Dublin: 15 °C Saturday 23 September, 2023
# heather shimmer
My Nana, Her Makeup, And Me - the healing power of lipstick and a bit of self care
“Her eyes were green like a cat’s and the lipstick made them sparkle, and when I hugged her she’d smell like face powder and Coty L’Aimant”, writes Ellen Tannam.

Writer Ellen Tannam on the special bond between a girl and her nana, and the healing power of self care…

WHEN SOMEONE YOU love is no longer around, it’s through objects and small rituals that you can reconnect with them even for just a few minutes.

My mam’s mother passed away from cancer in 2009. I was seventeen and she was one of my best friends, and there are things in my life that will always make me think of her.

Whenever I see ladies wearing long grey rainmacs it makes me remember looking up at her as a little girl walking down Henry Street. Sometimes I go into the Arnotts Bargain basement to try and feel close to her again, ambling down the aisles of cut-price Ecco shoes and duvet sets. When I eat cornflakes at night it makes me think of spending weekends at her house with my head in her food cupboard. If I hear someone use the word ‘frock’ I can sometimes get choked up.The most evocative thing for me though will always be makeup.

My nana loved makeup and because my mam never wore it (she’s a cool low-maintenance gal), she became my gateway into the world of powders, lipsticks and lotions.  She kept all her makeup in this orange mesh bag, and I watched in awe as she applied her favourite shade of lipstick (Rimmel’s Heather Shimmer), standing in front of the mirror in her Drimnagh kitchen.

Her eyes were green like a cat’s and the lipstick made them sparkle, and when I hugged her she’d smell like face powder and Coty L’Aimant. She was always so beautiful, the epitome of glam. Sufficiently made up, she’d bring me and my sister to town on a City Imp bus, and we’d sit with her in Bewleys eating sausages and chips as the light shone through the Harry Clarke windows.

Lovely window mirsasha mirsasha

There was nothing more exciting for me as a kid than getting to go through some of her cast-offs that she didn’t want anymore to hoard them for myself in a pencil case. I would go home with my spoils from Rimmel and the Natural Collection and experiment with the colours and textures, carefully applying a deep red lipstick to my 8-year-old face and lining my eyes with a grey kohl pencil. ‘Sure amn’t I only fab?’, I’d think to myself, and it’s true, I was.

I learned a lot from her, how being warm is the best thing you can be, that I was funny and good at stuff, and the sublime art of getting ready. The woman knew how to pull a look together, and that’s an inherited skill I will take with me everywhere I go, even if I can’t necessarily add it to my CV which is a shame in my eyes. An array of colourful chiffon and silk scarves were always waiting, the icing on the cake of every carefully coordinated outfit of hers. Shiny strings of beads sat coiled in the jewellery boxes that adorned her dressing table. Watching her decide between a pile of coral nail polishes with barely discernible shade differences, I saw the value in taking your time and finding comfort and joy in routine. Even now when I feel like things are getting on top of me, I’ll find myself spending an extra few minutes ‘putting on my face’ as she used to say.

Getting ready is one of my favourite things in life, closely followed by chips drowned in vinegar, hugging babies and when dogs are as needy as I am. Often as a teenager, perfecting my cat-eye while listening to music in my attic room turned out to be better than the party I was preparing for. Using that time getting ready to help sort and file my thoughts away is something to savour.

Although there’s obviously a harmful aspect to the cosmetics industry, I try to not let it stop me marvelling at how blendable my new foundation is (extremely blendable, for those that are curious). Sometimes it’s better to just enjoy things for what they bring to your own life. For me anyway, putting on makeup is one of the most therapeutic and loveliest activities there is. Taking care of my skin or spending too much time lining my Cupid’s bow with Spice makes me feel like I’m doing my best for myself in a world that can be tough and bleak. I moisturise my way out of panicking about global politics and climate change.

Applying my Sahara-dry matte terracotta liquid lipstick and facing into another day, I wonder what my nana would think of liquid lipsticks, ghostly Korean sheet masks, micro-blading your eyebrows, or mascara exclusively intended for your bottom lashes. So much has changed since she’s been gone. ‘I think she’d like the colour’, I say to myself, as I run for the bus.

Ellen Tannam is a freelance writer, sometimes found at, @Juvenalia_Pod@YourRTEGuide and @RTE_Culture. She’s on Twitter @incogellen

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