Loss of Face



Whilst living in Cape Town, my sister in law and I went for a make-over in a large department store. It was being held in the steaming bowels of the building. I was surprised there were no checkpoints or visa controls. They did feed us as described below. Let’s just say that I’m off cucumber for life. None of this story is exaggerated, honestly.

Legal Disclaimer: I would like to say that this was just a one-off and that Cape Town has many talented, creative and expert beauticians.


It’s amazing that I’ve never experienced the Make-Over until now. I’ve gone through life (well, some of it), with a wee bit of paint and powder, always trying to enhance what God has given me. I’m not one of those lucky ladies who can face the day without a glimmer of hope.

To be honest, there’s no glimmer of hope without the glimmer of lip shine and eyeshine, a touch of gloss here and a touch of shadow there; highlight this and play that down. Over the years I’ve become au-fait (Ooh! Fancy words) with what suits me, and if I don’t know what suits me, my ever so-loving husband and family soon tell me! So, when I decide to play it natural, remarks such as – ‘Aren’t you going to put any make-up on?’ really deflate my ego.

Just as I was ready to face the world, self-confident in – ‘this is me.’So, I was delighted by an invitation to partake in the Make-Over and looking forward to the professional touch, the excitement of new colours and the professional expertise of how to do it right. I was excited about having my best features enhanced (I do have a few), and to emerge looking and feeling a million dollars or even a million Rand. I did look a million dollars – Zimbabwean dollars!



So off I went to the department store to be beautified, down the corridors and through the double doors, down more corridors and through even more double doors. I felt like Alice in Wonderland and just as excited. At last, we arrived at the ‘By Invitation’ only beauty room.

There was a table set out with chicken drumsticks and prawns with the inevitable lettuce and tomato decor. No, not natural beauty products, just a few titbits to feed us invitees. Although, I could have sworn the woman in the corner with the cucumber-covered-eyes had just taken them from her sandwich (the cucumber, not the eyes).

Being a vegetarian, I was relieved to see a few manky cheese sandwiches, but horror of horrors, not a cream cake or muffin or chocolate biscuit in sight. After walking all those miles, I was hungry, but there was no time for that! I was whisked into a corner by a white-coated person.

She shoved a hairband on my head almost decapitating me, and a smelly smock on my torso. In a staccato-like tone (ex-military perhaps?), she ordered me to lie back and relax There was a slight whiff from her armpits, so I turned my head away. She whipped it back into position so fast my eyeballs were swivelling.


I have entered the beauty arena, the cleansing zone. My face is swathed in cleansing lotion and my painstakingly applied eyeshadow and lipstick rubbed off in circular motion. I had visions of my face besmeared and besmirched by my own purple eye-shadow and pink lipstick. Then a cloud of steam hovered reluctantly in front of me. At first, I thought it was the beautician’s breath, but then I realised it was a facial steamer. I asked her if it was meant to be closer to my face. ‘Sorry Mam.’

It was turned off and she started applying an exfoliator and a toner and a night cream ‘which can also be used as a day cream Mam.’

Just as well, as it was still definitely daytime. All of this was delivered with a monotonous description of each product. I know I should have felt relaxed, but I was as tense as a coiled spring, or to be crude, a duck’s ass. The creams were going on and coming off my face so fast, I totally lost track.

Bottles and tubes were put in front of my eyes accompanied by the spiel of – ‘this will make you radiant’ and ‘this will deep cleanse’ and ‘this won’t strip your natural oils’ and ‘this will purify gently’ and ‘this will beautify.’

Fingers flew manically over my face, touching and yet not touching, sloughing, slathering, smoothing, – now you see it, now you don’t, ultra-smooth vanishing cream. And then it was finished! All over.


I was led to the centre of the arena feeling slightly dizzy and plonked on a high chair next to the beauty box, with my little legs dangling. Nothing new there then! Pandora’s Box of colours was opened. ‘I think this palette would suit you.’

Oh, oh, I thought, as I glanced nervously over at the other painted ladies. I felt a slight sense of panic. They looked shaken and pale, eyes outlined in black, wrinkles prominent, faces set like masks. The mask of Zorro – no, the mask of sorrow! I leaned closer as I listened to their whispered conversation. ‘Hey Man.’ (In their best South African accents).

