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My week without make-up

Something strange is afoot in the world of celebrity. Thanks to the likes of Little Mix, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj and Adele, most of us have come to think of make-up not as a luxury, but as a bare essential. Celebrities have fallen hook, line and sinker for the retro-face look; think lashings of liquid eyeliner, smoky eyeshadow and falsies. And where the celebs blaze a trail, civilians are sure to follow.

The 'applied-with-a-trowel' look isn't the preserve of Saturday nights; you're as likely to hit Dundrum Town Centre on a weekday morning and see Transition Year students and school-run mums alike sporting a full face of war paint.

Rumour has it that Kim Kardashian wears two pairs of fake eyelashes on top of her eyelash extensions. No wonder the rest of us are feeling a little scant in the lash department.

Yet some celebs are fighting back. Hillary Clinton went make-up free during a recent trip to Bangladesh, sparking a heated debate. While some applauded her, others attacked her for her lack of propriety. Elsewhere, Zooey Deschanel, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Uma Thurman, Rihanna and Stella McCartney all dared to bare in public -- or online -- in recent weeks. Naturally, the heated headlines soon followed. And even though Rihanna is doing it, the barefaced look is very much the exception and not the rule.

As a child, I laughed when I read a quote by Pretenders star Chrissie Hynde, noting how she wouldn't even pop out for milk without her eyeliner. In my 30s, however -- and in full thrall to my make-up bag -- that joke isn't funny anymore. I admit that I wouldn't dream of venturing into town without at least some tinted moisturiser, mascara and eyeliner. God love me, I've even worn it to the gym.

A couple of weekends ago, I mislaid my make-up bag on a night out. The fiscal loss ran into a good three figures, but it was the sense of sheer vulnerability that was the real kicker.


I'm not alone in this mindset. A friend recently bumped into an ex paramour while wandering about the city without make-up. Once the initial horror subsided, she laughed: "Of course I was going to meet him while I looked like this," she mused. Elsewhere, urban tales abound of women who sleep in their make-up, or wake up an hour before their husbands so that they don't see them the way nature intended. And, with the proliferation of semi-permanent make-up, eyelash extensions and HD Brows, few of us are ever really naked of face anymore.

Add to this the study noted in Psychology Today that showed that wearing make-up increases both the speed and the number of times men approach women at a bar, and you start to see the importance we've place on mascara, lipstick and eyeliner. For some women it has become a very big deal to leave the house without 'their face'. Why do we feel so vulnerable? And perhaps more importantly, why do we feel 'armed' with our war paint on?

"There's nothing wrong with using make-up to enhance your features so that you look better," asserts clinical psychologist Allison Keating (www.bwell.ie). "However, when you can't see who a person is because of their make-up, that's a problem. There's a culture of looking like a movie star every day now. I hear a lot of people refer to make-up as 'the mask', which is telling. It detracts from our vulnerability."

"There's no disputing that make-up makes you look better," notes make-up artist Ken Boylan (www.kenboylan.com). "It takes away tiredness, makes small lips bigger, changes eye shape and covers flaws. Clients always leave feeling so much better about themselves. It's a shame we use it to hide behind though. Irish women have amazing skin, and it's a pity that they don't see that."

There is a correlation between make-up and our emotional state. It's no coincidence that in times of hardship, we reach for the make-up case. A study by Avon found that economic recession makes women spend more on make-up in a bid to fight off the blues. When the chips are down in my own life, it can be seen all over my face; my eyeliner gets more pronounced and my shadow smokier when life throws lemons my way.

However, it's time to go where Rihanna and co have already dared to venture and try a week without my war paint. Firstly, I post a non-airbrushed, make-up free picture of myself on Facebook. Had I put up a picture of my naked body, I doubt I could have felt less afraid.

It being Facebook and therefore A Happy Place, no-one makes a reference to my jowly chin, sparse eyebrows or dark under eye circles. Rather, people are complimentary on the whole: "Nothing wrong there," writes one male friend, "Your skin looks great, it's got a lovely alabaster quality," writes another.

A raft of private messages from girlfriends are the real eye-opener. "Wow, that was BRAVE," is the general consensus. Seems I'm not the only one with an eyeliner dependency.


However, baring all on Facebook is one thing; quite another is venturing out in public without a scrap of make-up on. I start off gently by going into town during the daytime. Immediately, I can feel a difference in my gait. I keep my head down, silently praying that I don't meet anyone I know. I'm surprised and ashamed to find that I feel exposed and unprepared; like I've ventured out without shoes. How has it come to a point where a full face of make-up is my 'factory setting'?

The big test arrives when I go for a night out with friends. Accustomed to my retro look, they are initially furrowed of brow when they see me wearing a dress, heels, and nary a scrap of face-paint. They reckon I have simply 'forgotten' a key part of my grooming regime tonight.

However, no-one says anything and my male friends don't seem to register that anything's afoot for the most part. I later ask one of them whether I look better with or without war paint.

"Well, we all need a little helping hand sometimes," says he. Well, that's me told.

And then, something strange happens during the night. I start off feeling timid, disarmed and strangely not part of the night at all. I feel detached from the action, different from the raft of uber-groomed weekend night babes.

Later on, when my girlfriends get used to my naked face (and on a weekend night, it's never looked so naked before), we all stand in the bathroom of a club. As girls clamour for mirror space and fix their faces, I can't help but feel a little smug that I'm not reliant on my make-up bag.

With my reliance on eyeliner fast veering into a full-blown dependence, it's no bad thing to realise that I can actually leave the house without war paint and not incite widespread horror. Yet I'll admit that I'll rarely feel fully dressed without giving nature a little helping hand. We are living in a photoshop world, and I'm merely trying to muddle along in it as best I can. Perhaps it's time I perfected that most elusive and tricky of beauty looks ... the 'no make-up' make-up look.

For information on Dublin-based make-up tutorials, log onto www.kenboylan.com