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Sali Hughes is pretty honest
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Sali Hughes is pretty honest
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Sali Hughes is pretty honest
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“If a woman has any interest in surface she is immediately perceived to have no depth. I find it really, really offensive.”
Conversations
1 May 2015

Sali Hughes is pretty honest

Interview by Berry Liberman
Photography by Siddharth Khajuria

Berry Liberman on Sali Hughes

Sali Hughes is one of the most powerful women in the beauty business. Her famous column in the Guardian has become a grooming bible for millions of women around the world. From Chanel to Boots, Sali has the vast universe of beauty products landing on her doorstep to be trialled and tested in her modest Brighton bathroom.

If she recommends a product it can sell out in days. You would expect then that Sali is a coiffed, plucked and plumed exemplar of beauty perfection. On the contrary. When we meet at Melbourne’s centre for secular philosophy The School of Life, she arrives looking like the pretty, smart, normal working mother that she is. That’s why we love her. She’s one of us, only with an insider’s knowledge of the minefield that is make-up.

It wasn’t until a colleague handed me Sali’s book Pretty Honest and I read the deeply moving chapter about make-up and illness that I understood something about my own prejudices. “Anyone who dismisses beauty and make-up as an irrelevant pursuit by the vain not only knows nothing about women but has zero understanding of the complex effects of illness.” She writes openly about the role beauty can play in lifting the spirit when our minds or bodies are doing it tough. Beauty, she reminds us, has an important place in life and does not preclude a capacity for thoughtfulness, compassion or empathy.

Despite her daily deep dive into glamorous tubs of body creams, Sali’s journey has been one of resilience and hard work. Leaving home at 15, she found herself in London, pretending to be older, working as a make-up assistant in the heady world of fashion. Hungry to learn and needing to support herself, she gradually worked her way through the ranks as both journalist and make-up artist in the days when gumption and a solid work ethic were all you needed to do well. It was a random tweet that would change everything. In it, Sali admonished the poor state of the Guardian’s beauty column (a paper she already worked for) and promptly received a call from the editor asking her if she thought she could do better. It turned out she could.

Some argue you’re not a feminist if you wear make-up. For Sali, make-up is a woman’s rightful playground. It helps us return to ourselves in times of loss, grief and fear. Yes it can be perverted by the greed of commercial interests, but at its core, make-up has always spoken of female power and pride—a way to claim personal identity, to be and express our innermost fantasies in a safe and fun outward display. Importantly and most movingly for me, Sali points out that there is a great injustice in women being judged for caring about what shade of lipstick they wear—as if that would exclude them from having a compassionate engagement with the world. She talks to real women with real, messy lives, navigating the joys and pitfalls of motherhood, singledom, work, love, sex and ageing. In the days before bra burning, a woman was expected to look a certain way. Today it’s a choose-your-own adventure and thank goodness for that.

This story originally ran in issue #43 of Dumbo Feather

BERRY LIBERMAN: I love the title of your book: Pretty Honest. Explain to me what’s honest about your work and this journey you’ve been on.

SALI HUGHES: Okay. So I’m a journalist and have been a journalist for the best part of 20 years. And I only ever wanted to be a journalist. However, I ran away from home when I was very young and I couldn’t legally work as a journalist, and even if it had been legal, there was no chance I was going to work as one at that point. I managed to meet quite a well-known make-up artist of the day in a bar. Her name was Lynne Easton. I knew a lot about beauty purely as a hobby. It was just something I’d always instinctively known how to do—my grandmother and mother were very well-groomed and proud. And I got talking to this woman about make-up and I said I was looking for work and she said, “Do you want to be my assistant? My current assistant is really annoying.”

[Laughs].

And I said, “Yes, absolutely.” At this point I’m not sure she knew how young I was. Maybe she thought I was 18. I was actually 15.

You’re living on your own in London?

No, so I’m living with a man. Like, literally a man— my boyfriend who’s in his twenties. And his flatmate Julia. Can I just say, I’m not in any way advocating this. It was mental. It is so not ideal and I would have a nervous breakdown if this was one of my kids.

[Laughs].

