If you want to know where you stand on the subject of glamour, all you really have to do is have a colonoscopy. A few years ago, I found myself in exactly that position, and what I discovered is too useful to keep to myself.
There I was in a car park in Toronto, propped up by my friend Christine. I was feeling very ill, having spent the past 48 hours preparing for the test by drinking litres of a special fluid to clean out my system. It was clear that I might well get sick before we reached the clinic, and it was proving difficult for me to stand, let alone walk. My friend shook her head. “I thought you might do this,” she said. She was eyeballing my exceptionally high wedge heels. “I was going to call you this morning and ask you to wear flats.” She sighed. “I suppose you’ve taken Beyoncé’s advice to heart.” I laughed. Indeed I had.
Some months before, I had flown to New York to interview the impossibly gorgeous pop star for a fragrance launch. Beyoncé, you should know, is one of the few people I’ve met who emanates pure goodness. Aside from complimenting my scarf and bathing me in the warmth of her smile, she offered a very practical tip that I’ve never forgotten. “I just love putting on a nice pair of heels,” she said. “Whenever I’m feeling really exhausted, I’ll make more of an effort to look good. Then I feel like ‘I’m okay; I’m good.’ It really helps on tough days.”
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Since then, whenever I find myself feeling tired or sad or sick, I strap on a pair of pointy pumps, paint on some bright lipstick and get the hell on with things. B shared other tips that day: Pick one fragrance and stick to it so that your loved ones associate the scent with you; fill your house with candles and flowers (she favours vanilla and orchids); take time out to sit in the park. But it was more than what she said; it was how she said it. She seemed to luxuriate in being feminine – to relish, as she put it, “feeling like a woman.” And on the days she didn’t, she faked it ’til she made it. It made me want to do the same.
Lest you get the impression that I am one of those shimmering beings who emerged from the womb wearing lipgloss, I will confess that glamour does not come easy to me. As a teen growing up on the West Coast, I didn’t give the topic any thought. And in my 20s, as a music critic for an independent newspaper, I didn’t have much money for clothes. Even if I had, it’s not like I would have had anywhere to wear them – people in Vancouver favour the outdoorsy look. This is a polite way of saying hoodies, yoga pants, ponytails – and wellies when it’s raining out, which is most of the time. A big, wet dog is the ultimate accessory. (Not that I don’t adore big, wet dogs.)
So I’ve had to work at glamour. And I work at it still. I take extra time with my hair. I buy three-minute polish so I can paint my nails in a pinch. I wear a lot of makeup in order to look like I’m wearing hardly any. I save up for wildly overpriced handbags. I hunt down lipsticks in every hue of red.
As it turns out, this philosophy – Beyoncé’s philosophy – is most fruitful on the days when life happens. Like when I’m fed up with the dusty, loud construction in my neighbourhood. Or I’m staring down 40 – or, not unrelated, the dreaded colonoscopy. Or when I’m just inconsolably blue. Or so tired that I can’t imagine how I’ll drag myself out the door to meet someone across town, let alone make chipper small talk.
On days like those, I know that my job in life is simply to suit up and show up, go where I am supposed to go and do what I am supposed to do. Which, as it turns out, is a whole lot easier when you are wearing pretty shoes. There was an entire episode of Sex and the City dedicated to this very premise, but that doesn’t make it any less true.