My Face: a Summer Brennan Essay Camp Write-Along School for Ants Final Essay; or: An Update on My Year of Red
or: why am I always wearing sunglasses in and out of photos?
Here’s what I don’t understand: why can’t university graduates keep their access to academic journals in perpetuity? I dream about access to JSTOR like other people dream of houses or cars, because if I had access to JSTOR again I could read “The Face and Faciality in Medieval French Literature, 1170-1390” by Alice Hazard. Totally the same as a house or a car.
First of all, why that time frame specifically? What makes this time period of face and faciality in medieval French literature different from the preceding and following time periods of face and faciality in medieval French literature?
One of my absolute favourite classes, across both my degrees, was Medieval Legal and Constitutional History in England from 1066 - (I don’t remember the last year, but it was around when the Wars of the Roses kicked off). I know why those years! That is obviously the time span between the Norman conquest of England and the conflict that resulted in the Tudor monarchs! But then again, that is probably only obvious because I took the class.
If I could read “The Face and Faciality in Medieval French Literature, 1170-1390” I would know why those years!
Second of all, what do JSTOR or Medieval France have to do with Summer Brennan’s Essay Camp or My Year of Red? I’m sure you’ve guessed where I’m going with this, yes, that’s right, this is my long-form final essay-slash-update on my self-set challenge to wear red lipstick and nail polish for an entire year. I’ve procrastinated on this essay — therefore also unable to write or post anything else here — long enough that I can justify calling it a mid-year update.
I am strangely, maybe even uncomfortably, proud to report that I have had red fingernails every. single. day. of. the. year. Well, except for the week we went van camping because I knew that if anything major happened to the nail polish it would drive me crazy and would not be a chill time while trying to chill. The day after we got back home they were red again.
The first red I tried was Big Apple Red, from O.P.I. In the beginning I was afraid of it, because it is a colour. A bright colour. After about a month I got a much darker, brown-er, more-my-style-er red. I wore it on my fingers and toes for two weeks and, to my personal shock, I did not like it. I missed the brighter red?
I’ve already had to order a second bottle of Big Apple Red so I guess that part of my challenge has been a success!
The red lips part though…
Giving myself due credit, from January to April if I was up and “ready” my lips were red. And I did keep the rest of my makeup to just eyebrows and concealer. But then I started to want a bit of bronzer for fun, wanted to smudge a brown pencil into my top and bottom lash lines, wanted to wear the most off-putting shade of purple brown on my lips because it’s called “Coffee & Cigs”.
So, I’ve been asking myself why the nails stuck and the lipstick didn’t. The first, obvious, answer is that the once-a-week task of nail painting was easier to keep up with than the all-day-every-day chore of lipstick. But I think there are more complex answers here, having to do with why I set myself this challenge in the first place.
As I sat at my desk with Sex and the City playing as my background music, I couldn’t help but wonder: did I challenge myself to wear red lipstick every day for a year because I wanted permission to ignore the rest of my face?
After all, the idea for My Year of Red came from reading about the power of red nail polish. The lipstick part of the challenge was my own add-on. Probably because I’ve always wanted to be one of those Red Lipstick Women. You know what I mean. And lately, I’ve been feeling like I might be afraid of my own face.
Objection! you exclaim, because we’re in a courtroom drama now. Why would you put red in the middle of your face, an attention attracting colour, if you are, somehow, afraid of your face?
Because! Because, in simply applying lipstick I could look like I know I’m ageing and that I am proud of my unfilled un-botoxed face. Because, while that may be mostly true, the real issue I’m having is that I can’t figure out what to do with my face.
I feel like I don’t recognise my face. I can almost see myself in there, especially if I can muster a genuine smile while standing in front of a mirror having a bit of an existential meltdown, because I have no idea what to do with my face.
I know I don’t want to freeze my giant, oily forehead or fill in my non-existent lips. But everywhere I look all the women in my general age cohort are getting botox as self-care, whether they admit it or not. Fuck, I know of a 23-year-old, that I’ve never even seen — she’s a podcast host and I don’t mix podcasts with visual media — who gets botox REGULARLY.
I know I want to look like myself, and myself is expressive and playful. Of course in idiomatic terms I don’t “feel” 37, but I am 37, so this must be what 37 feels like. (Or else I’m not a real person and we’ve got much bigger problems). I am not trying to ignore my age. So why can’t I find a way to see my face as mine anymore?
Why am I afraid of my face? you ask. Because, I literally don’t know what to do about it!
This essay is about me and my lips and nails and my longing for JSTOR. If this essay were about the society and culture I inhabit, I could go on and on about how awful it is that I feel like my face is a problem to solve. How awful it is that I felt the need to challenge myself like this, taking up an entire year of my one wild and precious life.
How awful it is that I feel like I need to wrap up this essay with some toxic positivity bullshit about love and acceptance.
Instead I’m going to be honest and tell you what I’ve learned after spending half-a-year thinking about this shit: I learned once and for all that I am not a Red Lipstick Woman. That’s it.
I didn’t learn anything more about my face or about why I concocted an elaborate challenge, involving all my readers (all three of you lovely people!), in order to ignore my own face.
I barely learned anything more about how to apply lipstick.
So I am back to pining for access to JSTOR. Because I bet that learning about “The Face and Faciality in Medieval French Literature, 1170-1390” would help me understand my feelings about my own face.
Because they didn’t have botox in medieval France.
Bonus reading quiz: what even was this essay?
A. a lazy attempt at completing Essay Camp so that I can say I completed that challenge?
B. a textual meditation on my own relationship with my face in the context of The Face as a concept?
C. just a self-written permission slip to stop feeling like a failure about my most concerted effort to-date at being a Red Lipstick Woman?
A key aspect of a Red Lipstick Woman, according to me, is that she wears almost no other makeup.
Ibid. Also, I cannot think of a cooler, more classic, more timeless look than Red Lipstick Woman.