Ok So I Took Off My Make-up, Then…

Day 1: I usually start my Sundays with a random rant on Channel 9’s Girls on the Grill. (How would you like your feminism this morning. Lightly fricasseed…?) But today is somewhat different. The producers want to talk about a feature story I wrote for Fairfax, one year on from a TEDxSouthBankWomen talk in which I deconstruct the beauty myth.  I ask the producer whether I can appear on set, straight from the shower. (With clothes on, of course. No one needs to see THAT.) After several sessions of counselling from gorgeous George in the hair and makeup department (“Are you sure you want to do this? Can I just do something with your hair? Wow, OK, good on you!”) I’m on air feeling relaxed and happy, without my mask. Which is a good thing. Because when the host asks whether I’m “brave or just lazy”, I don’ t tear off his head and vomit down his throat, which is my first instinct. I simply explain the burden borne by working women to appear in a certain way: a burden not borne to the same degree by men. The right-wing woman to my left then makes a joke about Bob Marley hiding in my armpit.

Day 2: The producer of 702 ABC Drive calls to ask for an interview. I fall off the couch, almost landing on the dog. You see, this is the show hosted by Richard Glover. I LOVE HIM. The thought of doing this makes me want to simultaneously throw up in my mouth and jump for joy. (Kids, don’t do this at home: it is a choking hazard.) Then, the phone rings hot (this is a statement of fact, rather than an expression, thanks to mobile technology). A female producer from Radio 3AW says she’s convinced her host at the male-dominated station to do an interview because, “this is an important discussion for women”, before a decidedly disinterested Tom Elliot does his duty. This prompts one solitary tweet: “Why would you listen to her? She supports terrorists by wearing the hijab.” (For the record, that wasn’t me.) Two fab fellas on Mackay radio rave about how they’re going to show my article to their wives, mothers and daughters, while the Media Report on ABC Radio National delves into the different treatment of men and women on television. And yes, for the record, Richard’s interview is – well – sigh.

Day 3: Today, I get a call from Newstalk radio in Ireland. As it’s about ‘women’s issues’, I hope we don’t stray into the territory of the country’s strict abortion laws. But Pat Kenny turns out to be lovely, finishing with, “As a father of two daughters, this is an extremely valuable message”. It warms the cockles of my heart. Not so the BBC interview later that evening which, after several disputed starts due to the time difference, is a total of two minutes before crashing into the news, mid-sentence. I decide to go into the ‘Tardis’ at the ABC for my next international interview because a) the audio quality is better b) you’re given more time and c) I might run into Mr. Glover…

Day 4: OK, confession time: I am a Francophile wanker. Roquefort, rillettes, vin rouge – you name it, I’m into it. So I almost fall off the lounge again when I receive this email from Anais, a young woman I met while travelling last year. “Hope you’re doing well. You’re doing the buzz in France right now!” She includes links to the Le Huff Post and French Elle. FRENCH ELLE. I forward this to my long-suffering hair and makeup artist: “Who woulda thunk? Ya gotta take your makeup OFF to appear in French Elle!” A post to this effect on Facebook elicits a number of responses including, “Er, you’d better translate those stories before you brag about them. They might be saying your new look is tres terrible!”

Day 5: I use a free translation app to read the stories. This is a mistake. Here is a word-for-word account of the French Elle article: “Tracey Spicer has the clicks (I think they mean the ‘shits’) when his (what, do I look like a man without makeup?) daughter of seven years asked him, “Why women put makeup and not the men?” It goes on to describe me removing my “dress catsuit” which makes me feel all Eartha Kitt. Which I don’t regret. “Non, rien de rien; Non, je ne regrette rien!” I start singing. Then I get a friend, who’s studying French, to do a proper translation. The comments are fascinating, reflecting a Gallic distaste for over-grooming. This, from Le Huff Post: “A masked woman reflects under no circumstances her true personality, because she hides behind the make up to seem “more beautiful” and is not able to be fulfilled as such, since as soon as they are without make-up they feel naked, bland and tasteless and above all don’t want to be seen without make-up, what a shame, often a smile is enough to make you beautiful ladies!” And, in Elle: “She seems more radiant without make-up. And to be natural, is not to say to not be well-groomed! It is the excess of make-up which is unseemly, covering up truly is a dishonesty of some kind. And the systemic plastering is rather laughable.”


Day 6: This morning, a woman walks up to me in the gym: “Thank you so much for your article,” she says. “I have a daughter in her 20s and none of her friends are into all that, thank God. But I work in retail, and a big chunk of my salary is spent on grooming. It’s not fair.” Of the thousands of emails, tweets and facebook messages I receive, from women and men, several stand out. One is from a woman whose self-image was “destroyed” by growing up in Southern California, which she says is “brutal to girls”. Another is from a 57-year-old who suffers from Gulf War Syndrome, making her allergic to cosmetics: ” As I have shed my former made-up life and trappings, I have become comfortable in my own skin. I have two daughters, aged 19 and 22, who think I am disgusting when I grunge around, but I like to show them a woman does not have to be bound with limitations and expectations. I laughed one day when I ran through the house naked to grab a towel and my daughter caught a glimpse of me and said, ‘Oh Mum. If I wanted to see bush, I’d go to the National Park’. Ha!” However one woman wasn’t convinced: “Can I just say, if that is how your’e going to look, get ready for your husband to start looking at other women, who do put in an effort. Ultimately you will come across as a bushpig.” An email from an academic puts it into context: “While your article shines a light on women and gendered expectations the media and society place on appearance, even when Karl (whathischops) wears a blue suit for the whole year – it is the gendered expectations on women which is highlighted, not men. Men’s gender (and power) continues to go unanalysed.” A 73-year-old woman laments the lost time spent, “putting on my face”. And this, from a women in her 20s: “Thank you for giving me permission to appear as I truly am. Like it or lump it!!!”

Day 7: I venture into the Tardis to do an interview with a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show called The Current. The lovely lady setting up the system talks about her decision to revert to her natural hair colour. She soon went back to blonde. “Look, I know it costs a fortune, and is a waste of time, but I’m not ready to go grey just yet!” she laughs. We discuss how much time and energy we spend, as women, thinking about this stuff. The interview with Anna Maria Tremonti follows a similar theme: society’s unreasonable expectations about how a woman should look. We talk about Australia following the American trend towards real-life Barbie dolls on our TV screens.  The interview is a huge hit, because there’s nothing better than bagging out America to the Canadians. Sadly, I leave without seeing Richard Glover. I’m somewhat shocked to discover my year-old TEDx talk has reached the one million mark. Who would have though taking off my clobber in front of that many people would become a career highlight? It’s a funny old world.


* Cover image a screen grab from the French Huffington Post