A friend of mine recently wrote in a magazine about make up, and how she dislikes it because it promotes an illusion. She wrote “I don’t like make up because it makes me beautiful- or rather, when I wash it off, it stops me being beautiful”. I can see the point, but would quite like to argue another side.
I have always enjoyed dressing up. At school I didn’t have a uniform and, as my confidence and happiness went, for various reasons, I dressed up more. My father told me to act confident to trick myself into being confident, and I tried it. And dressing up didn’t stop the panic attacks or the crying fits, but it did make me feel that bit more like me. It made me feel like me, someone who thinks Revelations is a laugh and that one should change the world in a three act structure. I dressed to characters, not as much as some people, but I would dress playing my idea of a pretentious sixth former, or Faustus, or a mannish Edwardian intellectual, or just someone wearing an evening dress I didn’t always do it, but it would lift my mood, and make school that bit more bearable. It would make me feel like I wasn’t the girl who was shaking and crying.
I stopped dressing up for school during my most serious bout of mental illness (late 2006 to early 2007). I was overtaken by despair. I cried through lessons on the Aeneid, when I felt remotely able to attend. I came to believe that I had lost my soul and intelligence, everything essential to my self. I was sectioned wearing washed out, shapeless black clothes, with one book in my bag and hardly able to write, or express myself.
In hospital there are certain shorthands you use to tell yourself, and doctors, that you’re functional, because they are unlikely to believe you. You go to meals, tidy your room to the extent that there is little sign that anybody lives there, try and do things, and in my case put on make up and style your hair, even if that is just brushing it. It shows you still care about your appearance and are still somehow engaged with the world. And, with my sometimes awful styles of make up and hair in hospital, it is a form of dressing up. There are limited opportunities to dress up in hospital. Your clothes are generally limited by both the desire to appear sane and the fact that other people chose the clothes you have with you. But make up is a way to be you. Death curls and red lipstick with mad spinster/Edwardian intellectual hair(piled on top of your head) the first time, eyeliner the second, copious brightly coloured glitter eyeshadow this time. Because I am original and funny and creative, I am the person my friends know and I will remind myself I am that person. And that person is sparkly/gothy/a comics geek/wants to be Christabelle LaMotte. That person is all those things.
My friend wrote that gothic make up made her feel like a little girl playing dress up. But there is nothing wrong with playing dress up.
Because dressing up is not about how you look, solely. At later dates I will regret the photos online, but there have been times I’ve needed the mad spinster hair and cravat, the faded ten quid H&M evening dress, the pink boots and purple hair. It’s not only about presenting a front, but being that front. Pretending to be you. And sometimes you need props or reminders. It’s not just make up or a suit jacket, part of it’s having a notebook and a fantasy novel, a decent supply of pens, a feeling that all this will be terribly funny written down and people calling you the name you call yourself in your head. But glitter and an exciting coat help.