January 18th, 2008



When it comes to human faces, I have two marked preferences: I prefer feminine faces to masculine ones, and I prefer women without makeup to women with.

Here's a shot from the BBC Sex ID test which told me I preferred feminine faces. I selected the face on the left as more attractive. And here's a Daily Mail feature entitled "Would you dare to go bare?" which shows women before and after makeup. In every single case, I prefer the before picture.

And -- although I was once paid by a cosmetics commercial to write a song for Kahimi Karie that went "Put some makeup on your face / Make this world a better place" -- I actually couldn't agree less with "Joe" in this Times feature entitled "Giving your makeup a makeover": "I think that all women should wear a little makeup. There is no such thing as an ugly woman, only a lazy one. My wife has a demanding job as a lawyer and has three children under the age of four and still manages to make an effort." Ugly women are only lazy ones -- women who haven't worked hard on their makeup? What preposterous misogyny!

In English we don't really have a positive word ("lazy" doesn't count) for a woman who doesn't wear makeup. In Japan, they do. The word is suppin: a fresh-faced, makeup-free woman. I think all the women I've ever dated have been suppin women. I'm not used to kissing lipstick. It would just feel wrong. The girls I find attractive are girls like this American Apparel ad girl (I think she's Mexican):

I'm not quite sure where my preferences come from. Maybe it's some kind of puritanism. "My [Pakistani] father went mad if he saw even a hint of mascara. Freedom for my friends at university meant trying drugs and drinking. For me, it meant lipstick," says Saira Khan, describing an Islamic fundamentalist upbringing probably not too different from the fundamentalist Calvinist upbringing my father had in Scotland. Then again, maybe it's just good taste.

One thing's for sure. The women spending £1000 a year on cosmetics are wasting a great deal of money if they think all men like it. We don't (although the men making and selling the stuff -- Mr Max Factor, for instance -- must love it).

I asked Hisae if she was wearing any makeup. "No," she said, as if I were crazy even to ask. So who, in Japan, wears makeup? Mostly, H told me, people who work. If you turn up at work without makeup on, the boss is going to think you woke up late and didn't have time to paint your face. Also, some girls refuse to let their boyfriends see them bare-faced. They think that, without that mask, nobody will love them. They're wrong.

I suggest we strike a blow against the cosmetics industry, and against those bullying newspaper features that try to terrorize women into buying makeup. Here's the news: many men think you look much better without it. Those men -- like me! -- believe that a positively-charged word for bare-facedness needs to be introduced, perhaps a loan word from another language (since we don't have one). I suggest suppin.