Technicolour face coat

27th November 1998 at 00:00
Reva Klein on the start of make-up mania.

A few generations ago, the two red blobs on Katie's cheeks would have meant only one thing: tubercu-losis. But displayed on the face of a thoroughly modern, healthy 12-year-old, it signifies something rather different: Katie has discovered make-up.

Funny how it creeps up on them. One minute they're playing their recorders and skipping rope to Victorian rhymes, the next minute they're counting the minutes till Saturday when they can go down the high street and try on vermillion lipstick and puce-coloured eyeshadow. It's like they're pre-programmed. Once the hormones kick in, their aesthetic world is transformed. Where a perfectly serviceable, unadorned face used to smile back innocently in the mirror every morning, it now glowers in disappointment. Something's missing.

It all started with the eyes. Her glorious blue peepers, those sparkling windows to her soul suddenly looked dead to her when she scoured her reflection for imperfection. What's a girl to do? Well, her magazines said that eyes look asleep unless they're surrounded by glossy black eyelashes. That settled it. She started dreaming of buying her own mascara and squirrelled away her "pathetic" pocket money to splash out on some. In the meantime, she availed herself of her mum's whenever possible, laying it on nice and thick. As her brother remarked encouragingly, it looked like she'd glued tarantula legs on to her eyelashes. She thought it looked brilliant.

While she wouldn't have dared to - let alone been allowed to - leave the house with mascara on, she improvised by slathering great blobs of vaseline onto her lashes to make them look, well, greasy. A good compromise, but also the first step down the slippery slope of make-up mania. It works like this: okay, your eyes look better but what else could you be doing to your face? Enter the technicolour world of lipstick, a world so big that it could easily take over your life. So many colours, so many different textures and pencils and other things that could keep you in debt forever.

Then there's the blusher for that tubercular look that young girls seem so taken by. If their mum's repertoire doesn't stretch that far, they could always smear a bit of her lipstick across their cheeks and then rub it in for that truly febrile look.

When Katie first put on her full facial regalia to go to a friend's party, her dad laughed and said she looked like a tartlet. When she looked in the mirror, she agreed that the colours were a bit, er, colourful and toned them down. With time, Katie will learn the time-honoured lesson of moderation and subtlety. But not yet. Adolescence is a time for extremes, for experimentation and for risk-taking. If those things don't happen when they're programmed to, there could be hell to pay later when the stakes are higher. Chances are, by the time she's 16, she'll have left the "tarantula leg" eyes and the luscious lips for something more understated.

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