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How the Demise of The Body Shop Reminded Me That Beauty Should be Fun

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Main image – @thebodyshop/Instagram

Welcome to the first instalment of Blasts From My Beauty Past, our new monthly column written by journalist, and Live That Glow Beauty Editor, Philippa Pearne. For the last 17 years, Philippa has written about her own beauty wins, fails and everything in between. In her monthly column, she looks back on the trends, brands and moments that have shaped who we are as beauty fans.

After weeks of speculation (and much nostalgia on the part of many a newspaper columnist, including now me), the sad news that the Body Shop will finally close its doors was confirmed when the company filed for bankruptcy in the US last week.

Sad for the business and sad for me personally because, like anyone aged 50 and under, the Body Shop formed a large part of the backdrop to my teen years.

 

Image – @thebodyshop/Instagram

 

That instantly-recognisable, almost sickly sweet smell of apple, orange and lemon soaps that would hit me right in the senses as soon as I walked through the shop door (they were presented in little compartments, like a fruit and veg market stall, ready for me to wrap my adolescent hands around and inhale). 

The ‘Fuzzy Peach’ eau de toilette – the exact scent of my childhood – and my longed for ‘Ananya’ spritz which my mum never let me buy because it gave her a headache.  And don’t even get me started on all the bath pearls.

This blast from my teenage past in the form of Body Shop’s news has transported me back to one Friday evening at Pizza Express, circa 1995. My parents had taken me and my older sisters there for my 12th birthday and because it was relatively new to our local area, this was considered a real treat. 

As we scanned the menu, my oldest sister presented me with a large wrapped up present. “Excellent”, I thought. Because at the age of 12, the bigger the better right?

After dutifully opening the card first, I tore open the wrapping to reveal a huge suede wash bag, which seemed to have something inside, to my relief. (Because a wash bag. Really?)

I slowly slid the zip open, peered in and subsequently found the next chapter of my youth. 

 

Image – mailer_diablo

 

Aged only 12, and in the nineties (no mobile phones, no Youtube tutorials and certainly no social media – a simpler time), I’d had minimal interaction with makeup and skincare products. Other than watching my mum apply her mascara every morning with her mouth wide open, and wishing I had a lipstick as frosty pink as the one Helen Daniels wore in Neighbours, my interest in beauty was non-existent. 

So, when I opened the wash bag and discovered that it contained a plethora of products from The Body Shop – a makeup palette, some brushes, a lip balm, a moisturiser, some tweezers, a pair of nail scissors, nail files, that sort of thing – you can imagine how I felt. 

Erm, no. Not excitement. Sheer confusion actually and if I’m honest, bitter disappointment. After all, where was the VHS of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves I’d asked for? Kevin Costner was waiting.

“Oh,” I thought as I stared, overwhelmed, at the contents of the wash bag. “What on earth am I supposed to do with all this?”

I winged it and thanked my sister for the ‘cool’ gift. But she and my mum could obviously detect some uncertainty. They explained to me that now I was 12, I could probably think about experimenting with beauty products, if I wanted to. 

I mean it was nice and everything, but being the youngest of three sisters, I’d always been labelled the baby who would always be just that – babyish. And through no fault of anyone, and up until I’d carved myself my own path in life, always, always in the shadow of the older two. 

They persevered and showed me what everything was as I distractingly looked around wondering where my margarita pizza had got to while wondering ‘what in the name of chopped off eyelashes are eyelash curlers?’

But once I’d got over the initial awkwardness, realisation slowly set in. This was their way of saying ‘you’re growing up, go for it!’ So, as the topic of conversation eventually shifted and they all started talking about ‘work’ and other boring stuff, I stopped listening and rifled through my new wash bag, alone.

 

Image – @thebodyshop/Instagram

 

I remember the smooth tube of mascara. The sharp, pointy tweezers (which, by the way, never did anything practical – I soon learnt the importance of slanted ones). The shiny pot of blackcurrant lip balm that, when applied to my lips, looked more like a lip gloss (bonus). And the mini set of nail files that I knew I’d never need because you’d have to get a court ruling to stop me from biting mine first. 

All of these alien items were for me to experiment with. I’d had permission to start a fresh phase of my life, try new things and maybe, just maybe, leave my baby era behind. This was actually kind of exciting.

Although, if I’m honest, having a bag to call mine, containing lots of ‘things’ was initially the most thrilling part. A trait I seem to have passed down to my own daughter who fills up little bags and purses of mini items and leaves them e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. 

But in the weeks following my 12th birthday, I experimented more and more with my new products and got to know them a little better.  What caught my eye the most (if you’ll pardon the pun) was the mascara. I discovered that when I wore it, my usually naked blue eyes miraculously stood out.  And although still round and bursting with puppy fat, my newly coated lashes helped to reveal an overall shift in my baby face. 

I continued to take so much joy from playing with everything (bar the eyelash curlers), and sometimes I’d lay it all out on my bed and just admire it. I was starting to entertain the idea of becoming a woman, and I was surprisingly into it.

28 years have passed but even now, when a delivery of new makeup arrives, or if I’ve been to the shops to top up on my skincare favourites, that same thrill of unpacking what I’ve bought and admiring it stays with me.

It’s the same nostalgic exhilaration when I try on a new mascara. The same childish delight of opening a brand-new makeup palette. And the same giddy joy when unscrewing the lid off a fresh pot of moisturiser. 

These almost childlike emotions make me realise that perhaps we should work hard, play harder when it comes to beauty.  It can be an intense topic, especially as we get older, so yes, doing the proper research to find the right products is important. 

But instead of taking it too seriously, perhaps we should start injecting more fun into it. Transport ourselves back to how it used to make us feel as kids, teens and young adults. Because back then, beauty products personally made me feel happy, excited and inspired. Not inadequate, self-conscious, or intimidated.

And although I may now be approaching the age of 41, I’m still that wide-eyed girl in Pizza Express. 

Only with much (much) more beauty knowledge, a few more anti-ageing ingredients in my skincare regime and, thankfully, a significantly smaller fear of eyelash curlers.

 

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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University
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