After a day of decluttering on Good Friday for my mother-in-law, my daughter and I had a treat in store for Easter Saturday: We had tickets for the West End production of 42nd Street, which opened at The Theatre Royal last month.
If you love musical theatre, then I urge you to go if you can. The show is a glorious spectacle; it’s beautifully staged with an innovative set, beautiful costumes and the most talented set of performers I’ve ever seen.
London has changed
If you have visited London recently, you may have noticed a phenomenon that didn’t exist last time I was there. It felt like practically every other store was selling make-up, skin-care or perfume. In Covent Garden alone, within a few steps, you stumble across brands including MAC, Nars, Urban Decay, Clinique, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, The Body Shop and (good old) Boots. And these are just the ones I can recall off the top of my head.
What is going on?
I know that make-up is big business these days, but these brands seem to be taking over the world. By coincidence, I am reading Arianna Huffington’s book, On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work and Life. One of the first issues Huffington addresses is how we feel about how we look.
Just as Juliet Schor* talks about keeping up with the Joneses, so Huffington warns about the ‘treadmill of comparisons’ and the reality that our fears of inadequacy derive from the ‘multibillion-dollar cosmetics and fashion industries whose profits are directly tied to our levels of security’.
Huffington suggests that if we are going to compare ourselves to others, we might consider comparisons with those let fortunate than ourselves. In so doing, she suggests, we might ‘tap into reserves of empathy and gratitude instead of endless self-judgements.’
That’s all very well, but it’s not a message a 15-year-old girl is going to take on board easily. Intellectually, she’ll understand it. In reality, she will still spend time on our train journey down to London doing her make-up.
The melting-pot metropolis
What is good about going to London is that it’s a real melting pot. Here, we see every style, colour, nationality, size, shape and culture. In our capital city (to coin a phrase from another classic musical), anything goes. That’s a wonderful eye-opener for the teenager from provincial England. In a place like that, you can truly be your authentic self.
Back in woody Warwickshire, I observe a great deal of conformity in how our teens dress and how they look. For girls, long straight hair is the norm. Skinny, ripped jeans and trainers form the basis of the casual uniform. Drawn-on brows and contouring is de rigeur.
As a mother, I hope that I’ll be able to instill in my daughter the message that Huffington sets out in this early chapter:
‘..the sooner we realise that our happiness and the meaning of our life are not by-products of how we look, the sooner we can move to fearlessness.’
I do hope that the talented and beautiful chorus girls of the 42nd Street chorus might also know this, too.
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