Last week I went along to a ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ workshop with my friend, Deb. I was a bit dubious. I have a lot of concerns about some of the known carcinogens that sneak into our makeup. I’m not one of those people that can’t leave home without their ‘face’ on. I’ve always considered my actual face to be a perfectly adequate one.
It fascinates me that there appears to be no requirement for men to wear any kind of makeup, but a clean faced woman is considered underdone. Years ago when I was sent off to a police psychologist for assessment I turned up without any makeup. I have naturally dark eyebrows, blue eyes and fair skin that supplies its own blush. The psychologist peered at me and said, “Are your wearing makeup?” “No.” I replied, and he scribbled something on his note pad. Had he asked me about it I would have told him that I rarely wore makeup to work. Maybe a swipe of eyeshadow and a bit of lip gloss if I felt like it, or if I was going to be giving a presentation or attending something in an official capacity. When the report on my mental health was issued the absence of makeup was noted and the psychologist flagged this as a possible indicator of depression! Really?
I’m pretty sure he’d seen several male police that day, and wondered what his notes would have said if any of them had turned up in full makeup. “Gender identity issues” perhaps? How ridiculous to classify me as potentially depressed just because I chose not to smear chemicals all over my face in order to conform to a mass marketed perception of ‘beauty’.
You’ve probably gathered by now that I had some hesitation about a workshop that promised to lift my mood by teaching me how to apply foundation and eyeshadow. Still, my girlfriend has often commented that she’d like to learn more about applying it, I figured there’d be some nice freebies that she and my daughter could share and it would be an opportunity to meet up with some other local cancer patients and share a few laughs. I didn’t have very high expectations. Put on some makeup to play along, take it off afterwards and spend a pleasant day with my friend.
I was certain that I’d have no interest at all in trying a wig. A friend sent me a whole box of wigs very early in my treatment. We had a lot of laughs putting them on my head and naming them things like ‘The Dolly Parton’ and ‘The private school girl’. I looked like a middle aged woman in a wig. I’ve seen photos of my friend wearing these and she always looks amazing, but on me they looked like a hairy hat! No thank you very much.
What a wonderful workshop. What a surprise. If you’ve got the opportunity to go to one of these as a patient or as a support person then I highly recommend them. They’re run by volunteers, many of whom have been doing this for years, and all them really excited to help you feel better about your appearance.
Some of the other patients at the workshop were clearly depressed about their looks. There was awkward shuffling and downcast eyes as we were all offered turbans and some women revealed their bare heads with embarrassment. Regular readers will know that I’ve previously shaved all my hair off to raise money for cancer (!) so I happily walk around with my ‘nude nut’ uncovered, but not everyone feels this way about being bald. When you see other women bald you can see why. Depending upon the shape of your head it can look really scary.
Turbans on (except me – I prefer the ventilation for my hot flushes!) we were taught some basic skin care and then moved on to makeup. I picked up a few tips here, like learning that powder will set eyeliner and lip liner and stop them smudging.
Then we drew eyebrows.
I looked in the mirror and couldn’t help smiling. I’ve missed my eyebrows. My amazing, cancer fighting body has managed to hold on to some tattered remnants so with a bit of pencil I had a good approximation of natural looking eyebrows. I looked a lot less like a cancer patient and a lot more like me. I felt better. Hey, this stuff works!
We finished applying makeup and I found a new lipstick colour that I never would have tried and really liked, and discovered a great way to apply eye liner to that it opens up my eyes. In between there was loads of laughing and banter around the room as we joked about treatment and side effects. We were all hugely impressed by the use of colour correctors on those women that had developed red splotches on their faces. Green under the foundation! Who knew! But what was really impressive was the looks on the faces of the women around the room as they saw their former selves emerge from their faces. Wonderful. Very moving.
The makeup volunteers finished and an exuberant woman called Jan started demonstrating wonderful things to do with scarves and hats. She started slipping wigs onto people and before I could object I had a medium length brown bob. My girlfriend gasped. This is how my hair looked about three years ago before my big shave and a decision to go grey. “You made the right decision,” she said, “That brown is too harsh on you now.”
Next came a short, grey wig that was so like my old hair it could have been modelled on it. I looked in the mirror and saw a healthy version of myself. There was Meg. Not the cancer patient but me. Here was the person I had been before cancer.
More importantly, here was the person I intended to be once treatment was over.
There’s something powerful about seeing yourself as you hope to be. Visualisation is all well and good but having that reflection of yourself, clear eyed, with a full head of hair and an arch above each eye is so much more wonderful than you can imagine.
Next week I’m going into the wig library and I’m going to borrow a wig. I don’t plan on wearing it all the time but I think it will be nice to have it for Christmas parties. I can just be ‘Meg’ and not the cancer patient. I’ll get a break from my treatment and my illness and so will my friends and family. More importantly, I’ll be starting to make the transition back to being healthy.
I’ll look good. I’ll feel better.