The roads around where I live are being resurfaced. It was crying out to be done. One of the first things I noticed about Edinburgh was its pitted roads; full of bumps and holes, making driving an experience of bone-shaking unevenness. I stopped to have a chat with the workmen who were laying the tarmac, asking them if I needed to move my car. “No, it’s ok parked where it is. We’re resurfacing the road only. Spending cutbacks, you see, no funding for the parking bays.” They laughed as we looked at the bowling-green finish of the newly flattened road that subsided into pock-marked verges where cars were parked. The new road presented a startling juxtaposition: the rough next to the smooth.
It reminded me of a trend I have noticed, one where new businesses do not paint their shop front. Instead, the façades of some shops and restaurants have been scraped back to expose a patina of paint layers that have built up over decades, maybe even centuries. What emerges is an unconventional beauty, one that challenges the accepted notion that ‘newly painted’ equates to fresh and beautiful. Sometimes the vestiges of an old shop sign might emerge from above the door. Business names – long since forgotten – rise again, Lazarus-style, in faint old-fashioned lettering: Claymore Armouries; Logies Blacksmith; Southside Coal Merchants. Maybe this trend was born out of start-up businesses being unable to afford a fresh lick of paint, but I believe it was more of a conscious choice, an aesthetic statement. I like it. I appreciate the beauty to be had in the old, the faded and the slightly crumbling.
Like all fashions, it might well pass, but I think reflecting on the choice of presenting a slick façade, and instead opting for something more pared back, is a progressive step. It can be a useful metaphor for how we look upon, and wish to present ourselves. Take a look at the shelves of any beauty counter and the facial products on sale will promise to: polish, brighten, resurface, scrub, texturise, prime, fill, and smooth. These are words and descriptions that would not be out of place on the painting shelves of a hardware shop. This is laughable stuff, were it not also insidious and mind-altering. I love a slick of lipstick and a swish of mascara as much as anyone, but I am realistic about what it can achieve. We are told we must approach our faces with the same rigour and determination as an exterior wall of a building: fill in all the cracks and then apply a thick layer of paint. It is one of many roads to madness that advertising, branding and marketing lead us down.
Just as the time has come to challenge accepted norms around how the façade of a building appears, so too might it be time to ditch the primers and fillers and smoothers. Instead, wash your beautifully lined, marked, lived-in, smiling, healthy face, apply whatever make-up you wish (or not), give yourself a wink in the mirror, and know that you are growing into a different kind of beauty.