Simone Gannon is an influential Irish beauty blogger and self-confessed skincare junkie. But it didn’t start out that way. She documents her personal evolution from insecure teen to self-accepting adulthood and the women who helped her get there.
When I think about my approach to beauty, I think of my grandmother. I think about silk pillowcases, and hairnets, and beautiful dressing gowns, and jars of Pond’s Cold Cream. Big jars, small jars, industrial-sized jars, dotted around her bathroom, bedroom, and dressing table.
Bright white, with a screw-top lid that opened to reveal a thick, cold-as-ice cream, applied delicately to the face and neck, every morning and every evening. I was six, maybe seven, the first time I observed her evening ritual, from the viewpoint of her bed, while stuffing clove drops in my mouth. I remember the way she lifted her hands, the way she tilted her head this way and that, to cover every inch of her skin. Slowly, carefully, methodically. I was fascinated.
She had incredible skin, my grandmother. She was very pale and entirely blemish-free, thanks to those pillowcases and an obsession with shielding her face from the sun at all times. When I think about this now, in the present day, with enough skincare products to open an apothecary, and yet somehow with a face still in possession of blemishes and pigmentation, I am completely astounded. She was ahead of her time by a measure of lightyears.
The road to self-acceptance was long and bumpy, and only for the women who picked me up and put me back on the right path time and time again, I’m not sure I would have ever got there.
As I got older, my perception of beauty, of rituals and routine, adapted and changed. I had little concern for my skin, and yet I was utterly obsessed with my appearance. I applied as much makeup as I possibly could so that I looked the same as everyone else. Max Factor Pan Stik, too
much cream eyeshadow, aggressively scented lip balm, and Rimmel everything else.
I spent hours comparing myself to older, prettier girls in the town I grew up in. I felt my nose was too big, my lips too small, my hair too fine, and brown, and plain. I criticised every aspect of myself, wishing I could change this or that, and imagining how much better I would feel if I did.
At ease with herself and with a low maintenance approach to beauty like her mother before her, my mother frequently became frustrated with me. Reassuring me again and again that I was beautiful and that, worst of all, I was different to everyone else – the last thing I wanted to be. “You don’t need to hide your beautiful skin, and I wish you wouldn’t keep dying your hair,” she would say to me, as I sat beside her, caked in foundation, attempting to swipe her newest makeup purchase.
I thought if I looked a certain way, I would feel a certain way, and my life
would be different.
I carried out many of my most rebellious beauty decisions without my mother’s knowledge, much to her chagrin. One summer day, armed with tweezers in a friend’s house, I plucked my eyebrows to within an inch of their life. A decision I regret to this day. And not just because I had no eyebrows left, but because I was grounded for a week in the middle of my summer holidays.
With the gift of hindsight, I realise now that I didn’t really know who I was yet, at this stage of my life. I didn’t know or understand how to advocate for myself, and I hadn’t really found my tribe. I was flailing around, trying to fit in with every group going, weighed down by conventional, media-driven ideas of beauty. I thought if I looked a certain way, I would feel a certain way, and my life would be different.
The road to self-acceptance was long and bumpy, and only for the women who picked me up and put me back on the right path time and time again, I’m not sure I would have ever got there. My glamorous, effervescent godmother was one of these women. She introduced me to skincare in my teenage years; she taught me about breakouts and cleansing and why it’s not always about makeup. If your skin doesn’t look good, your makeup won’t look good either, she said. This knowledge, a new take on beauty, and the routine that came with it, brought a new and welcome level of maturity into my life.
The most beautiful women I know are the kindest women I know, a realisation that only dawned on me with the passage of time.
By the time I reached my twenties, things had changed immeasurably. I was a little older, a little wiser, a little more experienced. I was growing into myself, a little more comfortable, with less frequent bouts of self-doubt. I spent some summers travelling and befriended people from all
walks of life. People who opened my eyes and my mind to perceived notions of beauty. I took my foot off the self-criticism peddle for a little while and just enjoyed being who I was, embracing my individual differences. My mother was thrilled.
This theme continued for a few years, with infrequent self-comparison blips along the way, and then I got married and moved overseas. For the first time in my life, all the women I was friends with were older than me. And not only that, they were wiser, more mature, and in possession
of significantly more life experience. They welcomed me warmly, instantly accepting, throwing open their arms to offer an extended, supportive hug that I didn’t know I needed.
When I look back at this period of my life, I realise how pivotal it was and how fortunate I was to experience it. I always considered these women beautiful without really thinking about the why, but of course, now, I understand. They were comfortable in their own skin, not only with how
they looked but how they felt about themselves. Because they knew who they were. And not only that – they were incredibly kind to me. The most beautiful women I know are the kindest women I know, a realisation that only dawned on me with the passage of time.
My mother is beautiful, a strong, supportive, loving force of nature, and someone whose very idea of beauty was put to the test with a skin cancer diagnosis many years ago. When she broke the news, I kept thinking about the beautiful soft, unlined skin on her face and the procedure she
was about to go through. But most of all, I kept thinking about how she must be feeling.
I’m more concerned these days with feeling as well as possible, and so I take good care of my skin, and I exercise, and I try to eat well and spend as much time as I can with the people I love.
Because at the end of the day, isn’t that what beauty is all about? It’s a feeling. No matter our age, or how we look, or where we come from. It’s a feeling about ourselves: it’s what we feel when we look in the mirror. It’s the respect we have for ourselves, respect earned through living and
life experience, and surrounding ourselves with the right people. Particularly, the right women.
As I hurtle towards my forties and get ready to enter a new stage of my life, I think about what beauty means to me now. Thankfully, my perception of myself is no longer rooted in the opinions of others but in how I feel in my body and my mind. I’m more concerned these days with feeling as well as possible, and so I take good care of my skin, and I exercise, and I try to eat well and spend as much time as I can with the people I love. I’m more aware of the importance of putting time aside to reflect and follow a ritual and a routine that helps bring me back to myself. Something I learned from my grandmother, and something that I hope to pass on to my
own children when they’re older. I think about her often and the incredible groundwork she laid for me on this journey. I think about the respect she had for herself, the self-awareness she possessed, and the morning and evening rituals that she never missed.
I think about her often, but especially when I sit at my makeup table, as I open various jars and tubes, and carefully, and methodically, tilt my head, this way and that, to cover every inch of my skin. I think about how it makes me feel and how it must have made her feel. And every time I do, I’m back there with her again, just for a moment.
And isn’t that the most beautiful thing of all?
This excerpt was taken from the April issue of Irish Tatler.
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