Why I'm deeply superficial.




Superficiality is underrated. Sometimes, small things can make you feel better. A strong latte. A piece of chocolate. A haircut. A new lipstick.

I’m not sure if this applies to blokes. A car magazine? A new pair of boxers? A quickie? Yeah, probably.

This month, I’ve done lots of little things that have made me feel better and I’m a bit sheepish to tell you about them. I didn’t save anyone’s life. I didn’t volunteer at a women’s shelter. I didn’t meditate. I didn’t foster a child.

What I did do was go to Priceline. I bought new make-up. New skincare. I also got my hair cut. And coloured. Next, I cleaned out my beauty cabinet and washed my make-up brushes.

This all made me very happy. Not like my family or my girlfriends or writing this column make me happy, but happy, in a deeply superficial way. Which still feels pretty great.

The motivation for my DIY makeover was a book called Amazing Face written by Zoe Foster who was a beauty editor for many years learning endless things she’s now shared. I too was a beauty editor once but all I learnt was that I didn’t want to be a beauty editor. “I cannot do this a day longer,” I wailed to my boss 18 months into the gig before reeling off a litany of complaints that you’d consider not just first world problems but first class ones.

“The launches, the long lunches, the champagne, the free products, the gifts, the parties….I can’t STAND IT ANYMOOOOORE,” I told her, the intensity of my emotion making my voice rise an octave in that way bosses hate.

My relationship with beauty was always tenuous. One of the reasons I was appointed Cleo’s beauty writer was because I knew so little about it. My editor figured I could write from the point of view of the reader, rather than an ‘expert’ and she was right.


But beauty editing was always a bus stop for me. I was never staying long. That’s why until reading Zoe’s book, I still didn’t know how to do a smokey eye, what colour lipstick suited me, what order I should put my make-up on (‘foundation is the underwear, concealer is the clothes” ) or how to choose the right shade of blush (“make a tight fist, then test it on your fingertips”).

Here’s what happened when I made Zoe give me a personalised consultation and schlepped all my beauty products to the office and made her go through them with me to tell me what to bin, what to keep:

Like most women, I picked up my patchy knowledge seemingly by osmosis along with random products (usually bought quickly at airports while under the influence of sedatives) and mashed it all together haphazardly.

I stopped reading beauty articles when I stopped having to write them. Again, like most women, I had a make-up and skincare ‘routine’ which became routine because I never changed it.

I thought I knew what suited me, I tested lipsticks on the back of my hand (mistake) and kept buying the same browny-pink colour that I’ve just discovered is totally wrong for me. Shame really because I own about 353 of them. And 284 pinky-brown ones.

The way I put my make-up on each morning until this month was best described as…. resentfully. I’ve never minded wearing it but I haven’t ever derived pleasure from applying it.

Still, I’ve always been grateful to have make-up and particularly concealer, as an option when I wake up in the morning and look as tired as I feel. Thank heavens for transformative tools. Men have to make do with splashing water on their face and combing their hair.


When I was a beauty editor, I had to attend the annual Dream Ball organised by the beauty industry as a fundraiser for its Look Good Feel Better program.

Established by the cosmetic industry in 1990, the free program has helped 88,000 women living with cancer to cope with chemotherapy and radiotherapy side effects, such as hair loss and skin changes.  According to its website, “the purpose of the program is to help them manage these side effects, with the use of skin care, make-up, hats, turbans and wigs, thereby helping to restore their appearance and self image”.

Ignorantly, I rolled my eyes about this a lot. “Why don’t they just donate the money to cancer research and help find a cure instead of spending money on lipstick for these poor women?” I’d mutter. Looking back, I cringe when I remember this. I now know too many women who have battled cancer and been devastated on so many levels, including the seemingly superficial one of their appearance.

It’s easy to be dismissive about the role of hair and beauty in the life of women. It’s simple to brand it trivial or an economic conspiracy to make women feel insecure and buy things. There’s truth in all of that. But whether you are suffering from a serious illness or just having a bad day, there’s something undeniably potent about the power of something small to make you feel better. No, it doesn’t cure cancer. Nor depression. It won’t mend a broken heart. But it might make you smile when you look in the mirror or hold your head a bit higher as you walk down the street. It can be armour as well as artifice. And that’s a handy thing to have in your arsenal.

So, what are your desert island beauty products?