Eczema and the gaping gender beauty divide or Channeling my inner Bill Murray

I have been reading Sali Hughes’ beauty column in the Guardian on Saturday for years now and I love her honest, no nonsense style. The ability to change the way you look with make-up must be incredibly liberating; to be able to reflect or deflect your mood with colour and pizazz I imagine is a joyous affair. But it is something I’ve never really been able to participate in – whenever I’ve tried it’s resulted in some fairly horrible skin reactions – completely counterproductive, so frankly I just stopped bothering.

So it surprised me to find out that Sali is an ichthyosis sufferer. Ichthyosis is a pretty miserable skin condition, it’s the result of a faulty gene affecting the rate at which skin regenerates – it either sheds old skin cells too slowly or skin cells reproduce too speedily. Whichever it is, it results in a build up of rough ‘fish scale’ skin. If you want to know more about ichthyosis visit the amazing Carly Findlay’s blog all about her life managing the skin condition and her battle with appearance diversity.

This year Sali published, Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion and on the strength of the fact that I love reading her writing and that she is a fellow ‘scaley’ I thought I’d have a read.

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Straight away I felt a tiny bit deflated, here’s what she has to say in the introduction:

“There are two mantras I live by. The first is my grandmother’s. One day, as a very little girl, I sat on her bed watching her spritz on Yardley English Lavender perfume, powder her face from a gilt Stratton compact and slick on her fuchsia No7 lipstick. Transfixed, I asked her why she wore make-up. Clicking the lipstick shut she said, matter-of-factly, ‘Because when I’ve got my make-up on, I’m always ready. Imagine if I was out and got some lovely invitation that I couldn’t accept because I wasn’t looking and feeling my best? With make-up, I’m always able to go on the adventure.’ I never forgot it and I apply the same theory to most days. The other is one that I remind my friends of whenever they’re feeling ill or blue, and I invariably send them a huge care parcel of beauty products and make-up. I believe that the only thing worse than feeling like crap, is looking like crap too. Often we can’t do anything about the former, but I feel passionately that addressing the latter can only help.”

I have had to work so hard on my ability to separate those two things: looking crap/feeling crap. See, Feel the eczema and do it anyway for much more on this. For the most part I can do it. But there are days when I really can’t – armour at the ready – scarves, hoods, eyes down.

And today is one of those days.

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On days like this I have to confess I do get a bit agro. I get angry at the unfairness of the gaping gender beauty divide. One image from last year really stuck in my craw. It was Bill Murray on a water taxi in Venice, flanked by two young beautiful women with perfect skin, on his way to the wedding of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. His face resembled mine on a bad day – puffy and red with not a scrap of make-up on. Google it and have a look. Now honestly, if that had been a female actor contemporary of Bill Murray’s up there waving gladly at the world’s press (and good luck gathering more names of women in this category than you can count on the fingers of one hand), it would have been front page news. Imagine Meryl Streep up there with a blotchy puffy face. I can just imagine the headlines.

Bill Murray felt able to ‘go on the adventure’ that day – it looked like a hoot and I reckon everyone probably had a great time. It was stylish, sparkly and shiny – legendary Hollywood glamour. I wonder if he cared about how he looked that day – maybe he did, who knows. Maybe he gave himself a little pep talk before he left the house, we’ll never know, but there is no denying that there was one rule for the men and another for the women. I can’t even conjure up a name of a female in the public eye who would have so confidently set off into one of the most photographed events of the year looking like he did.

But here I am, looking like that today. I don’t have a hollywood wedding to go to (that’s next week) but I do have a presentation to prepare for tomorrow where I might even have to appear on camera. And right at this moment, that fills me with dread. I’m going to have to dig very deep to channel my inner Bill Murray. Wish me luck!

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