Humour by Rehana Munir: The sceptic’s guide to make-up
I recently accompanied a friend to the gynaecologist’s clinic and found myself seated beside a glass cabinet stacked with a journal evocatively titled ‘Fertility and Sterility’, triggering thoughts about the two much-discussed states of being. I was interrupted from my reverie by a well-turned-out young lady, furiously posting make-up tutorials on her fancy phone. I was close, bored and inappropriate enough to figure she was the one in the videos holding forth on all matters cosmetic with a confidence I can only aspire to.
An unmarketable skill
It’s a relationship I can’t claim to have nurtured with any degree of interest or success. Like any child, I too was interested in the contents of my mother’s make-up case, secretly slathering lipstick on my lips and cheeks whenever I could. School plays were where elaborate make-up fantasies were played out – a legit chance to wear rouge and mascara while playing, err, trees or dwarves on a wooden stage before a wooden audience. The excitement fizzled out pretty quickly. By the time I was in college, I’d surrendered to a kajal-only make-up routine via a brief and unremarkable dalliance with eye-liner. To this day, I pride myself on my accurate kaajal application in bumpy autos, unaided by mirrors or good sense. If only such skills were deemed marketable by the world.
This is not a critique of make-up or those whom it serves and delights; it is a lone woman’s reflection on a matter that is deemed every woman’s common inheritance and core competency. We’re expected to be well-versed in all matters cosmetic, expertly concealing blemishes or accentuating cheek bones as the occasion demands, and that’s, well, annoyingly inaccurate.
“You need this for the camera”
It’s not such a big deal in regular life. But get invited to a wedding or tasked with a photo shoot and you’re guaranteed to be dragged to the depths of despair by a judgmental mirror with a dozen accusing lights around it. It’s where all manner of weapons are deployed by a well-meaning make-up artist who punctures every ounce of self-belief you’ve spent decades building. Priming your face with foundation, they proceed to inflict colourful wounds with an insouciance that is chilling. As the minutes pass, you find yourself altering beyond recognition in the mirror, trying to muffle every cry of protest in the interest of being open-minded. By the time you’re able to form a coherent defence, it’s too late. A tissue is being pressed between your lips and something moist being dabbed under your eyes.
There is no turning back from here. “You need this for the camera,” they assert. “You’ll look too dull if you don’t,” they warn. “This is just a light and natural look,” they promise. When you go through said pictures, in which you look somewhere between a burlesque performer and a creature out of science fiction, your mind goes back to those fateful moments before the mirror when you still had a voice but couldn’t muster the nerve.
The joker school of make-up
I see the flipside and it brings me much joy. I have friends who liven up a room simply by wearing bright red lipstick. Others whose creative nail paint is an instant lift-me-up. And those whose smouldering eye make-up leaves me gaping in awe. But the make-up industry runs on dated and dangerous ideas about the relationship between appearance and desire, and advertising peddles every cliché in the book about femininity to sell lip plumpers and false eyelashes. As a fallout, it’s disconcerting to hear conversations between teenagers where everything from airbrushing pictures to having cosmetic surgery is scarily desirable and within reach.
To me, make-up is never as interesting or appealing as when it enables a break with tradition, like a young man with painted lips or an elderly woman with emphatic eyes. The gold standard, however, is Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. That powdered face with smudged kohl and lipstick, complete with the creepy vibe, is a terrific send-up to the classic school of make-up. Zombie chic, glam rock and goth brides are other winning looks, for whoever can pull them off. I, meanwhile, will stick to my organic kajal in a bumpy auto, hiding from make-up professionals with the zeal of a paranoiac.
Follow @rehana_munir on Twitter and Instagram
From HT Brunch, September 5, 2021
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