Anyway, a couple of days later she calls me back and says, “We’ve been booked on a Lindt chocolate commercial for Asia and the Middle East.” So at 15 I scrabble together my make-up and borrow some from my boyfriend’s flatmate, and I turn up at the shoot. And there are 40 extras. And each extra has to be made up like a Hollywood icon of the past, so one of them is Marilyn Monroe, one is Jayne Mansfield, Liz Taylor, James Dean and so on. And that’s my job for the next two days.

And did you just fake your way through it?

Completely. She told me off a couple of times, quite rightly so, but not in any severe way. And I got paid 70 pounds per day. Which was so much money. I had never had that much money in my life. I did this for a couple of years but still had absolutely no intention of wavering from becoming a journalist. I did that to make money. And eventually I got bits of work experience in magazines.

Were you writing?

Yes, not for publication, but for pleasure the way I always had. Then I got a gig at Loaded magazine, which was a men’s magazine in the ’90s and is now actually a really crap tits-and-arse magazine. But in those days there were men on the cover and it was really funny. Sorry, I’m aware this is a very convoluted answer.

It’s alright.

My life’s been kind of weird so I find it difficult to answer these questions in a satisfyingly short way.

[Laughs]. So you go from being this “rapscallion,” to use an old word…

Yeah, I was a bad girl. I was out all the time and looked like jailbait. And I had a much older boyfriend. I used to go to clubs where lots of people were taking drugs—although I wasn’t I have to say, generally. And because my uncle ran nightclubs I spent my teenage life hanging out with Leigh Bowery and Michael Clark and Bananarama. I have this really clear memory when I was 12 of going to charity shops with Leigh Bowery and him getting me to try old ladies’ shoes on and us laughing. I had no concept then what an honour and privilege that was.

So how come you left home?

I was just really unhappy. I was in love with a man—I thought I was anyway. And my mother and I had never got on at all. She left when I was a toddler. I grew up with my dad, and then we moved in with my mum much later on and it never really got off to a good start. So I ran away from home with 20 pounds that I borrowed from my brothers.

It’s almost Dickensian.

It sounds so farfetched but this is genuinely what happened. I had a 20-pound note. And my train ticket was 12-pounds-50 I think. So I had seven-pounds-50 left when I arrived in London.

It seems you’ve had to foster a really strong work ethic—you know, head down, bum up—to get to where you are.

I worked really hard. I still work really hard. And I think the truth of it is I work incredibly hard because I feel I only have myself to rely on. I have never been one of those people who feels like if the shit comes down, mum will help out, dad will help out. I don’t have that. I feel completely on my own. I’m not lonely, I love my friends, I love my boyfriend, I love my children. But I’m completely self-sufficient. I am going to have to sort the shit out, and that’s how I feel all of the time. And now I have my kids relying on me. So there’s an added pressure.

I love how you can be strong and ambitious and hardworking, and then kind and generous and open as well.

I think that’s true. At least I hope that’s true. I hate mean. Really hate it. And I hate the way it’s become kind of cool to be this cynical mean person in fashion and beauty and on television and in the media. I just don’t like it. As a journalist—and you’ll know this as well as I do—it’s much harder to write really nicely about something and not make it boring than it is to hammer into it. However, I struggle with being thought of as a kind of touchy-feely, bleeding heart.

This story originally ran in issue #43 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #43 of Dumbo Feather

I mean, I am honest. I am kind—I hope. But it’s not that I’m a lovely person who always does things beautifully and thoughtfully because I am perfect—I just think that it will cost me if I’m not. It’s stupid to be any other way.

I think you’re really thick if you’re not being straight with readers and YouTube viewers because you will get busted and it will cost your brand, it will cost you money, it will cost you work. So from my point of view it’s business sense. And that’s not cynical.

It’s self-serving? [Laughs].

Yeah! It’s the survival instinct.

So we’re going to fast-forward. You go from being this savvy 15 year old working your arse off to working on magazines to becoming beauty editor at the Guardian.

I was features writer for a very long time. And then as I got older and quite well known I was mainly writing columns. That’s still probably 70 percent of my output today. Then one day I was on Twitter and completely innocently said, “The beauty page in the Guardian is a scandal.”