‘I never kneeew I hed so menny wrinkles, end this meke-up is so thick.’ But did they speak up and air their views? No way! Us ladies worldwide never tell a hairdresser or a beautician that it’s crap. They are holding the scissors, the hot wax and hot-text-phone with your photo and will have you banned for life from all such establishments.


‘Hi ladies, everything okay? Are you enjoying yourselves?’

They all smiled sweetly and replied – ‘Yes, thank you. We’ve had a wonderful time,’- and they trotted off obediently to the make-up counter, with their discount vouchers to make their purchases, because it’s what we all do.


The room was eerily empty, just my sister-in-law and I sitting face to face, whilst the beauty therapists finished us off! The final touches, the final filler, the final polish – splatter, pack it on, thick splurges of gloop, oops, I mean the ultra-glow enhancer and the concealer and the pewter shadow and the gold shadow!

The blue pencil thickly outlined my eyes – a third eye beckoned me! Mascara wand, (fortunately not the spit on kind), created its own black magic. Eyebrow pencil hovered and slipped unerringly upwards, the surprised look! Lip pencil outlined tartily and lip plumper plumped and then the lipstick. Oh yes, let’s not forget the lipstick! A lipstick that’s so natural it’s paler than my own lips, even paler than the lip liner.


I’m finished. I’m done. Silence! Where’s everyone gone? My eyes are so caked with mascara I can’t see, and my sister-in-law’s contact lenses are now lost in the dust of face powder which surrounds us. I blink and blink again. Slowly I manage to open my eyes.

The beautician, and I use that word with care, raises a mirror to my face. I look but I don’t see myself. I look again. It’s scary! I look at my sister-in-law. We look alike – that same, thick glazed, plastered, gloop-eyed look, so thick we dare not smile. Our jawlines are holding a ridge of expensive, radiant, ultra-glow, gloop, before it disappears into the newly formed wrinkles. I’m sure I never had so many wrinkles and I haven’t been in here that long.

‘Well Madam, what do you think.?’

Am I honest? Am I upfront enough to speak out? Well just a little.

I reply, ‘I like the eyes’ – (liar) – ‘but the foundation is too thick. Hmm… the lip colour is nice’.

Why, why do we lie? Why don’t we have the courage to speak the truth, be it to a beauty therapist or a hairdresser. We let them do their worst and then we say thank you and TIP them!

And so, my sister in law and I said – ‘Thank You It’s been wonderful’ and ‘Yes, of course we will visit your beauty counter’ and off we trotted to the bathroom to repair our faces as best we could.


seanWe emerged into the cold, calculating light of day and met my ever-too-honest husband who greeted us – ‘Is it fright night? Who’s who? You two look alike?’

That’s quite a feat considering our genetic make-up is so different. South Africa would have solved its colour issue during apartheid, beginning of the new beauty regime.

Saying that this story is nothing new. My husband when in his teens was passing by the Alhambra cinema in Cape Town.

This was a ‘whites only’ cinema. The Sound of Music was on and there was a long queue of people waiting to get in. He spotted two of his neighbours in the queue. They looked extremely pale. He realized they must have whitened their faces with chalk or flour to ensure they got into the cinema.

Perhaps the beauticians who did such a remarkable job on my sister in law and I were the progeny of these two Sound of Music fans. Now that my facial features have been blurred and my face is so stiff I struggle to smile, I’m ready to apply for a job on the make-up counter in any department store in the world. I have that blank look, that staring look, that scary look that says – ‘You will buy now!’

I lost my heart in San Francisco. I lost my mind in London. I lost my face in Cape Town.

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  1. Hi Helena. I enjoyed reading your story. I confess I haven’t yet had the courage to put myself in the hands of a beautician. You were brave.

    • Thank you Mary. That was my one and only experience. Not too relaxing, but hilarious. Hope you enjoy The Halloran Dynasty. This is definitely not a true story, or if it is I’ll eat my trainers!

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