A woman prepares for life

I am having trouble with mascara
these days.  Not that I wear much
of it but it’s harder to see these days to put it on.  I’d need a magnifying glass to be able to see my eyelashes well enough and I only have two hands.  So I tend to apply mascara by touch, and make a mess of it along the way.  
All my life my mother told me my eyes, my eyebrows and ear lobes were
my greatest asset.  Therefore, I’ve tended to dress
mine up. My eyes with a touch of mascara, my ears with earrings but my
eye brows I leave alone. 
The other day I was horrified when
one of my daughters made an appointment to have her eyebrows plucked.
them be,’ I said.  ‘They’re lovely
as they are.’  But no, she insisted
they were like Frida Kahlo’s.   My
daughter takes after her father in her colouring and hair.  Women pluck their eyebrows all the
time, my daughter tells me.  For
some it’s necessary. 
This reminds me of the day another of
my daughters gave me a voucher as a Christmas present  to have my eye lashes
coloured.  Even now it seems a
ridiculous idea, but at the time I went along with it in the hope that I might
then be able to forgo the mascara.  
For half an hour I sat in a hairdressing salon with strange bits of
protective covering around my eyes while the dye did its job.  Afterwards, I could scarcely see the difference.  It had been a wasteful plea to my
I have grown increasingly weary
with the stuff of dressing up for the world.  
When I was young I loved spending hours thinking about what
I might wear, laying it out before hand and then showering, putting on
my mascara and eye liner and finally dressing.
Earlier, because I was a slob at school, or
so I believed: shabby clothes, dirty shoes, untidy hair; but also a worthy
student, ‘from a poor family’,  the nuns gave me free access to a series of
classes conducted at my school through the Elly Lukas deportment school.  
Once a week for eight weeks a woman whom I shall call  Miss Bright
came from the Elly Lukas deportment school to take us through our paces.  We were in fourth form, the equivalent
now of year ten, all of us aged between fifteen and sixteen years.  
The expectation was that most of us
would soon be out in the work force preparing our lives for that big moment
when we met and fell in love with the man of our desires and would soon be
Miss Bright taught us how to dab
nail polish onto a stocking to catch a run before it ran too far.  She taught us how to wash
our stockings separately in hand made lingerie bags, and how to lay out our
clothes every evening before bed in anticipation of the next day.  
Given that we would all be off to the
office the next day with early starts, it was imperative that we leave only our
dressing to the morning. The evening, after a light and
nutritious dinner, should be spent preparing for the next day. 
Miss Bright estimated we needed to set
aside a good hour in these preparations – cleaning shoes, mending tears, ironing blouses and skirts.  We were to leave nothing to chance.  Makeup from the day before needed to be
removed carefully with the aid of moisturiser and water and little cotton buds
and swabs.  Showers, deodorant,
attention to finger nails and feet were also essential.  
Nail polish was tricky.  It
was fine to use it but imperative to keep coloured nails in top shape, with no
chips or cracks and certainly no ridiculous colours as were coming into vogue
in those days.  A pale pink for day
wear was acceptable, one that blended in with the tone of our smart work suits
and maybe red for evening wear, but to be cleaned off before the end of the weekend
and the return to work.
When would we read our books? I
wondered, or get our homework done, not remembering that these duties were
aimed at the woman at work, not the student or school girl, nor at the woman of
Finally, there was a long lesson on how to
deal with men, dining out, etiquette and the like.  
I did not take the lessons seriously in the end, but the concepts stay with me.  The idea of having to sculpt myself into the perfect woman irks me still.  
Today, and throughout the past week,  I’m doing battle with my feelings about the rape and murder of a young woman here in Brunswick.  I’m not alone in this.  Jill Meagher’s senseless death has aroused widespread public grief and outrage.  It has also caused a storm about the difficulties women face in the world, the idea that women are not free to walk the streets alone after dark.  
My memories of being groomed to be a fine young woman seem anarchic in a world where women are also the victims of such random and gratuitous brutality.  And I know, despite the horror of this behaviour that somewhere along the line the perpetrators of such crimes are also victims. 
I cannot get these difficulties out of my mind.  Everything else pales into insignificance.

38 thoughts on “A woman prepares for life”

  1. It brings up mixed feelings to read of all the ways we were taught to present ourselves to the world. It used to take me over an hour to get dressed ready to go out. And then I rebelled and used no makeup at all. Now I use a little again, but in a different spirit, just to celebrate and enjoy.