[Laughs].

And I was a writer on the Guardian! A girlfriend of mine who’s a columnist on The Times replied, “Oh my God, yes it’s so, so bad.” And then quite a few female celebrities replied, “That page is so terrible.” Anyway there was a bit of a storm about it on Twitter and I got an email from the editor of the supplement the next day saying, “Do you think you could do better?” And I said, “Yes I do.” So I went in and she said, “What’s wrong with it?” And I said, “If you know nothing about beauty it teaches you nothing. And if you do know about beauty it’s kind of laughing at you.” And she said, “How do you think it should be?” And I said, “I think you should credit your readers with intelligence, and it’s perfectly fine for women to be clever and love lipstick. Nobody else writes beauty like this. It’s about time someone did.”

I’m just going to repeat what you said: “It’s perfectly fine for women to be clever and love lipstick.”

Absolutely. I mean why wouldn’t it be? I find it very weird that this is even a thing, but it is something I encounter every day.

I think the reason most women find the feminist conversation around make-up and fashion confronting is because the market tells us we will never be enough. We need the Clarins lipstick and the Chanel bag, we need to consume. Then we get to a certain point in our adulthood hopefully where we have a sense of ourselves. And make-up can become a celebration of who we are, but it’s like a minefield. I’ve got no idea how to engage with beauty without the vanity. It’s challenging stuff.

I agree. I agree with everything you said. I think people—understandably—conflate beauty with the beauty industry. They’re not the same thing. I absolutely abhor battery farming; it doesn’t mean I’m going to hate cooking. The beauty industry is hugely problematic for a million reasons, many of which you’ve just mentioned and a million more. There are good people within it, but there’s so much shit. I mean I work in it. It’s often a nightmare. But beauty is not the same thing. Beauty and grooming is absolutely innate. It is the way we’re wired. People have worn make-up for 6000 years. Men only stopped 200 years ago. Before commerce was involved, before industry was involved, before any of those extremely dodgy things you just mentioned were involved, we were already doing it.

I think the main problem I have with the assumption that women who love beauty and fashion are terribly stupid is it suggests a woman has such tunnel vision that she can’t possibly be interested in things that engage her on different levels—that she can only worry her pretty little head with one thing at a time. Nobody says to a man who is into wine tasting, “Why isn’t he reading a book instead?” That just doesn’t happen to men. But women are completely defined by our interests and there is no allowance made whatsoever for the fact that we can be completely engaged in world events, politics, and actually quite like doing our hair nicely. People say to me all the time, “There are more important things in the world than make-up you know?” It’s like, “Well duh, yeah, of course there are!” There are an infinite number of more important things in the world. Why are you telling me that as though I couldn’t have any concept of it?

If a woman has any interest in surface she is immediately perceived to have no depth. I find it really, really offensive.

So this vanity versus beauty question. How does it play out in your mind, where do we cross the line?

Well, I don’t really have a problem with vanity to be honest. I think whatever floats your boat. I mean, I am deeply unvain for most of the week I have to say.

Deeply unvain?

[Laughs]. Yeah, for most of the week I look like complete crap because I’m generally sitting in my pyjamas writing. I don’t mind vanity, as long as it’s not at the expense of your character and your kindness towards others.

I agree. When I think of all the amazing on the amazing older women I know…

Oh my god! I literally run after old ladies who look amazing on the street. I have to tell them! Because they’re being so creative. We need to get away from beauty being about “pretty”—it’s part of your style and that level of self-expression is really important. But also I get fed up with people telling me—generally men telling me in a very slow voice on social media—why beauty is a terrible thing and why it’s so anti-feminist and so on. I find it quite patronising. The vast majority of women I know are not saying, “Oh my god I need plastic surgery to look like Angelina Jolie.” They’re so not. The vast majority of women want to look like themselves, only better. And I cannot see the problem with that.

I love that.

I genuinely feel sorry for men. Genuinely. What the hell are they going to do? Shave? Like, there’s nothing.

[Laughs].

It’s shit! There’s no expressing. They’ve just got boring hair and a bit of facial hair to mess around with and boring clothes and like, it sucks to be them.

