He lent against the kitchen doorframe one evening, enquiring into my face. “You’ve done that thing with make-up with your eyes,” he said, clumsily.
Fear and a touch of disdain was mixed into his voice. The words came out accusingly: you have purposefully altered yourself, to try and make yourself more appealing.
For who? Was the unspoken question in his voice. For him, hopefully. For another man, maybe.
Except I hadn’t. Men were not on my mind when I’d worked a soft black pencil into my lashes that day, flicking it out at the end, softening the line with my fingers. I wasn’t thinking, consciously at least, about the effect it could have on others. I rarely did, and I’d felt frustrated, misunderstood, at his reading of my intent.
Make-up, for him, had a sense of deceit, of smoke and mirrors, of an inaccessible world. A secret art, which girls are inducted in to as they become women, and only the bravest of men try out.
Make-up transforms, for sure. It pinkens, darkens, flushes. It emboldens and thickens. And so the hint of sex is always there. It’s subversive, wayward. It shrinks and exaggerates features, softens or throws the planes of the face into sharp relief.
A bare face is the known, it is unaltered. I like natural too. Most of the time, actually. But I also like choice. Sometimes I also like to be glittering of eye, candy pink of cheek. Maybe I’ve caught a whisp of Friday night glee and feel like building up a cat eye Nefertiti would be proud of.
Perhaps I want to try, for the hundredth time, to recreate the makeup on the cover of British ELLE’s January 2002 cover. (It was Liv Tyler, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since).
Sometimes I need to paint on matte, raspberry lipstick on a dank morning, just to shake myself out of a bleak mood.
Maybe that’s the thing: make-up scares an insecure partner sometimes because the drivers behind it are so primal, so instinctive. If what Wikipedia says is true, and witchcraft is “skills and abilities performed by designated social groups with esoteric secret knowledge”, then I think make-up artistry qualifies. Sign me up, I’ll practice that witchcraft. If it threatens boys, then so be it.
My reasons for loving makeup, I wanted to say to him, have nothing to do with attracting a man. It’s a lot of other things.
Some people smoke to steady their nerves; it’s something real to do with your hands, a process. In the same way, makeup’s physicality and its processes calm me. In a world of constant digital stimulation, mixing, smearing and blending is a grounding, tactile act. The pleasure lies in pots of colour, ground metals and powders. It’s the slick click of a lipstick case, the clunk of a weighty compact as it snaps shut in the palm. The rumble of so many boxes and compacts when I sift through my stuff.
I feel very aware that not every woman derives this kind of straightforward, literal enjoyment from cosmetics. I feel conflicted arguing that its appeal is uncomplicated, unalloyed.
Make-up industry marketing mines the semantic field of youth, of happiness in a way that probably does more harm than good. Transform! Seduce! Revive! Restore!
There’s no bottle that can turn back the clock, or truly seduce. And it’s so unnecessary – who really needs bloody primer? Who would die without blusher? – yet there’s the nub. For all my talk of physicality, makeup does wonders for my mind, my imagination too.
It might not save the world, but playing with a lipstick might gird my spirits, temporarily, on a sad day. It’s a frivolity, and God knows hearts and minds need a shot of frivolity from time to time.
I never did tell the (now long-lost) boyfriend that I did that thing with makeup with my eyes for me. To work with and respect what was already there, in my thoughts and on my body. In the pots and pans of colour, of potential. To turn these things into something new, and different, maybe even beautiful.
Post by Thandie.
Lipstick color – the options are endless. Some people have their signature shade – like my friend Polly who rocked Rimmel’s ‘Heather Shimmer’ all through Uni. The irridescent mauve colour was as much ‘her’ as her ringlets, smile, friendship. Eve Ensler – that RED mouth – giving added power to the final “CUNT!” of her one woman show The Vagina Monologues.
I noticed at this year’s launch of One Billion Rising in NYC, that Eve replaced her signature red mouth with silver. We all approved, and interpreted the move like we were reading poetry. Which we were.
At the recent premiere of Mad Max – Fury Road here in LA I opted for a pale mouth and oily dark eyes.
Pale Lips are a statement. A colourless statement, but a statement. They say effortless. They say look at my eyes. A bitten, berry shade lip is sexual; a pale lip is cerebral. They have the wan look of ‘I don’t care’, ‘I’m not afraid’ and ‘I’m not trying to make you look at me (but I notice that you are)’. No wonder all the vampires are bloodless right down to the lip line. It’s very cool, confident, modern – and if you take the vampire metaphor, it’s immortal…
It’s not as simple as wearing no lip colour – because we all have lip colour. We need to cover up the lip colour and replace it with something opaque. I quite like using foundation over my lips and then adding a hint of whatever cheek stain I’ve got going on. I’m crushing on BITE brand’s lip colours at the moment. The packaging and product of this NY label are based around sustainability. They use Agave as a base ingredient, so the taste is fantastic. I used their High Pigment Pencil in SYRAH.
Pale lips – do you dare?
And please, if you haven’t already, go and see MAD MAX – FURY ROAD. It is PHENOMENAL.
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See Mad Max – Fury Road trailer here
Go to One Billion Rising here
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