  2. Meagher was alone on the street at half past one in the morning for goodness sake. She'd just left one of those trendy dives that sell booze around the clock, good places for creeps to float around outside. I want those rotten joints closed but it won't happen. And now people lay flowers and howl their eyes out. What a show, we're all to blame.

  3. I almost never use makeup of any kind and because of this, when I do, it feels uncomfortable on my face. I can handle mascara and tinted chapstick in place of lipstick, but don't often bother.
    To help with applying mascara, buy one of those magnifying mirrors that are often sold as shaving mirrors. They're two sided, regular mirror on one side, flip it over and there is a magnifying mirror on the other side.
    And here's another tip. Mascara often clumps if it goes on too thick, so keep a spare cleaned (washed) mascara wand handy and after applying mascara, allow it to dry a little, then use the magnifying mirror and dry wand to brush away clumps.

  4. I do so agree with what you say here. It does distress me that girls – and I mean girls of eleven and twelve – see fit to wear tons of make up these days. I may be old fashioned but incidents like the one you describe make for such frightening reading – how can today's parents let their daughter have the freedom we had? When I was a teenager the war had not long been over and the streets in our village were often full of soldiers, sailors and airman who were still stationed nearby. Yet we still went out at night totally without fear – why can't it be like that nowadays?

  5. i am having trouble responding, elizabeth, as i think you are having trouble processing years and years of the cultural objectification of women. it is not simple. it is a venn diagram of grooming attitudes and distancing responsibility but in the end we must must must always remember it is never the fault of the woman, not even the happenstance of where (and at what time) she happens to be. no one ever asks to be assaulted. it is always the fault of the person who takes liberty and fails to recognize the humanity and autonomy of the victim. a fundamental shift must occur in all our hearts in terms of recognizing the humanity and autonomy of others and we must deepen our well of empathy and compassion.

    (in society in general we damn well need to begin celebrating the quieter aspects like empathy and compassion instead of the louder ones like power and aggression.)

    i am so very sorry for the violence that has befallen this young girl. we should all stop to imagine the violence and then we should all recoil at whatever part we have taken and then in our own lives we should begin to make changes.


  6. i went over to the story, elisabeth (sorry, i spell your name wrong so frequently) and i am overwhelmed. i am overwhelmed by the response. in this there is hope. but my god, i am yet overwhelmed by the violence, one person holding in their hands and taking another person's life. i will never understand this.


  7. I never wore make up or perfume, and managed my social life well enough. I am dismayed at the clothing I find available, shopping for my ten and thirteen year old granddaughters. It is senselessly provocative, and involves dismissing a lot of it to find a little bit of it.

  8. I have never been attracted to women who wear a lot of makeup. I don’t think Carrie even owns a lipstick nor can I ever remember her putting on mascara or eye shadow and I don’t think I’ve even seen her paint her nails either. None of these things matter to me. My mum had a compact I remember and a couple of lipsticks but that was about it and as she grew older she used them less and less; they were just things left from when she was young that she never got round to tossing. We all have a tendency to hang onto stuff like that, crap we will never use again but the time has not yet come to part with it. Every few years I do a clear out and I’m always surprised with the ease at which I can dispose of things I’ve been hauling around from house to house for decades as if it was in some way precious and necessary.

    I have never been overly concerned about my appearance. The single criterion I hold to is that I should not look like a tube when I encounter neighbours or strangers; I will change clothes to take the black bag out to the bin at the back of the flats. What exactly a ‘tube’ [pronounced ‘choob’] is it’s hard to say. It’s certainly not a uniquely Scottish expression but I know when I look in the mirror when I look like one. I think it’s someone trying to be what they’re not and failing spectacularly. I, for example, could never pull off a wig. Many do (Sean Connery was already balding when he, at the age of 32, starred in Dr No) although I did try one on once at a party to see how long it took someone to notice but I could never carry one off in real life. I dress like a fifty-year-old man ought to dress (in my eyes). In Left I write, “Dad dressed to be unseen, to be everyman.” That is me.

    You said last week that Jill Meagher's death had caught the attention of the international press. If the BBC covered it then I missed it. It always puzzles me why certain deaths pique the public’s imaginations whereas others die (and let’s face it they die daily) without anyone raising much of an eyebrow; murder is no longer automatically front page news. The last one I remember here was the death of Jill Dando, the BBC newsreader, who was shot outside her home in Fulham, West London; her killer was never identified. Had she not been a public figure would anyone have made much fuss? I see that murders aren’t as common in Australia as they are elsewhere (229 compared to the UK’s 722 according to the last UNODC study—in both cases not much more than 1 per 100,000 of the population); Africa is seventeen times more dangerous a place to live.