It’s funny because I’ve got two boys and one girl.

I’ve got two boys.

You’ve got two boys! And boys’ clothes are shit.

Yeah. They really are.

And when I had my daughter I said to my husband, “You can’t hold me back.”

Yeah, “let’s go.”

Exactly. So it brings up two issues that I really want your thoughts on. How do we model behaviour around make-up to our children? Especially our daughters. My daughter is five and she looks at me and says, “Why do you have to look pretty when you go out Mum?” She actually asks me that question.

That’s really sobering. Look, it’s challenging. My best friend has an eight-year-old girl who came home from school one day and said, “I’m fat.” She’s not fat, not that that’s the issue, but it’s a very difficult time to bring up girls. Saying that, I was born in 1975 and I know lots of women my age who have really strange views about beauty that I don’t have. When I talk to them about their upbringing, I can see things they experienced that I just didn’t. And I think we can learn from that. One is that it’s really, really bad to criticise yourself in front of your children, in front of girls especially. I know lots of women who are constantly on diets and constantly complaining about how fat they are in front of their little girls. And when their little girl says something along those lines, mother says, “Oh no, you’re perfect!”

Perfect’s got to go. Like, perfect is not a compliment at this point. Perfect is really setting your kid up for a fall.

I think, don’t make value statements about yourself in front of your children, about your own appearance, and don’t make value statements about them. Even if it’s positive.

Of course you should tell your kids they’re beautiful. But try not to make it a specific, qualitative thing based on appearance. I will say to my kids, “Oh my god, look at your face, it’s so beautiful!” But I would never say, “Your eyes are perfect, look how long your legs are.”

But it’s the self-reflection in the mirror that’s a problem too.

It’s the self-reflection and I think slagging yourself off in front of your kids that’s really damaging. Partly because they’re your DNA and you’re slagging them off indirectly. But also you’re saying, “I’m not worthy because my arse is too big,” or whatever it is. It’s really damaging. The other thing that’s important is not teaching your kids, whether they’re boys or girls, that make-up is to make you look better, to improve, to conceal. It should be, make-up is fun! I think I was probably in my late teens, early twenties when I realised that I could cover something up or that actually I looked slightly prettier with make-up. Before that it was like a sketch-board. I did whatever the hell I wanted, and I actually think parents are really influential in this way. My mother never said, “Take that crap off your face.” I could do whatever I wanted and I think that’s really important. I had lightning bolts down my face. I looked ridiculous.

That’s proper.

That’s when you’re meant to look crazy. Because you’re pushing boundaries, exploring your identity, discovering all these influences—in my case David Bowie. And Madonna. And I think it’s really important to let your kids do that and not say, “Oh, you know you’d look prettier if you took this off.” No! Just let them get on with it. My youngest son, who’s seven and a half, loves nail polish. He’s obviously not allowed to wear it to school, but during holidays and on weekends, if it’s raining, I get loads of colours out and we choose the colours and I do his nails and he absolutely loves it.

It’s interesting you say that because my baby boy, who’s two, has got a thing for tutus, and the other day he wore it to crèche because he refused to put on anything else. He was in a purple full-piece tutu thing. And when I got to crèche I said, “He’s got a change of clothes in his bag if that happens, but otherwise leave him be.” He came home in the tutu.

Oh bless his heart!

People have been quite amazing in their responses to it. Like, really positive. But then as boys get older…

Yes, this is what I was about to say. So my eldest is almost 10 and he used to love nail polish. And now would absolutely rather die. Because of peer pressure. I think that’s really sad. So for the narrow window of opportunity you have, you should absolutely send them to school in the tutu. You should let them put lipstick on their cheeks, because they are free. They are mentally free. And they should just play with this stuff. Have fun with it. Get it all out. Sit on the floor with them, do each other’s faces.

I think it’s really important for kids to see make-up as a form of expression and I think you’re really setting them up for success if you do.

It’s so refreshing hearing you speak about it like that. But I see how the wires get crossed too—I’m going back to women now. And how the industry encourages so much self-loathing.

