i have never really been a 'makeup person.' when i was about thirteen i started experimenting with fuschia winged eyeliner and lime green super-saturated shadow and my mom sighed to me that i looked like a clown, but i just wanted to be trendy. one day in a doctor's office i was flipping through a lifestyle magazine and there was an article showing before and after photos of several models in that season's makeup trends. my mom pointed out that the models looked more interesting in the before shots. 'they all look the same with the makeup on' she said. 'makeup makes everyone look pretty in the same way, but they're already pretty.' i saw her point.
after a long and embarrassing period where i believed that people who wore makeup were 'hiding their real faces' and looked fake, i realized that just like clothing, makeup is an expression of personality as well as aesthetic preferences. most of my friends in university didn't wear makeup, but i had a few who did and were obsessed with it. some of them admitted to wearing it to hide flaws and look more attractive (and thinking back, i don't know why i ever thought there was something wrong with that), but many of them said they were already pretty and wanted to change their looks to match their outfit, mood or self-image. when i asked 'what makeup look are you going for?' one of my friends recently said 'intimidating.' intimidating isn't bad, i thought - that's what i say when people ask me what i'm going for with my clothing.
still, i felt a bit left out. fashion is so closely tied to grooming but i never really got into makeup or styling my hair in highschool or early university. feeling a little left out of some crucial ritual of womanhood, i went on a spree and accumulated probably a hundred inexpensive products that i could use to find my makeup style. i wanted to finally go through the toilette ritual i had seen in so many films and read about in so many books. i had fun trying them out and i realized that i actually like makeup.
but not most of it.
there are products i love so much that they have become part of my signature look. i love darkening my already thick eyebrows, wearing bright and dewy cheek stains and red or purple lips (let me take this moment to plug the nyx extreme lip creams, which i am wearing above in absolute red - it is a moisturizing, beautifully pigmented and glossy colour which unfortunately doesn't stay in place very well, but it's worth it. i will probably review all of my nyx lip products on my tumblr sometime soon, because i love them so much).
i have become so attached to some products, like the US-only vincent longo gel stains and the now-discontinued sephora gel wine stains that the idea i have to find replacements is heartbreaking. i don't think these things make my face look different or typical. they don't hide or change my facial structure, just add colour and emphasis to certain features. i hope, maybe, my makeup even makes me look a little intimidating.
but there are certain products that i still don't, and can't, wear. i don't own any foundation, powder, concealer or tinted moisturizer. i have some bb cream samples but can't bring myself to put them on. i have an eyeshadow and an eyeliner and a mascara, but can barely remember the last time i've worn any of them. i think eye makeup makes me look ugly - or maybe just, as my mom pointed out almost a decade ago, not quite like myself.
more than anything, i am obsessed with texture and functionality, in makeup as well as in clothing. i think there is nothing more beautiful than the texture of human skin, with freckles, moles, scars and imperfections - even (gasp) pores. i don't understand the preoccupation with removing shine in humid weather or removing oils that keep the skin smooth. i always found dark undereyes charming and expressive looking, and would never cover mine. i can't stand putting anything on my face that i can't dance in, swim in, or go out into the heat in unselfconsciously. i want my makeup to evolve as i wear it. i hate the idea of constant reapplication, but sometimes i change my lipstick 5 times a day.
i still agree somewhat with people like my mom who think makeup is generally marketed to make everyone meet the same standard of attractiveness. there is no denying that some general goals exist - plump the lips, enlarge the eyes, lengthen the lashes, smooth the skin, shape things here and there for a slimmer looking nose or perfectly arched eyebrows. there is a ridiculous double-standard in many workplaces where women are expected to wear makeup to 'look professional.' but as with fashion, many women are using makeup to break the mold and express their individuality.
i started to think about makeup differently while (don't laugh) watching an anime about a female concubine-turned-politician in ancient (fictional) china. the heroine's mentor told her as she went into a charged diplomatic meeting that makeup is a woman's armour. i think that is a poignant statement in a world where a woman's physical being can be turned into both a vulnerability and a strength, and where her appearance is under constant scrutiny. whether or not i choose to put it on in the morning, the ritual of putting on makeup makes me feel a little less exposed, a little more in control of other people's perceptions, and a little more connected to the women who, for better or for worse, have used self-beautification as a weapon and a shield for centuries.