Harriet Walker: 'I recently found out about a thing called Face Control'

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The Independent Online

I've read so many self-improvement articles recently that I'm going to need a self-help book to get over them all. They leave me with the sort of knee-shaking, face-grabbing restlessness that strikes in the middle of an exam or a job interview, when you wish you were an all-round better and more successful version of yourself. The sort of restlessness that fades when you realise you don't know the answers to any of the questions you're being asked.

But I've tried to make a go of myself. I've been washing my face with more vigour; I even got off the bus a stop early. I've also been drinking a mouth-puckeringly unpleasant supplement powder – it promises brighter eyes but has so far just stained the sink purple from the number of times I've tipped whole pints of it away.

There's no real motivation to be had, I think, until someone in the street tells me that I'm a mess, or that I haven't brushed my hair properly, or that I look like the sort of person who (screeeech) doesn't use toner.

I recently found out about a thing called Face Control from a friend who now lives in Moscow. "It's strange in Russia," he mused. "There are things that I find outrageous – like paying 20 quid for a jar of Mellow Bird's or having salad served to me in a Martini glass. But Face Control, well – it's just what guys get the whole time at home, isn't it?"

Face Control is the practice of not letting a woman into a club, bar or other unwholesome venue if she isn't glamorous enough. I say glamorous, but I mean beautiful. And when I say beautiful, I suppose what I really mean is "fit". Russian bouncers apparently instigated such barbarism because there are so many more women in Moscow than there are men, and they're all out on the prowl. You need to keep the numbers down, so the logic goes, and you don't want your club filling up with uggers.

It was, my friend then admitted, tricky when he had female visitors over from Britain, because they never got let in. It seems that the standard uniform of jeans and what my mother would call "a sort of going-outy top" just doesn't cut it alongside furs, waist-length hair extensions and a basque.

At that point, I was struck by so staggeringly brutal a vision that I had to sit down. In my head, there I was, desperately preening and pouting in the mirror wearing a bunny-girl costume, while my boyfriend, in his pyjama bottoms and an egg-stained cardigan, tapped his watch and gestured at the door.

It's different over here, where there are fewer women, all making less of an effort, and unalloyed groups of men are regularly turned away from clubs because they're in sportswear or they look too rough and ready. But these silly club rules are the only thing that means men actually care what they look like. They would never wash again if they could get into Wetherspoons or Xtreme or Bar Bone regardless.

"I don't think that's true," my friend replied. "Remember when Dave straightened his hair? Anyway, you definitely wouldn't get in like that," he said, pointing at my jeans and distinctly non-going-outy top.

Later on, I told my caustic flatmate about Face Control. "Oh, is that what they call it?" she said. "I was at a bar with the most handsome man from work the other day," she ranted, adding that the most handsome man from work was, in fact, not even that handsome, "when the barman told him not to buy a drink for me because I wasn't pretty enough."

There's no such thing as Face Control in Yorkshire, of course. While I was up there boozing over Christmas, a man so brawny he looked like he had been inflated asked me if I liked his muscles. "Er, they're very nice," I said, assuming he didn't want to hear the truth – that they made me feel sick and a bit teary. No sooner had it passed my lips than he was glued to my elbow, oh-so-lightly brushing my bum on the way to the bar, jostling me affectionately every now and then, the way a lion might a rabbit between its teeth.

"You didn't tell him you liked his muscles, did you?" asked a girl I had once been at school with. "You can tell you live in London. Up here, if you're nice to someone, it means you fancy them. Tell him you hate his muscles and you've got a boyfriend."

Now that is a much better version of Face Control.

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