Goodbye Old Paint?

I try to refrain from talking too much about physical ailments here (okay, except for sinus miseries… and skin cancer surgery some years back…and…and). There are much heavier problems in the world than these fleeting discomforts.

But (yeah) since I came back from Chicago two weeks ago, I’ve been really distracted by an eye infection. Pain, swelling, doctor, drops – I’ve been down a similar road before, only this time I can’t shake it. Aside from the discomfort and what feels like gross unsightliness, this eye illness is challenging my entire perception of who I am.

I think I’ve just gone the longest period of time since I was fourteen without wearing eye makeup. (Men, unless you’re Robert Smith of the Cure or Keith Richards – you might not understand this; loads of women too…we don’t all have the Maybelline gene). For these past linerless, mascara-less days – and maybe it’s the eye irritation talking here – I’ve started to wonder if my entire life has been a construct –  I’ve only existed insofar as I could be drawn in with liner and mascara?

It’s not like anyone would look at me and think HIGH MAINTENANCE! or step aside Kat Von D. But blame it on those Barbies of my childhood, with their drawn on faces – even when nude they sported eyeliner and I’m kind of the same.

It’s like I don’t know how to see the world without the weight of paint on my lid or lash saying – even if only to myself – I’m here. I exist. The act of meditation that is looking at your own eyes in a makeup mirror.

“You don’t need all that stuff,” my dad would say. That was the point – it wasn’t for the world to tell me how I looked best. It was for me to become the character in my head. She looked a little bit like Catwoman or Emma Peel. Then Patti Smith or Gaye Advert (though I guess I landed more in the vicinity of Pat Benatar – I blame my rust belt roots…did anyone really dangerous ever come from Pittsburgh?)

Twiggy’s false lashes. The Laugh-In girls. Lipstick was my mother’s generation but eye makeup was mod.  Eye makeup was mine.  I didn’t even know if I looked better with it or without it. It didn’t matter. Black lines, the thicker the better. It wasn’t coquetry, it went beyond pretty to pirate. It’s the way I controlled the face I showed the world . It’s how I got ready to do battle.

amy rigby
New wave coat check girl ’79 – photo by Julia Gorton

I lived for liner! I could never give it up, I thought. Even when I’m older – I’ll be Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, or Louise Nevelson! I definitely haven’t kept up that heavy hand. It’s been years since I wore false lashes (okay, maybe I backslid a month or two ago) and full-on black around my eyes but I’m still one for a smoky line. And the expert algorithm inside my computer screen sends pop-up ads to dance before me insisting there’s “A Better Way to Wear Makeup After Fifty!” “If You’re Sixty and Still Doing This, You’re Wrong!” If I click on them,  I might as well be dead.

Eye makeup after a certain age is like many things after a certain age: a habit. A reminder that you’re still here and you get to choose what feels good.  Flattering or not flattering, it’s a thing you do to make yourself feel like you. But who we are changes over time, if we’re lucky.

I’ve been wondering about all this in all that extra spare time I have now that I’m not wielding an eye shadow brush. I try to get some benefit out of these bad health moments. Learn any thing I can. Embrace the good. When I’m not putting drops in or hot compresses on my eyes, I’m astounded by the freedom; how life is truly simpler without makeup. No time spent putting it on, keeping it on, taking it off. There’s a beauty in just being you. Like a guy.

But I miss making that effort. The ceremony that divides life: here I am going to the gym or for a walk or to mow the grass – sunscreen. Now I’m headed to work, so I should groom myself – where’s my mascara wand? I went down to the city last weekend and I swear I felt more powerful not giving a fuck than when I try to look good. Were those servers or shop assistants being more attentive cause they thought “Badass” or were they just desperate to get me out of there quicker? These are questions I’ve struggled with for a while so it’s interesting to try it. BUT can I carry on the experiment when I actually feel good and am not struggling through a health issue?

How would I go on stage – I’ve often thought wow would I dare not put eye makeup on? I’m afraid I’ll disappear.  I look again to Patti Smith – her bare face, white hair – magnificence. Didn’t she have an awkward phase about ten years ago, to get where she is now? And like I said, I ain’t Patti, more Pat. I was born with a rust belt mom-on-a-joyride vibe that only a jail sentence would toughen up.

Just like dairy products languish in the fridge after a nasty cold, that eye pencil sits there staring at me by the vanity mirror and I can’t imagine wanting to put such an evil greasy substance anywhere near my tender, vulnerable being, ever again.

