Let’s KonMari that clutter of cosmetics and kick the addiction to beauty


All my cosmetic and hair care products. Looks like a lot to me. Plus shampoo, conditioner, and soap.

A poem about my early addiction to makeup. A plea to do a Marie Kondo on the muck on our makeup shelf. Think of the benefits in savings and self esteem! 

A poem about the tyranny of makeup

I wrote “Making Faces” in my 30s, about 40 years ago. I had drifted into an addiction to makeup, especially mascara. I was convinced that with mascara I was beautiful or at least look-at-able, and that without it I was ugly. I even wore mascara in the sea. I only dared to kick the habit when I took a trip to Canada where women walked around naked-faced—and nobody cared.

This poem expresses my loathing for the cultural pressure to conform to a certain stereotype of beauty, which in the 1970s included emphatic eye makeup. (I’ve changed the original layout.)

Making faces

I do not
have a face
I draw one
in the empty space

the wrinkles written
with good cause
are known as flaws
so I anoint my pores

(this is one
of the local laws)

I paint
my eyelids blue
my lashes too
they make a pretty view

to smile and pout
as I have learned
I make a mouth
red, like a burn

I believe
I believe
it is not enough
to be clean

I curl my pubic hair
I wear mascara there

What’s changed in the beauty stakes since the 1970s?

Reading “Making Faces” in 2019, I am horrified because this yukky scenario has changed for the worse.

In New Zealand, the norm for young women is to have longish straight hair in a certain style. (At least this is something that occurs in nature!) But yesterday a friend told me that her 13-year-old granddaughter, keen for a change, got her hair cut short. Result? So much hassle from her classmates that she is now wearing hair extensions. What strength of character it must take for a young woman to express her individuality and resist the pressure!

Watching “Married at first sight, Australia” I discover that for young women to have their boobs done, their lips bloated and regular botox injections is considered normal — just the minimum. Without makeup or body changes, almost every young woman on earth is beautiful, no two ways about it! But all made over and made up, these young women look freaky to an old woman like me, almost like another species. (I wonder whether their lovers blow into the nipple instead of sucking,…) Image-conscious young men have equivalents — for instance, on Korean TV, the beautiful young men have weird little rosebud lips. like they’re sucking lemon sherbet through a marble straw.

I’m all in favour of people wearing whatever they like on their faces, as I do. So what’s changed?

  • Social media and photo technology produce a relentless stream of fantasy images. (Hint: those people in real life do not look like that.)
  • We’re constantly nagged by voices that urge us to be our best selves, to triumph, to win, to succeed, to be better than others. And we apply that message to our perfectly good-enough bodies and faces.
  • Some people make a lot of money telling others how to put on makeup, so that role/job becomes an aspiration.
  • Seductive YouTube makeup videos amplify an obsessive interest in make-up. We might come to believe that we must have morning and evening skin routines that add up to 25 steps and 3 hours of our day.

How many skin and hair products does anyone require?

Time to declutter? I looked at my collection of cosmetics, shown in the photo above. Even though I have two or more lipsticks, serums (what??) and foundations, it’s not a lot by most standards and I use them all occasionally.


Five beauty items that I use every day. Nine days out of ten, that’s the complete routine. Slip slap slop!

But nine days out of ten, I wash my face with soap, I put on a tinted 50+ sunblock, lipstick, maybe blusher, and a grey stick thing on my eyebrows. (I think it’s really an eyeliner…) At night I wash my face again and if I remember, rub on some moisturiser.

I started wearing lipstick and blusher when my skin lost its colour with age. Now I enjoy the redness for fun and drama. My eyelids droop and eyelashes are but a fond memory and my eyebrows squirt where they will, so eye makeup is pointless.

Here’s the thing. If I had done the whole monstrous skin care routine morning and night for the last eight decades, would I look so very different from what I do now? I don’t suppose spending three hours a day on skin care does any harm, but honestly, have you done a cost-benefit analysis?

