I’ve been here before: glued to my screen, observing a neat little brush flick here, dab of gloss there. Deft fingers rubbing in creams, beautiful faces blinking, opening their mouths slightly. Only before, I was 21 and had just finished my finals. What were promised would be several weeks of cavorting in the sunshine with youthful abandon turned out to be the beginning of the rest of my life, looming foggy and enormous ahead of me. And so I spent a lot of time in my swelteringly hot attic room, laptop balanced on my belly, watching the YouTube channel of the world renowned makeup artist Lisa Eldridge, in which she bestows her technical and creative wisdom upon a devoted following of what now comprises 2 million fans.
Strangely, lockdown does not feel all that different from that fallow period at the end of university. Many things have changed, of course: it would appear that I am now well in the swing of “my life”, which is not so much looming as engulfing. As readers of this article may notice, I have a job, rather than empty days in which I wake up at noon and wait for friends to leave the library. And yet here I am, in a period of limbo and uncertainty with no end date, laptop balanced on my belly once more, and Lisa Eldridge’s voice in my ear again, counselling me on concealer brushes, lip liners, brow gels, no-makeup-makeup, smokey eyes, perfect pouts. For the record, I haven’t put on a scrap of makeup since the beginning of March.
I wear little at the best of times. Base, yes; mascara, yes; lipstick, if you’re lucky; eyeshadow, steady on. But the limited knowledge I do have is learned from Lisa. I still own products I bought in 2015 on her recommendation. In a time like this, her calm voice and steady hand reassure me like nothing else.
Lisa – with whom, in my mind, I am on first-name terms – has the quiet confidence only gleaned by years of experience. She is utterly unfazed, often trying out new products on the hoof – her discerning eye knows exactly how they’ll turn out. She seems to be in love with makeup precisely because of its impermanence. In “Supersize your pout instantly (without injections!)” she points out the beauty of being able to wash off the lipstick at the end of the day – after all, full lips are just fashionable right now. She is never didactic. She offers alternatives throughout the tutorials, keeping essential elements but allowing variation for different skin tones and tastes. It’s all about what you like, she tells us.
Her humility means I am not bothered by Lisa’s casual celebrity name drops: when she says she “did this look on Keira”, I am inexplicably not irritated, but proud. Watching her and Victoria Beckham do each other’s makeup in a video from late 2019 is like being a fly on the wall at a very sophisticated sleepover. Lisa jokily pulls a horrified face to camera as Victoria earnestly explains to viewers the method by which she is applying Lisa’s eyeshadow (don’t worry, it’s a happy ending). Their initially bare faces and physical closeness – imagine, in 2020, touching someone else’s face! – create an intimate atmosphere.
Lisa’s style is soft and natural. In the comments section, fans rave about her class and sophistication (implicitly contrasting her with contouring-obsessed vloggers). One reads: “Take note kids. This is how the professionals use highlighter.” I’m not an expert (though I might be approaching 10,000 hours of Lisa’s videos) but the classy, polished look seems to hinge on blending. There are flushes of peachy colour and occasional bold, statement tones. There are softly defined cheekbones, pinpoint concealing and only naturally enhanced lips. Sometimes there are false lashes – a concept that usually terrifies me – but even they feel casual and look seamless: just part of the bigger picture. Nothing is scary under Lisa’s careful guidance.
I devour it all, from “SMOKEY GLAM MAKEUP LOOK” to “Balance Bright Colour With a Gorgeous Nude Make-Up Look – Fresh Modern Easy!” to “HUNGOVER TO HOT! ;-)”. Lisa explains where to wear her looks: a night out, a date. Some videos are even dedicated to an event. A Christmas party, perhaps, or “meeting up with an ex”. I fantasise vaguely about recreating it all on myself. But I won’t, because I have never accumulated supplies, so it would require me to spend a small fortune on beautiful clean brushes and pots of spurious, varyingly solid substances — and because Lisa Eldridge’s world is just that to me: fantasy. An escape from mess into beautiful, seamless, softly spoken, lightly powdered bliss. And anyway, of course, I have nowhere to go.