But I saw Chrissie Hynde on TV the other night, still defiantly sporting black on her lids. It wasn’t careful contouring and presentation, it was a flag – the opposite of white flag of surrender – it was “yeah I’ve seen the world; a lot of it”; more fuck you than fuck me; punker than pert cat eyes. I felt myself instinctively reaching for my eye pencil, like a samurai for her sword.

My choice, when I’m up for it again.

Or not. Maybe glasses instead? Forget about how I’d look – I’d actually be able to see.





21 thoughts on “Goodbye Old Paint?

  1. lmosrie

    I love this. I’ve always had to defend myself wearing makeup to every damn boyfriend I’ve ever had. I say I do it for me (and I think this is largely true), but I know it also feels like armor sometimes. Research shows that women are taken more seriously when wearing makeup. Ugh. I also happen to find it quite fun to wear, so there! Cliff wanted me to add, “Shafer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one…” *hic*

    1. amyrigby

      Thanks Louise! Yes, there was something controlling in guys saying “But you look so much better without it” – it was their way of being sweet and probably meant to bolster confidence, but it also felt like a way of saying “Hey, you’re with ME now, so why do you need to try and make yourself look better?

      Schaefer really was the only beer in NY back in the day – remember when imported Heineken felt like the height of sophistication?

  2. Gina

    Yeah, I get this. I wrote a blog recently about how I was going to a show in Vienna by myself and as I was putting on my mascara I suddenly went, wait – why am i doing this? I am invisible now. It was weird and sad. But life goes on…

  3. Hal Davis

    “When I’m not putting drops in or hot compresses on my eyes, I’m astounded by the freedom; how life is truly simpler without makeup. No time spent putting it on, keeping it on, taking it off. There’s a beauty in just being you. Like a guy.

    “I went down to the city last weekend and I swear I felt more powerful not giving a fuck than when I try to look good.”

    Welcome to the unadorned life.

    “I was born with a rust belt mom-on-a-joyride vibe…”

    Go with it.

    “Forget about how I’d look…”

    We like what we see. And we love your words.

  4. dinahmow

    I dyed my eye lashes, what,50 or so years ago.To save time and pillow slips.Then, late 70s I returned to NZ and ….COULDN’T GET LASH DYE! Argh! A friend in London mailed me some and for a few years i was fine.Then I moved to Australia and found I could buy the dye here. Still fine,
    But then someone declared that it was carcinogenic and the formula changed…and it was horrible and made my eyes itch.
    And now? Other than a little lipstick I am unpainted.

    1. amyrigby

      I had it done over a month ago and am partly convinced that made me more vulnerable to infection…I probably won’t do it again! Throwing everything out & starting over (or going the tinted glasses route? Been wanting to anyway…)

  5. Lynne

    I read your writing and think, “Jeez, what a hack … I am.” Making other writers jealous should be considered a high compliment.

  6. Donald Ciccone

    With or without you’re perfect. That hat check girl sure looks familiar! I was still in NY in ’79.
    Where was that taken? For sinus headaches try one sudafed (the speedy kind from behind the counter) plus two aspirin. Then have a nice lie down.

  7. Anonymous

    I say…do whatever makes you feel good! I don’t let my age define me. I’m still into perms. They’re not tight curls (like the 80’s) anymore, much softer, but I like the extra body in my hair. And, like you with the eyes, I don’t feel complete without the curls! I sometimes think wouldn’t it be easier to just not care, but I haven’t crossed that bridge yet! By the way, the line about your mom and the red lipstick brought back memories. I thought the color was glamorous! Aunt Olympia and red lipstick went hand in hand! ❤️

  8. Stribs

    I have no idea what a “rust belt mom on a joyride” means, but I love your writing Amy on whatever the subject is. Even makeup (although it’s obviously about more than that).
    I had to Google Pat Benatar as I couldn’t remember what she looked like! No, you’re definitely more of a Gaye Advert!
    I saw Gaye a few weeks ago and wanted to say hello and tell her how I loved her work, both her music and art, but felt it was an imposition, so walked on. What an idiot!
    And glasses, I hate them, but now have to carry around 2 pairs as I refuse to wear them all the time unless I have to.

    1. amyrigby

      Thanks so much Stribs. I heard Gaye Advert on a Women in Punk BBC interview not long ago, and along with Gina Birch she was so smart & real and entertaining. I bet she would’ve been happy to chat with you!

  9. Pingback: It Takes All Kinds – Diary Of Amy Rigby

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