ON A PAINTED FACE

Outline: A painted face is proper on the stage – in actual life it is an attempt to deceive – it never achieves its object – the beauty of old age – the painted face of youth is disgusting.

If there is one thing I abominate, above all others, it is a painted face. On the stage, of course, it is right and proper. The stage is a world of make-believe, and it is the business of the lady of sixty, to give you the impression that she is a sweet young thing of seventeen. There is no affectation in this. It is her vocation to be young, and she follows it as willingly or unwillingly as you or I follow our respective callings.

When anyone, not compelled to do it for a living, should paint the face or dye the hair is, to me, unintelligible. It is like attempting to pass off a counterfeit coin. It is either a confession that one is so ashamed of one’s face that one dare not let it be seen in public, or it is an attempt to deceive the world into accepting you as something-other than you are.

The paint on the face and the dye on the hair never really achieve their object. It they did they would not cease to be a sham, but at least they would not be a transparent sham. There are, of course, degrees of failure. Mrs. Gamp’s curls were so obviously false that they could not be said to be intended to deceive. On the other hand, the great lady who employs the most scientific face-makers skill in order to deceive the encroachments of time does very succeed. But her failure is really more tragic than that of Mrs. Gamp. How tragic I realized one day when I was introduced to a distinguished ‘Society’ woman, whose youthful beauty was popularly supposed to have survived to old age. At a distance she did indeed seem to be a miracle of girlish liveliness. But when I came close to her and saw the old, bleared eyes in the midst of that beautifully enameled face, the peering out triumphantly through the painted mask.

Why should we be so much afraid of wrinkles and grey hair? In their place they can be as beautiful as the freshest glow on the face of youth. There is a beauty of the sunrise and a beauty of the sunset. And of the two the beauty of the sunset is the deeper and more spiritual.


And if the painted face of age is horrible the painted face of youth is disgusting. It is artistically bad and spiritually worse. It is like painting the lily or adding a perfume to the violet. These things are the symptoms of a diseased mind-a mind that has lost the healthy love of truth and nature and has taken refuge in falsities and shams. The paint on the does not stop at the cheeks. It stains the soul. 

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