|Disclaimer: These are not my eyebrows. Nor, in fact, my eyes.|
The lovely beauty technician told me I had a good solid shape that just needed tidying up a bit. Bless her. I think she meant my eyebrows. So she ‘tidied them up a bit’. Apparently this opens up my eyes. I think it makes me look permanently startled. I’ve also realised that my eyelids are slightly crêpe-y. For the first time in my life I understand why people have ‘tucks’.
I could always disguise the fact by covering it with eyeshadow: I used to apply a base/wash colour and sort of blend it into my shaggy brow, but now this has receded halfway up my forehead I run the risk of looking like a clown. So I made a bold decision (for a 40-year-old). I would spend the next two weeks without makeup.
According to my reflection, I am still surprised by my decision/ my face/ my self. I go into town to purchase trekking clothes – trying them on in the changing room feels right without makeup: I won’t actually be wearing lipstick and blusher in the Malaysian rainforest anyway. I wonder how much effect makeup generally has on one’s ‘look’ in deliberating over outfits.
Friends come round in the evening to watch the rugby. My makeup ban does not extend to my toenails, which I have meticulously painted white with red crosses to display my patriotism. It took ages! If only the England players had shown as much dedication...
Without makeup there is no way to conceal disappointment over national sporting loss, so the ‘brave face’ that I put on is entirely metaphorical. Thank God it wasn’t football!
After packing my bags I relax with a gin and tonic in the sun (well, actually in the garden – the sun would be too hot, obviously). Apparently there is quinine in tonic which helps to ward off malaria, so I am loading up on it in advance. Someone told me I could drink the tonic without adding the gin and it would work just as well. Clearly they don’t know me very well.
I have exposed hitherto hidden sections of my face to the sun. I may have burned my eyelids.
We get up early to fly to Brunei. Not having to apply makeup gives me another five minutes in bed – that in itself makes the experiment worth-while.
Our flight is delayed so I have time to people-watch in Auckland airport. Every single adult woman (and many of the children) wears makeup to a varying extent. I feel exposed and invisible, which is both daunting and liberating.
When I go to the toilet I don’t have to check my reflection or touch up my lipstick. It’s one less thing to worry about and just feels easier.
On the flight to Brunei I watch a couple of sad/silly films (including The First Grader) and shed the odd tear with no fear of running mascara or smudged eyeshadow.
When we arrive at my brother and sister-in-law’s, we have a couple of glasses of wine while discussing matters of great importance – world politics and foreign intervention among the topics. I am exhausted and a bit tipsy and fall into bed without cleaning my face.
No makeup on the pillow or halfway down my face – excellent. We go on an outing to temples, fish markets, the bank, and coffee in a hotel. I only feel out of place at the hotel. Everywhere else I am invisible, which is particularly helpful at the fish market where I take photos and get splashed by a still-live wriggling eel.
Not used to the heat, I am sweating a lot and bathing my face at every opportunity, which makeup would only hinder. Falling asleep for an afternoon siesta is so much easier without fear of drool and mascara stains.
A run in the morning (in about 30° heat), wiping my face, doesn’t leave stains on my t-shirt. A massage also passes without having to redo the makeup after having the face squished through the hole.
We eat lunch at a local place in Miri – I am not bothered by the makeup absence and try to rely on smiling to illuminate my facial features instead.
I realise that I am a little bored by my face and that usually I would slap on some green eyeshadow or purple lipstick to enliven things. Instead, I just avoid mirrors. It’s refreshing not to have to think about yourself and your image all the time.
‘A woman should not apply makeup only according to the physical features of her face, but she should put on makeup for the story she wants to tell and, somehow, for the message she wants to convey’ – Brigitte Reiss-Andersen, renowned makeup artist, Malaysia Airlines in-flight magazine
A two-hour walk in the rainforest (34° heat and 98% humidity), slathered in insect repellent and dripping with sweat – wiping my face on my drenched t-shirt every few minutes, makeup is the furthest thing from my mind. Later, drinking Pimms at the boat club, I know I am glowing with heat, sun, and the after-effects of healthy exertion. There is no need for blusher here.
At a night out in the hotspots of Miri, I feel old rather than un-made-up. No amount of face paint could make me look twenty years younger.
Day Nine - Eleven
Walking through the rainforest to the Niah caves, bathing in the hot pools at Poring Springs, walking high in the tree canopy, visiting the War Memorial, there is far too much to see and think about to worry about appearances.
Day Twelve and Thirteen
We climb Mt Kinabalu (4095m), the highest peak in South East Asia, getting up at 3am in order to reach the summit at sunrise – it is stunning. We share daft grins with the others up there – the park limits the number of people to 150 a day. One girl has perfect and painstakingly applied heavy eye makeup. For once, she seems to be the odd one out.
Day Fourteen and Fifteen
Trips include a boat excursion along the Kinabatangan River looking for wildlife, snorkelling off Libaran Island where the coastguard keep watch for pirates, a village walk where we are glared at with hostile resentment, viewing the laying of eggs and hatching of baby turtles as they flip-flop down to the sea, marvelling at the grace and agility of orang-utans as they come to be fed at a sanctuary, and weeping at the horrors evoked by a war memorial park. Nowhere do I feel the experience would have been improved with makeup.
A flight back to Kota Kinabalu brings us back into contact with plastic Americans injected with Botox and collagen. How much is too much, I wonder? Some have certainly gone too far and look as though Barbie has been left out in the sun until she melted.
We watch the rugby world cup final at an Irish bar in Kota Kinabalu. There is a lot of face-paint in evidence, but no one seems to care about the makeup or lack thereof.
We fly all day from KK to Brunei and from there to Auckland. In Malaysia, women in sequinned hot pants and tight, sloganned tops co-exist happily with women wearing full-body covering or embroidered headscarves. Anything goes and no one seems out of place. Bright colours rather than ubiquitous black replace the need for facial decoration. I have photographed colourful images of washing hung on picturesque porches – mine would look drab in comparison.
After four hours of sleep it’s time to head to the airport for the final leg of the journey home to Queenstown. The shuttle bus driver informs me he can tell I have been somewhere hot because it shows on my face, and what I need to do now is buy some face cream to tone down my colour. It’s early and I can’t be bothered to take issue with his unspeakable rudeness. It just confirms my return to the land of the long white conformity.