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The Discovery of Beauty: A Personal Account

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I like to think of myself as an educated woman: finishing high school was mandatory in my mind, and attending university afterwards was definitely the goal. Despite it being much maligned in some circles, I got a BA. To study the humanities is to learn how people think, what makes society what it is today. To explore the various aspects of existence.

One would assume that a person who has this sort of academic background would know better than to be sucked into marketing hype over the next brand spanking new limited edition lipgloss – especially when it resembles at least a dozen other lipglosses I own…

Wrong. I am not immune.

Despite reading those cultural theorists harp on about Marxism and the oppression of the working classes, or poststructuralism politely informing us grace à Jean Baudrillard that everything has been done before and that the ‘original’ of an object no longer exists rah rah rah, you dangle bath products that resemble sweets, or lip products in the most adorable packaging with a cute yet saucy name and bang! All such learning is blissfully tossed out the window and I’m pulled towards these pretty yet unnecessary things as if by a tractor beam. (You know, like on the classic arcade game Galaga?)

Pretty sad, isn’t it? I figure as long as I’m not in debt and my so-called poison of choice isn’t bad for my health in the way recreational drugs or smoking tobacco etc. is, it’s all peachy… right?

Of course, I wasn’t always a mindless drone in regards to beauty – admittedly I’m exaggerating ever so slightly. My high school years were truly miserable, because my mother was fairly strict and concerned that an interest in anything even hinting at burgeoning sexuality would end up with me sullying the family name.

Beautification, for me, was therefore largely associated with shame and fear, not something to embrace or celebrate. What was the point of bettering one’s appearance at a time when I should have been focussing on my studies? Besides, all that nice girl stuff cost money and I was apparently expensive and wasteful enough, Western-born ingrate that I was.

My blissful transformation began with a little trip back to my birthplace – London – in 2002. I stayed with a family we’d known for as long as I could remember, in Croydon. I became closest to the lady, a woman my mother’s age, and her youngest son. Our bonding was significantly helped by shopping – both browsing and purchasing.

It turned out that my new little brother loved shopping, and not just for himself. It was so much fun going clothes shopping, finding all these nice things that fit me properly, and having the benefit of his opinion. He was extremely patient and had a good eye for this stuff. This was getting to be very… infectious.

It got better – or worse, perhaps? I’d be accompanying my adopted mother into town and one day I stumbled upon my future holy grail: behold… the lipgloss.

I still remember it – it was BeneFit’s 'She Shells', a white compact made to look like a seashell. You flipped the top open to reveal the gloss and on the other side a (fake) black pearl.

“Wow…Nanay, come see this!” I showed her my new find (‘Nanay’ being the Filipino/Tagalog word for ‘mother’). “Look at that packaging, it’s amazing!!!” At least, I’d never seen anything like it.

“D’you want it?”
“Er…no, I was just – “
“No no no, let me get it for you – “
“Um, but really I don’t need it I was just – “
“Be quiet child, you can try it, alright?”

It was out of my hands and you can’t argue with these diminutive Asian mothers – best just to shut up and do as you’re told. I could hear my mother’s disapproval in my mind though she was in a different hemisphere. Secretly… I was ecstatic! From that moment on, trips into Croydon town became a happy occurrence, as did the acquiring of similar such indulgences.

It gradually became clear to me that wearing makeup or paying attention to one’s appearance didn’t necessarily make you vain or shallow – it was another method of self-expression, just like when I played my musical instruments or wrote my silly poetry. It is nice to look good, or feel that you look "passable" but what I fill my brain with will always be of primary importance.

Thus, I come to the aim of this column: a "brainy" person's guide to beauty. It isn’t going to just be discussion on products, but other issues too like the testing of ingredients and/or products on animals (which I personally abhor), what to avoid if you value your health or have sensitive skin, and so on.

I suspect, however, that there will be a good deal of gushing on the best lipglosses ever, or bath salts. Like I said at the beginning, I’m not immune to the marketing ploys of the industry, and I’m willing to admit it. That dratted arts degree was wasted on me after all.

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