    You also mention her “senseless death” which suggests (I know you didn’t mean it) that there might be some sense to the deaths of others. We understand when a prostitute is killed because we see her as putting herself in harm’s way but does it really make any more sense? What about the mum in Adelaide who fed her five-year-old son methadone and ended up killing him? Why did no one march for him?

  9. I don't wear make-up. Never have once I graduated from high school. Nor do I wear perfumes. Fragrances make me sneeze. I was a big rebel, chafing against the behavior that was expected of young ladies. I hated that we were expected to wear make-up 24/7, shave areas that no one questioned on men, and behave in a subjective way. Men in the west had no concept of what a natural adult woman looks like back then. I did my part to enlighten them and when questioned about why I neither wore make-up or shaved I would respond that if it was all right for a man to go around in his natural state then it was all right for women as well. What a waste of time all that is. My own father, when I was about 20, asked me once in a petulant tone why I didn't put some make-up on so I would look nice. I told him I thought I looked just fine without it. Our culture expects, demands, that to be an attractive woman you must appear pre-pubescent with big boobs. I've always thought that was kind of creepy.

    as regards the rape and murder of that young woman, that's another thing about men I don't get. Preying on and raping of women. perhaps it was foolish of her to be out alone that late at night at a boozy joint but if men didn't have that tendency and desire in them to do that sort of thing to women, we would be safe anywhere at any time. Sorry, no excuses here gents.

  10. It seems the rules of deportment were intended for a world inhabited by gentlemen and ladies. It is a fantasy world dreamed up by old maid school teachers and sheltered, elderly fuss budgets. I wear makeup when I go out only because I have aged to the point where I have NO color left! I am fighting hard to keep from fading away!

  11. I am of the male persuasion and have been for the past 71 years, and I have never, NEVER understood all the attention females pay to themselves in order to do what? Attract a man? Pass muster with your girlfriends? Keep up with what the fashion and cosmetic industries say? Do what all the celebrities do?

    I was in my thirties before women wore any eye makeup at all in the daytime. It was just not done.

  12. What is horrifying to me every time I hear one of these stories about the brutalization of a woman is the reminder that this happens all the time and we only hear about it when brought to our attention by the media. The sex/slave trade is active and thriving, women's bodies are left by the tracks on the wrong side of town, and women are beat up on a very regular basis. And we place more emphasis on the dictates of fashion then each other. Such is our society.

  13. Forced myself to try makeup and dresses as a teen, knowing it was insane to follow the predilection of the feminine stereotype…it always felt uncomfortably inauthentic and thusly have veered into the 'hippie, feral chic' genre…much to the disgust of my children – who, despite their hairy, au naturale example of a mother, have fallen prey to the brainwashing in today's society.

    It deeply saddens me that the feminine continues to be brutalised, internally and externally, by us all…in one way shape or another…

  14. Memory and emotion. There are memories that we can pull out just as though they were photographs. Then there are memories that come up strongly tied to emotion.

    Last night I was thinking about one of the customers on my paper route. He was very friendly, would invite me in sometimes or give me treats. He and his family acted like they were always happy to see me. When I was given tickets to sell for the school play I remember I asked this paper route customer if he would come. I was nervous and I was hoping he was really a friend, not just a friendly face. He was happy to buy tickets, a fundraiser? he asked. No, not a fundraiser, I said. Only buy a ticket if you are going to come.

    When he said he wouldn't be coming to the play in which I had a major role, I was disappointed. I don't remember his name. But I remember the disappointment.

  15. I think the spirit of dressing up to celebrate and enjoy is the way to go, Juliet. None of this having to hide behind a wall of makeup to mask our identities and win favour. It's best to be ourselves.

    Thanks, Juliet.

  16. I'm wary of getting into any blame here, Robert. I know these things happen as a function of society and there are many causes. Many of us find it devastating because in some ways she is like us, though we should all grieve similarly when anyone is tossed aside like this, only often times we don't hear of it.

    Thanks, Robert.

  17. Thanks for that wonderful advice, River. I had not realised that such magnifying mirrors exist but now I think of it I've seen one at a friend's place.

    Mascara does not trouble me except when it clumps or runs and streaks your face when you can't see it. Lipstick I cannot tolerate. The feeling of it. Whereas chapsticks and lip-ease are fine by me.