If I had started modifying my body with plastic surgery and implants and liposuction and Botox at the age of 20, what would I look like now? Would I even be me?

What will the beautiful young people look like at 79?


34 thoughts on “Let’s KonMari that clutter of cosmetics and kick the addiction to beauty

  1. LA says:

    No one is asking kids what’s wrong with the way they are. We’re failing them

  2. cedar51 says:

    well I’m not in the right camp at all – I have a “buzz cut hairstyle” – wear absolutely no makeup not even lippy – but I do sun block cream if I know I’m going to be standing around in glaring sun! I believe there is some old makeup though stashed in an interesting box in the depths of the bathroom cupboard…
    I apparently do not look my age, so maybe the carefree skin stuff has been kind to me – although at earlier points in my life I was just like the young people of today – long hair, makeup…

  3. Sadje says:

    This is a powerful message.

  4. Katrina says:

    Marketers sure know how to play into the cultural pressures we all feel, to ply their perfidious trade. It’s all psychological – mess with our heads enough, and then we’ll buy, buy, buy! I wonder if the women of Canada are still thumbing their noses at the uber-makeup industry? I really try to be objective about what I buy, but I can still feel the lure of a well-marketed item at times.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh yes. The craze for tidying and the minimalist lifestyle are good antidotes.

  5. alison41 says:

    Quite agree with yo9u re the waste of money, time & energy expended on ‘looking good’ or should I say ‘conforming to the current look’. In the 70s I too did the whole thing but age has brought a smidgeon of wisdom & now I don’t bother beyond moisturiser & sunblock (the African sun is strong & harsh) draw in some eyebrows – mine all fell out – a dab of lipstick and there you have it. Take it or leave it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, age does bring common sense on this topic at the very least.

  6. I still use a light foundation and chuckle a bit, because in Seoul last year, I noticed women my age walking along with kind of whitish lines around their chin as their base coat was lighter than their actual skin – and I recognised (although I still persist) that they probably saw me with a darker line on top of my natural skin colour … but anyway, I’ve never worn mascara because I always rub my eyes or found I blinked and it was everywhere. I used to adore bright red lipstick and now I enjoy not wearing it, but if I do, I love a very bright pink.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So we can use makeup in different ways at different stages to express our individual personalities and whims. And a dapt to our changing bodies.

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      My lurking dread is that both my eyesight and judgement will deteriorate to the point where I step out in clown makeup. But if so, hey, worse things have happened.

  7. JOY journal says:

    🙂 Great post, Rachel! In mid-life my facial skin has become so sensitive I pretty much only use food on it. Oats and milk to cleanse. Honey to tone. Olive oil for moisturizer. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, but after a couple of years of this my skin kind of glows. Who knew?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well I never! What an interesting outcome. I bet you look appetizing!. I don’t think cosmetics companies would be pleased, however.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this a LOT. At 77, I still usually use makeup when out in public. I suspect part of the reason is that I still want to look “good” or some such. But I tell myself that…it’s because I don’t want people to look at me and judge all old women by how decrepit I look. So it’s altruistic…Who am I kidding? It’s some of both, I suppose.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s entirely valid as a reason— keep it up! Lipstick makes me feel like me: a bit colourful. I want to enjoy what I do use without guilt — but the bigger questions remain, and there’s a tug of war between individuality and conformity.

  9. Sande Ramage says:

    Interesting conversation and all understandable approaches. I used to struggle terribly with my absorption with cosmetics, especially through the strident feminist 70/80’s! But I’ve come to see make-up, for me and can only speak for me, as an art form. Certainly it acts as a mask in some senses, but masks can be fascinating, able to change and develop and exhibit a unique creative style. the morning routine for me is part of how I care for myself, how I take time to prepare for the world. IN a funny kind of way the routine has its meditative qualities too.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I like that you ask and answer the question “why”, and you have at least three sound reasons. I can understand how the process could be meditative– although not the way I slip slop slap it on. For some women it may be their only moments of self care in the day. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  10. Robyn Haynes says:

    Fillers, silicone, all manner of artifice that keeps the cosmetic industry in business. Bah! Hybrid humans – what is that saying about us? However, a bit of lipstick picks me up.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Lipstick being like clothing for the mouth, not remodelling. I am sensing a theme here.

