“And for me that look is deeply personal. It isn’t about what is in fashion or what the rules are supposed to be. It’s about what I like. What makes me want to smile when I look in the mirror. What makes me feel slightly better on a dull day. What makes me comfortable.”
-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
No shade at all to Alicia Keys’ choice to be bare faced and those women who have chosen to follow in her footsteps, but for me, it is so refreshing and inspiring to read that as the new face of a British Make Up brand called No7, Chimamanda stands firm in that her Feminism is not defined by stripping herself of that which makes makes her feel proud to be a woman; namely make-up.
As face paint does in many indigenous cultures for men and women from birth to adulthood, so the role of make-up has evolved in various stages of my life as I’m know it has in the lives of many women.
I loved make-up from a young age almost mmediately. I learned make-up from watching my mom whose signature brow pencil is still Maybeline and who still will never use anything but pure Khol liner on her eyes. I learned it from the fashion magazines she brought into the house and from my Jamaican Godmother who did a short stint as a model when she was in her 20s. I used to rifle through her dresser drawers when she had parties in her home in Brooklyn. I will never forget the way she looked at me when I emerged on her roof one night where guests milled around, wearing a a deep shiny (Remember when lipsticks weren’t all matte?) almost Cranberry red lipstick I chose from her dresser drawer. I had defiantly smeared the color on my lips in her bedroom where I spent time lazily soaking up the intoxicating femininity of her surroundings. Even in the dark I could see her shock and disapproval as she told me to turn around and take the lipstick off immediately before my mother saw me. So I was immediately hooked.
I was hooked by the impact that make-up had on the way in which adults saw me and later by the way in which it impacted the way my peers saw me. I was not yet consciously aware of it but I realize now knew make-up was enhancing and bringing forth some part of the powerful woman in me that made people stop and stare. It was an un-evolved, defiant and irresponsible embracing of that power but I enjoyed every bit of it at the time. In High School, black eyeliner was my staple and a loud sparkly pink Brucci lipstick with Strawberry scented roll on gloss were my make-up staples. I put them on in the restroom each morning and wiped everything off before I went home.
In my early 20s I started wearing foundation and power, plucked out most of my eyebrows and drew them in severely. Nuance in the way I applied make wouldn’t really emerge until my early 30s when I discovered that wearing make-up didn’t have to mean looking like you were wearing it all the time. I discovered that busy eyes needed a simple limp and a bold lip looked great with a simple eye. During a few years spent working at Barnes & Noble I poured through Kevyn Aucoin books and began to understand that make-up was no different than face paint, a face dressing, drag, war paint, tribal paint. And I fell in love with it even more.
Lately, I’ve come fully into my own with the way that make-up and colors on my face make me feel and influence that way I show up in the world and the energy I give off in my every day interactions and also how truly ancient and spiritual the role of face paint and masks have always played in our lives as human beings. We have learned from animals and nature how to evokes certain looks to represent status, how we feel, what we desire and more. It’s important for me to be able to look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see, to smile at myself before I start the day, as much when I feel like crap as when I feel willing and ready. It’s also important for me that I take of the canvas on which I express myself daily. And It feels good to know that Chimimanda Adichie, a woman whose work and spirit I so deeply admire and respect, gets it!
While make-up should not be an equation of what it means to be beautiful the way it has been in a society dominated by Patriarchal and Western standards, it has been a part of what many women since ancient time have understand as a rite of passage to womanhood as well as an enhancement of the power and beauty of the woman you are or are becoming.