    Thanks, River.

  18. I suspect one of the reasons the streets at night seem so much less safe these days has to do with the increased volumes of people and all sorts of subtle pressures that arise in contemporary western societies, Pat. Mind you throughout history there have been disturbed individuals who preyed on the vulnerable, children and women in particular.

    As well, it seems to me there are so many more pressures on people to conform these days especially the young. Social media not least of all.

    Thanks, Pat.

  19. Your words, erin: 'in society in general we damn well need to begin celebrating the quieter aspects like empathy and compassion instead of the louder ones like power and aggression' – I couldn't agree with them more.

    It's been my plea all along.

    Recently a group of women in Australia started up a Face Book identity called 'Destroy the joint' in response to the accusation of one of our most notorious radio shock Jocks, Alan Jones: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/alan-jones-women-are-destroying-the-joint/story-e6frf7jo-1226462326339

    Jones cannot tolerate the fact that we have a female PM and he spends a good deal of time vilifying her and other women in positions of authority in the coarsest gender based terms.

    He's not alone in this but women are fighting back. One, a journalist and writer, Anne summers, has finally pointed out the terrible state of play in our country: http://annesummers.com.au/speeches/her-rights-at-work-r-rated/

    Cast your eye over her essay if you get the chance and scroll down to where she shows some of the pornographic images that a certain cartoonist here, Larry Pickering, has created of our prime minister. It's appalling and at least people here are beginning to say enough now.

    The worst happened on the weekend when Alan Jones said at a gathering of young Liberals- our liberals are our conservative party – that our PM's father who died three weeks ago, died of shame because of the lies his daughter, our PM repeatedly tells our parliament. Finally people are appalled and Alan Jones is under fire.

    To me it offers a strange sort of balm to this most sorrowful of times following Jill Meagher's death.

    These shock jock's contribute to the objectification of women and it's time they were called to account.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and profound comment, erin. These matters apply everywhere.

  20. No one can hurt Jones he's too entertaining.

    Look at this, a nine year-old girl from a poor family goes missing presumed murdered after playing on the St Kilda Esplanade and it barely raises a murmur. A twenty-nine year-old well-off woman is found murdered after staggering from a bar into the street at 1:30 am and there's talk of erecting a memorial to her.
    The mainly local crowd who marched for this woman on Sunday marched for one of their own. It's a groomed, middle-class, innersuburban cafe lifestyle. Don't ever threaten it.

  21. Well darlings let's see how it goes but I believe Alan Jones is safe. He's got 30% of the Sydney audience. That's a lot of people. Many of them hate his views and listen just to feel outraged. The rest support his views and feel outraged. There has to be controversy, a new one every week, or you might see the stupidity of paying bank interest all your lives then getting cremated. Controversies get stale quick, new ones replace them. Alan is the king of controversy and will go on doing it. Advertisers love him. Some have withdrawn their money. Oh sure. They'll be back.

  22. Life's a lot easier without the encumbrance of make-up, Joanne, so I can well appreciate your decision not to wear it. As for the sexualisation of children's clothing, there's quite a furore around this issue at the moment here in Melbourne. I think the issue is complex.

    Thanks, Joanne.

  23. I agree, Jim, about the fact that we do not acknowledge all such deaths, the deaths that I might refer to as senseless. I suppose I do not say it by way of comparison merely as a statement of how random and unprovoked Jill's death seemed.

    That five year old's death – the one you mention- would have been likewise. You can't blame a five year old, though some might try.

    I want to avoid all blaming of victims. I suspect the reason that Jill Meagher's death has attracted such notice had something to do with who she was – middle class, attractive, she worked for the ABC with friends in the media etc. But also her death here came at a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of violence towards women not just literally but metaphorically.

    My mother also had a compact, Jim. I see them these days from time to time but to me compacts are such things of the past. I can almost smell my mother's now and feel the clammy slide of her powder over my face whenever as a child I dared to try some powder on my face. I don't like that sort of stuff myself any more than I like lipstick.

    Thanks, Jim.

  24. You were/are the rebel, Ellen. And good on you. If more women tried it we might find ourselves under less pressure to conform to these fantastic expectations of beauty however much they are constructed.

    I think of the horrors of the cosmetics industry and of the surgeons who go further and operate on women to make them look different – face lifts and the like; and all those sad souls who suffer body dysmorphia in a delusional bid to somehow find love.

    It may be that these practices are also part of the complex social factors that breed other cruelties such as rape.

    It's all very sad.