Absolutely. Things get really, really conflated. My view is you can only clean up your side of the street. So I just make sure that in my writing I never criticise or slag off the way women look. I always turn down TV interviews where they say, “Will you come on and say how terrible women look in fake tan?”

What’s the Sali Hughes way of writing about fake tan?

Well, I have written about fake tan many times. My general view is if you’re one of these women who can slap it on while they’re watching TV and look like they’ve been dipped in caramel, fantastic. But most of us just can’t do that. Most of us have flaky bits and streaky bits, it doesn’t develop properly on us. I would say get a wash off. Wash offs are amazing! I never do self-tan.

Right! What’s one of the best responses you’ve ever had to your column?

Oh. I get so many. The most emotional responses are either from people who’ve had really terrible skin their whole life and have started reading the column and now their skin is great. And that is life- changing. It is. If you’ve had problem skin forever, to not have problem skin anymore is life-changing. So when people write to me and say, “That chapter in my life was really long and it’s over,” I’m overjoyed. Because I know the difference that can make. Quite often I get letters from women who have gone through serious illnesses like cancer saying, “You’ve made me feel myself again when everything seemed fucked.”

I found that chapter in your book, “Beauty in Illness” really, really moving. In the opening you say: “Anyone who dismisses beauty and make-up as an irrelevant pursuit by the vain not only knows nothing about women but has zero understanding of the complex effects of illness.”

Yeah. I so completely thank God I have never been seriously ill. I so completely get why for some women beauty is the rock, it is the constant, it is the thing that makes them feel able to cope. I was talking to my friend who had bone cancer. She’s the reason I wrote the book actually. And I interviewed her and she said that one of the reasons make-up and skincare had been so important to her when she was undergoing treatment and feeling very ill—I mean, there were many reasons—but one of them was like, “I’m a really, really private person and I don’t want to advertise the general state of my health to everyone who sees me in the street. I’m not ashamed by my cancer, but also I refuse to be defined by it.” And I really understood that. She had bone cancer in her leg and the doctors told her that the tumour was too big and they were going to have to amputate her leg. She was 29.

Shit.

And she told me she was having her leg amputated and I was just, “Oh, Jesus Christ,” like, fucking awful situation. Before she went into theatre the doctor said, “Okay, so when you come out of theatre you’re going to be able to feel your leg. And we will take you through physical therapy until you don’t feel it anymore, but don’t be bewildered by that.” So she came out of surgery and she could, of course, feel her leg. And she daren’t look. And she was coming round from her general anaesthesia and the doctor came over and said, “Have you looked?” And she said, “No,” and he said, “We got there and realised we could save the leg. We’ve saved your leg.” They’d taken a huge chunk from her leg and reconstructed with plates and so on. But they’d saved her leg. And when she came out of hospital she told me exactly what I’ve just said to you, and I was crying, and I was like, “What the fuck do you do when you’re told you’re going to lose your leg and you wake up and you haven’t lost your leg?” She said, “I painted my toenails.” And I completely understood. My leg. My toes. I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to paint them pink and I’m going to look at them ‘cause this is normal for me. This feels right for me.

A hundred percent. That’s what I would want to do. A hundred percent.

Makes total sense, right?

I can’t remember who it is, but there’s a beautician who goes into refugee camps where women have been for a long time, and she sets up these mobile beauty salons. And the women are taught to give each other manicures and pedicures, which brings them them so much joy. And for many it’s the first time they have been touched in this way in a long time.

Yeah. The same applies to Kids Company in the UK which is this most amazing children’s charity. For kids who have been abused, neglected, haven’t been washed for months and have absolutely nothing and they go to Kids Company and one of the first things they get is a massage. Because these kids either have never been touched or are frightened of being touched. Another example, have you read the Diaries of the Liberation of Belsen? It’s the most moving thing in the whole world. When Belsen death camp was liberated by the British Army, a Red Cross official had to write the diaries of the liberation. And when the care packages came, the surviving women—and I say surviving lightly, walking skeletons—before they ate or drank they put on red lipstick from the care packages.

No way.

You must read it. It’s the most extraordinary passage and it’s written very coldly by a man who’s completely overwhelmed by it, who doesn’t understand it, but then as he’s writing he’s saying, “For the first time these women are themselves again.”

