The black hair tie rests between the tinted lips as the nose picks up the essence of the freshly washed hair from it. It could have lingered there a little while, but a tingling pain has crept up the arms from holding up the hair in its place. The hair goes through loops and twists and turns to engulf the tie like ivy does to a stick. There was no harm in letting the hair down, feeling it softly brush against the skin, imparting it the freedom to dance to the wind, playing all over the face as the wavering willows play peek-a-boo with the sun.
How involuntary is the process? The hands move in tandem with the comb, only to be stopped here and thereby the stubborn tangles. They are impediments to the endless digressions that the mind can take the liberty to attend. A streak of familiarity flashes past the mirror, and the eye catches the resemblance – the hairline redolent of the maternal grandmother or the plumpness of the cheeks to that of the mother. The compliment from earlier in the day stayed in the head all day long, and when home, with a shy whirl in front of the mirror manifests in its truth.
Makeup and its purpose – an inconclusive debate. How it imparts the moments of getting noticed, striking new friendships with jolly little conversations about shades of lipsticks, getting complimented for the perfect stroke of balanced liner on both eyes, the streaks of subtle confidence. Stealing glances at the rearview mirrors of cars, the black glass shop windows lining the pavements, the unlit screen of the phone, packing in little parcels of self-admiration throughout the day. Makeup is done in anticipation for validation from the special someone, in reddest of reds or the brightest of pinks unfailingly sitting on lips as mood lifters, in colors that set the body in motions of rhythms perhaps a dance, in colors that cure claustrophobia of existence. The fuss about the products’ right texture, pigment, or smell is a justified response, given the deep, nuanced understanding of their triggers on the senses. Nude lips, long braids, dark kohl-rimmed eyes, or locks curled in springs – with meticulous craft or natural flare, an image is built and claimed.
Makeup has been labeled frivolous and disengaging, sometimes as self- indulgence or a waste. Blurring the boundary between self-care and self- indulgence, the process of beatification has been viewed as unjustified. Yielding to one’s aesthetic inclinations is adjudged unnecessary, weak, and overtly feminine. Investments in beauty cultures are often thought to betray commitments to feminism, which, on the contrary, is rarely true.
Is beautification oppressive or liberating? Is it a ritual or habit for self or others? The process remains internalized primarily to the feminine gender and is practiced intuitively regardless of the intentions behind the undertaking. The artistic aspects of beauty—selecting the right brush, arranging hair just so, finding the right palette of colors— take center stage. The space in front of the mirror offers pleasure, an escape, a space to unwind, a space that is far from gendered in its privacy. Cosmetic applications have been understood to negotiate cultural expectations, pleasurable creative practices, and create shared experiences.
The hands become trained with the central position of the eyebrows where the bindi lands just right. Even without the looking glass, the lip liner runs along the outline of the lips or waterline with the precision of an artist—the unsaid pleasure from the sensation of the tips of the fingers rimming the eyes with kohl. The fingertip bearing the black smear of the kohl or the tint of the lipstick goes unnoticed or embarrassingly rubbed off on the fabric of the dress when discovered.
Makeup is associative. The process to ‘do’ beauty cannot be soulless; it is constant within the person. Beauty is deployed, trained rather than simply relying on being inherent or intrinsic. The relentless efforts taken up by the little hands to take a dig at mother’s makeup kit was the path to a joyous disarray. Immense joy lay in being able to don a smudged lipstick or an eyelid full of black kohl. The first set of hair clips from the fair stall or the old empty powder case- set the process in motion.
The beautification process has evolved across boundaries, social constructs, genders and sits no less than as a form of expression and assertion in the modern world. Women spend time anxiously working on and adjusting their bodies and renegotiating their positions within society. The wheels of modernity have made critical interventions into the stereotypes. Beauty has become a statement of non-conformity, sprawling across boundaries of identities, embracing universality. Subverting the rules of beauty, makeup has come across as a performance that can even disrupt most mainstream constructs. Like poetry, beauty has been read, re-read, interpreted, and evaluated. Finely calibrated readings of beauty products have promised creativity and radiance, uniqueness, and acceptance. Makeup enables pleasurable iterations of the self rather than making skin-deep improvements.
Author: Sebonti Sinha
[Theatre, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, English Literature]
Illustration/Image/Graphics: TDLM Design Team