come to the conclusion that all concealers, even expensive ones, have the same effect. Ditch it.

Creosote the fence

Foundation: My earliest experiments with foundation were with a bright orange foam so thick we could have used it to creosote the fence. These days, I pay lots of money for a foundation that is the same shade as my skin, and blends in without a trace. Yes, that is the desired effect. No, there is no logic.

Eyeliner: Liquid eyeliner is for people who manage to maintain bullet journals and never go to bed with a row unresolved. The rest of us should go for a slanty brush and dark eyeshadow. Same effect, none of the despairing inadequacy.

Lipstick: Ah, lipstick. Democracy in a tube. An €8 lipstick does the same job as a €48 lipstick. Better still, any idiot can apply it. On my worst days, when the marital stand-off has extended beyond the utility room and into the rest of the house, and the toddler is having a tantrum because one of her strawberries was squashed, lipstick is the answer. That and gin.

So, make-up shamers, that’s what it’s about. We’re not trying to ensnare you. We’re not shallow, vain, or desperate to cover up our real faces. We don’t wear it because our brains are too tiny to cope with the intricacies of Coventry City versus Scunthorpe. We like make-up because in a world of chores, it’s a treat.