Lucy Caldwell: The Story So Far...

If Dostoevsky is indigestible, try some beauty writing


Last week I was a judge at this year's Beauty Journalism Awards, alongside model Jade Parfitt, make-up artist Sharon Dowsett and AA Gill. (How I ended up on the panel - a tall tale involving Bridget Jones, literary soirées and, er, hairy legs - is probably best left for another time.) We were judging the best full-length features in magazines and glossy supplements, and we spent a day at Claridge's battling it out.

There are times when even Dostoevsky can begin to feel indigestible, and what you feel like reading is the equivalent of a Tunnock's teacake. You don't read beauty pages for their brains - or at least that was my preconception. But after spending a weekend studying two heaving-at-the-seams folders' worth of submissions, I was taken aback at how good the best writing was.

Sometimes you consult beauty pages precisely for information or advice: lazy beauty journalism, though, can begin to feel like little more than product placement. But the outstanding articles were sharp, unsentimental explorations of femininity, and of how we perceive beauty, in all its shifting political and historical contexts: our deserved winning entry was an incisive account of cosmetic practices at the court of Marie Antoinette.

The ceremony, at the Hayward Gallery, was very much a party-dress-and-Jimmy-Choos occasion. I flew in especially from Galway, where my play, Leaves, has just begun rehearsals. There should've been enough time for a turnaround - but the flight was so delayed I had to phone my sister (my Plus One for the evening) from Luton and instruct her to grab a dress - any dress - from my wardrobe, sling it into a bag with some stilettos and meet me in a cab.

As I tried to apply mascara in a jolting hackney carriage, I wished that Sharon was there, or that one of the hundreds of articles I'd read in the course of judging had been on how to make a scruffy, harassed playwright look glamorous while careening through the streets of London at hair-raising speeds.

The following day, slightly the worse for wear, but thankfully with twice as long to spend on my outfit, I was off to a party of a very different sort. It was my friend Gwilym's 30th birthday, and a merry little band of us - poets, academics and itinerants - set off into the Essex salt marshes, fuelled by Czech spirits and home-brewed sloe gin in hip flasks, reciting snatches of poetry to the babbling curlews.

So, although I may have begun the week on the right side of the looking glass, I ended it talking what might as well have been Jabberwocky to the kestrels and cormorants, dishevelled and wind-blown, looking as far from a credible judge of beauty as it's possible to imagine.

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