      1. Robyn Haynes says:

        I recently read stats on the amount of lipstick the average wearer ingests over a year. Can’t remember the figures but it was Horrifying. Especially when you multiply it by my wealth of years. I’ve swapped to an organic one with no apparent nasties in it.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Good move. I have noticed that lipstick accrues beneath my shower mat…

      3. Robyn Haynes says:

        No! Really? Who would have thought …

  11. Margy says:

    I haven’t worn make-up since high school. It seems like the emphasis on make-up has been going on for an awful long time!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well done! It’s like coffee I think: good in light doses.

  12. Makeup ended with high school for me, too. College was the beginning of my feminist/hippie self, which I’ve apparently never outgrown.

    Every once in a very long while, I will think of wearing some makeup, but when I find it under the sink, it is all so old that I think it is probably poisonous! I’ve never been able to stand the feeling of having lipstick on my lips. And I always rub mascara to a place under my eyes that makes me look like a raccoon.

    I just feel like: what’s the point? This is how I look, take it or leave it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Chuck out that toxic old muck now! There comes a moment where makeup makes us look worse, not better, don’t you think? And before that moment, every woman on earth looks beautiful with a naked face. I know this even though I persist with the lipstick: but I do this for fun. The addiction is cured. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

      1. I say, “Do what you want!”

  13. toutparmoi says:

    I found make-up briefly fun when I was at university, but opted for the natural look in the 1970s. It wasn’t entirely natural, because it involved moisturiser (which made my skin feel good), eyeshadow and eyeliner, but that was about it. That’s pretty much what I’ve stuck with – though less eye-shadow and/or liner these days. Clothing for the eyes?

    Mascara wasn’t an option – it used to drop off my lashes and get under my contact lenses. Ouch!

    I think make-up is a phase most of us go through, and an expensive one at that. But the plastic surgery, the implants – that’s chilling. It seems more like a form of socially acceptable self-mutilation.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      They do seem worlds apart to me. Since reading your comment I have been looking closely at women in Wellington and my guess is that 50% at most wear makeup and it’s often minimal. We’re a casual lot.

  14. toutparmoi says:

    I think that’s true of most women in many parts of the world. Full make-up, ultra-high heels and elaborate forms of clothing, are a form of fancy dress, only worn on special occasions if you can be bothered.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I hope that’s true. But I have been places where it’s almost compulsory.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I never wore makeup except for very very special occasions(weddings.) I came of age when no makeup was the norm. At 71 I use sun screen moisturizer. I am appalled by the new “standard” for women’s private parts. Pornography has taken a toll for sure. Women are apparently ashamed to see the ob-gyn without waxing!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That last point seems freaky to me also. What a change.

      1. Elizabeth says:

        Pretty distressing.

  16. lynmacgtn says:

    I’ve never really been into make up, because a) I didn’t know how to use it properly and didn’t want to look like a freak, and b) I couldn’t be bothered. When my daughter got married her lovely make up artist showed me how to use the basics which was fun after all those years. Sadly, I still can’t really be bothered.

    All my daughters and most of their friends know how to use make up but only bother with the basics mostly, so maybe not all young women are make-up obsessed? In fact most of the young women I know don’t appear to wear much make up – or maybe they’re very good at applying just enough to look natural? Or perhaps I just mix in the “wrong” circles?

    But all this isn’t really new, is it? Think of all the hideous fashions, body shapes and adornments that people have adopted over the centuries. The poisons that used to go into face powder and lipstick – both for women and men. The piercings, the tattoos, the rings on the neck, the corsets… no matter what culture you think about you can find people following social norms and doing strange things as a result.

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