Shit, shit, shit.

Because obviously Jews in death camps were completely stripped of all human identity until they felt less than human. Just vermin and a number. And I completely get why in that moment taking control of your body again, taking control of your face again and slapping on an identity feels like making yourself feel human again. It is completely moving. I think anybody who says, “Oh we’re so under the patriarchy, we’re doing all this stuff ‘cause men are telling us to.” Try telling that to certain women in the Middle East who are forbidden to have beauty treatments, and risk arrest by doing it anyway. There are massive, massive problems within beauty. And of course there are patriarchal problems, and a great deal of sexism.

But there is so much about beauty and vanity that has nothing to do with men. And I actually find it sexist that people refuse to acknowledge it.

It reminds me of being 19 or 20 and wearing red lipstick for the first time—feeling really empowered by it.

I could literally write a whole book on red lipstick. Politically, sociologically. It’s so loaded with meaning. It’s pretty much the only beauty product that is so completely about you and not about anybody else.

But it terrifies a lot of women.

It terrifies more men.

Ha.

Men are totally scared of red lipstick, which is why it’s so great. Like, I love it. Absolutely love it.

Amazing. It brings me to something of the same vein but slightly more challenging, which is plastic surgery. I wrote a column a few years ago after I had my daughter about my real desire for plastic surgery.

What did you want to get done?

Boobs.

Did you breast-feed?

Yeah. I breast-fed three kids for 15 months each.

Me too. My tits are screwed.

So plastic surgery, for a lot of women, changes lives. They can do things and go places and be in places they couldn’t before. It’s so hard ‘cause, as I said in the article, “My daughter’s going to get older and I’m going to say ‘yeah, it’s fine to put yourself under a knife on a table.” And yet I’m not opposed to it.

I’m not opposed to it. I’ve had plastic surgery. I had my ears done when I was 23. And it was life-changing.

What do you mean you had your ears done?

So when I was growing up I had really big earlobes and I was teased about them at school.

Okay.

I never wore my hair in a ponytail. And I asked my parents if I could get my ears cut off. It was ridiculous. I hated them. So when I was maybe 23 I was interviewing a plastic surgeon for Marie Claire magazine and he said, “Would you ever have anything done?” I said, “The only thing I would have done doesn’t exist.” He was like, “What?” And I said this. I said, “My father asked the doctor when I was little and he said it didn’t exist.” And the plastic surgeon said, “Your dad was being nice. It’s the easiest operation in the world. It’s the most straight-forward procedure ever.” I was like, “No!” [Laughs].

[Laughs].

I was in and out in 40 minutes or something. But that’s the only thing I’ve had done.

It’s interesting how we are really led to believe that everyone’s having loads of plastic surgery when they are so not.

‘Cause you have these kind of freak shows on the red carpet who’ve clearly had 20 things done and look insane. We’re so used to seeing that stuff that we’re under the impression everyone’s doing it. The thing about plastic surgery addiction is that it has as much to do with beauty as anorexia has to do with weight—not very much. It’s a serious form of OCD. It’s a mental illness. It is something that can never be fixed with weight or with looks. Now there are irresponsible surgeons who will continue to do the work, and people look insane, and we see their madness on their faces, which you obviously don’t see with lots of other mental illnesses. But it is so much more complex than being told we need to look prettier. Of course that has an impact and of course I’m concerned about young people having plastic surgery more often. But the vast majority of women will never have plastic surgery. And of those who do, overwhelmingly they will have one thing done. I am one of them. I have no intention of having any other form of plastic surgery. I feel completely fine about other people doing it. What alarms me more is how unregulated it is.

Unregulated?

I don’t know what it’s like here. But you can get Botox in a hair salon in Britain. I find that extremely alarming.

It is alarming.

