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Making up is hard to do

How John Griffiths found himself making up his wife on an advanced Virgin V cosmetics course. But does it qualify as bricolage?

An unguarded comment in the playground about working on a cosmetics research project has got me recruited on to this Virgin V course. I’m still not sure about the details, but here I am with wife dragged along as bemused model.

There are three of us. They have their makeup kits, worth several hundred pounds, which they are still running courses to pay off. I am using the area manager’s kit. The contents look like paint to me but laid out in with surgical precision .

We kick off at a ferocious pace at 8.20pm with an explanation of the five different foundation types - not colours - available. I scribble it all down, getting quizzical looks. Well, tough. I’ll never remember any of it otherwise.

To my relief we are told to use Perfect Balance with sun protection. I start to mix it on the back of my hand with the spatula and apply. I discover this isn’t paint - it’s about texture, and temperature is critical. My beloved looks at me apprehensively - in the manner of a racoon but, of course, the eyes are over an hour away.

On to spot remover, dabbing with the side of the finger (rocking and never squeezing), and Out of Sight, a blemish remover for round the eyes that ‘airbrushes away shadows and wrinkles’. Suburban legend Posh Spice gets a mention: the girl with the bad complexion who made good. Thanks to blemish remover.

Now we’re applying powder, ensuring that it doesn’t cake with the cream and turn into a noxious paste. Blusher goes under the cheekbones and is swept towards the back. I must admit I’m quite getting into this. It’s a lot easier than painting model Spitfires with Humbrol paints. It’s about touch rather than visual precision - my confidence shoots up.

We’re told how to use powder sunshine and bronzes over the blusher. Then I select three complementary shades of eye shadow from a bewildering variety. I poke Karen in the eye, which everyone finds hilarious apart from us. I’m told to treat the skin around her eyes like tissue paper, which it feels very like. I abandon the spatula and use fingers again.

I’d not noticed the way the skin around the eyes has softened. But then I’ve never looked at her face this closely for this long. I’ve known her 18 years and I’m trying to remember how her face has changed since we met. I blend the eyeliner from outside to three quarters in - then the mascara - some repair required from the trainer but I get there.

I get some breathing space to look at the other trainees and their protégées. No one has mentioned the word beauty yet in other than the category sense of the word. It’s all about personal affirmation. I’m bemused by what I perceive as lack of confidence running like a splinter through the talk. Forgive me for being patronising (dear ladies), but insecurity does seem to be the target behind so many products marketed to women.

And now to the lips - I need help finding the best line with the lip pencil. Actually I completely screw up. This occasions even more hilarity - every woman knows how to use a lip pencil. I revert instantly to Terry and June role playing - no man ever got into serious trouble convincing women that he’s a fool. Finally I get to select the right texture and shade of lipstick.

My co-trainees, though being suitably charitable to an interloper, agree that Karen is looking pretty good. I’m offered a job as a trainer on the strength of it. Apparently men who run training courses are worth their weight in gold radiance boost because they tell the truth. Women, on balance, don’t - they’re too busy encouraging each other (their words not mine).

I begin to envisage a new market research methodology. I could make up five women a night. They’d normally give me £50 quid for the makeover. I’d pay them £30 in incentives so I’d be quids in. A whole new format - and it’s so much more relaxing talking while you’re being made up.

I outline this money-spinner to Karen who said quietly: "I’m not sure how I feel about you’re going out two evenings a week to make up other women. It was lovely but quite personal." Which, of course, is exactly what this particular session was about.

So I leave you with a question - was this induction or bricolage? Is it enough to be a doer to understand makeup? Or do you have to be a user?

 

John Griffiths
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2004