Wednesday 26 October 2016

Katie Byrne: Conceal how you feel

Even as the beauty industry evolves, our underlying insecurities remain

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne

A friend of mine said the words 'Toasty Beige' the other day and we all instantly knew what she was talking about.

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It was as though she had uttered a code word that unlocked a door to our teenage memories, or the title of a book that we had all read cover-to-cover during our school days.

All of a sudden we were transported back to a time of flesh-eating insecurity and ritualistic self-flagellation. Toasty beige. Who knew two seemingly inconsequential words could mean so much?

For those who are drawing a blank here, Toasty Beige is a shade of sponge-on cream foundation by Elizabeth Arden that was recommended in hushed, reverential tones way back when.

It has a deliciously unctuous consistency, with a colour similar to tan boot polish and coverage comparable to a Kabuki mask.

In other words, it's a foundation for women who want to hide in plain view, so it's hardly surprising that it was considered a cult product among teenagers of my time.

You were bringing out the big guns when you reached into your make-up bag and pulled out this sleek black compact. It was a stamp of sophistication, a sign that you didn't paint your face ochre with just any old product.

This, it should be noted, was pre-Kylie Jenner and pre-BB cream. Back then, beauty salons offered 10 minutes on a sunbed as a treatment option, while a HD brow meant getting depilated by an inexperienced beautician - and berated by your parents when you came home with two pencil lines where your eyebrows used to be.

We assembled our make-up collections by rifling through our mother's make-up bags and surreptitiously flinging lavender eyeshadow into the trolley during the weekly grocery shop. We used Immac hair removal cream because we were told that shaving made hair grow back darker and thicker. We got our belly buttons pierced on the quiet.

Just Seventeen was our bible; the local pharmacy was our Benefit counter and the Body Shop's White Musk, Charlie Red and Exclamation ('Make a statement without saying a word!') were the only scents worth wearing.

As for fashion, we wore Levi's 501s and string vests with tie-dye hearts emblazoned on the front of them. I can't remember high street shops selling anything else.

Teenagers today come across as cultivated by comparison. While we begged our aunties to bring us home Maybelline mascara when they visited the US, this gang knows that Korean beauty products are the best bar none.

As digital natives, they watch beauty tutorials on YouTube and buy their lotions and potions online. It's as though they skipped the trial-and-error phase that we all went through and arrived directly at 'on fleek'.

They'll never know the Toasty Beige years because they can turn to thousands of beauty vloggers for advice.

Speaking of which, I wonder what vlogging star Zoella would have made of Toasty Beige if she was around back then.

"Hi guys! First I'm going to take the Elizabeth Arden foundation in Toasty Beige and I'm going to smear it all over my face like a bricklayer preparing a mortar bed. I'm loving this product right now because it's at least three shades too dark for me and Halloween is just around the corner. Yay!"

At first glance, Zoella and her contemporaries seem so much more sophisticated than my generation. They know how to highlight and contour. They know that you have to exfoliate and moisturise before applying fake tan. They know to avoid products containing sulphates and parabens.

Yet when you peel away the veneer of perfectly-applied foundation, are they any more confident than we were?

Granted, they may never have a Sun-In catastrophe or a tweezing disaster, but proficiency with beauty products does not a woman make.

While we wore layer upon layer of Toasty Beige or Max Factor Pan Stik, this generation apply filter after filter to their photos. The chronic self-loathing is still there - only now it's in Photoshop.

Today's teenage girls could probably teach us all a thing or two about make-up application, but while they may have nailed the perfect eyeliner flick (scotch tape is the secret, according to more than one teen vlogger), many of them still look in the mirror in the morning and dislike what they see.

The beauty industry evolves with every generation. Every month we hear about cutting-edge formulations and products designed to heal and conceal flaws that we didn't even realise we had.

Yet even an arsenal of heavy-duty products can't hide the glaring truth. Underneath all the layers and the filters is the teenage girl who desperately wants to look like someone else.

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