I always think the problem with celebrities is not plastic surgery, it’s the deception. There are three things celebrities could do that would absolutely change your life and my life tomorrow. They should admit they have childcare, stop pretending they don’t have childcare. They should admit they’ve had plastic surgery and stop pretending they haven’t. And they should admit they diet like hell to have those bodies. If they stopped lying about those three things, women would feel so much better. It’s the dishonesty. Stop pretending you don’t have a nanny ‘cause the rest of us are feeling like shit. Stop pretending that’s your natural face. Stop pretending you eat like a pig and you have that body. “Oh, I’m just a busy working mum running around.” Oh fuck off. You don’t eat. I understand the massive pressure they’re under, but it’s this circle of deception I don’t like. I’ve interviewed so many Hollywood actresses and you sit across the table from them and they make this grand gesture of ordering chips. And then they eat one just so you can write in the piece that they ordered chips. It’s fine to say you eat salad all the time.

Actually there was an amazing article, I think in Vanity Fair, of Baryshnikov who’s in his fifties or sixties and the journalist wrote about how he orders the salad with no dressing at lunch. And he said, “What do you think? I am a professional dancer. I need to have a perfect body that is functioning at optimum.”

Exactly, people take the piss out of Gwyneth Paltrow— because obviously she’s quite easy to take the piss out of—but at least she eats macrobiotic food and openly admits that she doesn’t have any carbs, she doesn’t eat this, that and the other.

So really it’s about giving ourselves a break and being honest with one another.

And acknowledging that you’re in a privileged position and letting other women know that. That there is a whole lifestyle that goes with looking like Gwyneth Paltrow that most of us don’t have. And I think when people are lying and pretending, “Yeah I can look after my three kids and be a famous film star and travel around the world, and I just look like this ‘cause I have good genes and I drink lots of water,” it’s not helpful. You know? It’s not helpful.

There was another chapter in your book that I loved. It was on same-sex couples getting married.

Yes, in the bridal chapter I mention it. Which is obviously talking about nice beauty looks for getting married when you’re the bride, but if you have two brides, which happens a lot in the UK, that requires its own section because in no other wedding will you have two lots of make-up to think about.

It just makes you have more understanding and compassion. Like how you also say in your column, “Stop sending me products just for white people!”

Yeah, where is the diversity? Beauty is not problematic. What is hugely problematic is having only one “type” of beauty. That is the problem. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating beauty, exploring beauty, gazing at beauty. All of that is absolutely fine. The problem is we are given one view of it and that is, in very basic terms, a Caucasian woman who is very slim and under 35, often under 25. That is beauty as we see it in this industry. As normal people we know that beauty comes in many, many more forms and we don’t see that reflected in the media.

So great. And what’s next for you?

I’ve got to write another book. I’m writing another book this year. I think it’s going to be the fashion version of Pretty Honest. I just think fashion and beauty are things that so many women have felt excluded from. They’re not thin enough, they’re not pretty enough, they’re not skilled enough, they’re not expert enough. It’s for everyone, and I want women to know that it is absolutely applicable to them in real life. So I think the book is going to have things like what you can wear on a first date, how to get a bra that fits, why it’s perfectly okay to wear stripes.

I know that you’re driven by the need to be self-sufficient. But what gets you up in the morning? Going forward. Where is the passion?

I just really, really like girls. I really like women. And I grew up with my dad and my brothers because my mother left. It’s actually really, really influenced my relationship with men in a positive way. Hugely. It means I don’t feel intimidated by them and don’t need to be desired by them, but it also meant that I didn’t really have any special women in my life until I was maybe in my twenties. And I’ve really caught up with the bend. There’s nobody I love more than my girlfriends. I spend so much time with my female friends and I hold them in such esteem. And so to be able to do a job that is very woman-orientated is a real treat for me.

You’re kind of a dream best friend, because I also read that you give your friends make-up for their birthdays.

Oh yeah. And no one leaves my house empty-handed. I have a bunch of things that are really kind of egalitarian, like nail polish, where you don’t have to be thin, pretty or young. A beautiful nail polish is just a winner, isn’t it? Or perfume. It’s so cool. Everyone can smell a million dollars.

Berry Liberman

Berry Liberman, Dumbo Feather’s publisher and editor-in-chief, drives our passion and purpose. While she’s not immersed in the heady scent of old fashioned flowers, she’s also the Creative Director of Small Giants and a mum to the three cutest kids in the world.

Photography by Siddharth Khajuria

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