    Thanks, Ellen.

  25. I hope you don't fade away, Ms Sparrow. The idea of losing all colour though probably is much as much of a fantasy as needing to wear lipstick to make our lips more attractive. We are all drawn to the beauty of babies and youthfulness. There's a certain beauty on old age too but it seems its much harder for folks to recognise. Perhaps because old age is so much closer to the point of death, notwithstanding the fact that even babies and young people can die. It's a human hazard and one that's unavoidable. Maybe all this emphasis on beautiful bodies is an attempt – inevitably unsuccessful – to evade it.

    Thanks, Ms Sparrow.

  26. I'm amazed to think there was a time when women only wore eye make up by night, Rhymeswithplague, but it makes sense. Times change.

    The pressure to be beautiful or to fit some ideal fantasy of how we should be as women probably fuels the desire to wear makeup etc, and all the reasons you suggest here are relevant. It will be good if there ever comes a time when such pressures disappear but I can't see it happening in my life time.

    Thanks, Rhymeswithplague.

  27. Our societies are indeed sad, Rubye Jack, the disregard we hold for each others' precious lives.
    We tend to hide behind false hoods and masks to get attention when the real attention we need both to receive and give comes from much deeper stuff than appearance and beauty. It comes from compassion, empathy and understanding. All of which we also tend to lack. So it's a good thing – I reckon – when we can muster more than usual. When we can sit up and pay attention to such tragedies because, as you say, they're happening all the time, and everywhere.

    Thanks, Rubye Jack.

  28. I agree, Kirk, neither gender has it easy but essentially I think for all the burden of manhood, womanhood is perhaps heavier, though of course there are exceptions, elements that go beyond gender, which is not entirely black and white anyhow.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  29. Your 'hippie feral chick' style sounds wonderful to me
    Wadjella Yorga, despite your children's protests. Even if you were to dress as a glamour queen I suspect your children might protest. In fact they might prefer the hippie you.

    We can be lighthearted about these things but not about the of the tragic brutalisation of the feminine in its extreme, as you say.

    Thanks, Wadjella Yorga.

  30. Such a poignant memory, Glenn. You describe the disappointment of your little self beautifully. I agree memories are fueled by emotions. Apparently it's the emotionally evocative events that we tend to remember most of all. However much we might distort the facts of the event, it's the feeling we get right every time.

    Thanks, Glenn.

  31. I agree, Robert, part of the response to Jill Meagher's death has been fueled by an identification from people of similar persuasion, but there are others who might identify for other reasons.

    As for Alan Jones, I fear you may be right there too, that the people who take away his advertising might soon return once the noise dies down. Still I prefer to think some large dint has been made in his morale that might increase his humility or at least give him a modicum of shame, if such were possible.

    Thanks, Robert.

  32. Alan Jones has a man's balls and a woman's bitchiness. He's a particular kind of homosexual, beyond pain, threat, embarrassment. Beyond humiliation; It's been tried. You have to think about it, try to imagine, what the "slings and arrows of misfortune" do to some psyches in their upbringing.

  33. Dear Elisabeth, I have been absent from blogging over a month and it is great to return and catch up with my favourite writers.;)
    A great post indeed, I too leave my eyebrows alone, have never plucked them. I accompanied a friend of mine to a beauty saloon once this summer and the lady working there immediately pointed out that my eyes would look so much better with my eyebrows shaped.;) But i will never do it.;)
    Is it your eye in the picture, very beautiful.;)
    It is truly sad that women have to be afraid of being alone at places. I felt this very strongly when I lived in the US. I recall having to move my car at 5PM in the winter, to a closer parking lot, which was gated and opened in the evening, so I would not have to walk alone after dark to get my car after work.
    It is much safer here in Europe, but still there are places where I would not be at the onset of darkness either. Luckily, not where I work, so need to move my car any longer.;)
    Hope you have been well.;)

  34. Apart from writing my blog posts and responding to the folks who comment, Zuzana, I too have been absent from the blogosphere.

    I am desperately trying to get some writing tasks done and completed for once, rather than simply dabbling. To do so has meant less visiting and it saddens me, but I will get out and about again, soon.

    Thanks, Zuzana. It's good to hear from you again.

  35. Make up is not always a lure. All of us see each other in many different ways. Beauty is as unique as there atre people. It is a sick mind that forces some into such horrendous crimes. Sadly we have not yet understood what forces some minds to go so off the track of accepted behaviour. Even a person totally cover is not safe from a deranged individual.

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