Confession: This is my makeup table. Am I a hoarder, or do you think it is just the right amount of makeup? I would love to know! My table is secondhand, bought from Christine Kobzeff a.k.a. PinkSoFoxy of YouTube fame, just before she left Maui for a new life in Arizona. I love it and believe it has good mojo! So, while Virginia Woolf wrote about the importance of “A Room of One’s Own,” for me, a makeup table of one’s own is much more important. It draws me to it and reminds me that I matter, that I can take a few minutes and play with colors, and make myself feel better about me. Now, I’m fine with heading to the car without makeup as a lot of women in Maui do, but starting the day looking at myself in the mirror, choosing from my collection, is a little reminder that I’m still here, I matter, I count. In a world that glorifies youth culture, I need all the reminders I can get!!!
In truth, the history of makeup really fascinates me. You probably know that Cleopatra, perhaps the first beauty icon in history, used Kohl to line her eyes, starting a trend that has lasted until today. Egyptians even buried make-up kits in their tombs for the after life. (They were my kind of people.) The Chinese found a way to apply color to their nails, with a concoction of beeswax, tree saps, gelatin, and egg whites. The Japanese Geishas, of course, mastered their art of dramatic make-up application by crushing flower petals to stain their lips and eyes, and grinding rice into a fine powder, to create their stark white appearance. Perhaps, even in the hunter-gatherer days, some cavewoman might have figured out that crushed berries could stain lips and cheeks. And, that chick was probably my ancestor.
While the desire for transformative beauty seems timeless, the notion of what is considered beautiful is constantly changing. Today, you must accent and define your brows and lashes, with some models even cultivating a unibrow. But in the middle ages, a high forehead was thought to be a sign of beauty and, thus, the eye brows and lashes were removed. (Ouch!) In the past, in many cultures, a pale face was considered beautiful and an obvious sign of high social status, as those sporting tanned skin worked in the fields. Thus, women cultivated (or applied) a pale visage, to represent themselves as members of the upper classes. Today, we slather ourselves in sunscreen, but apply bronzer to look like we laid out all day in the sun. Ingredients-wise, we have the modern notion that makeup should be au naturelle, vegan and cruelty-free, though many still levy a toxic burden for its wearer. Hopefully, not as grave as in the past centuries, when makeup contained more serious dangers, such as arsenic. As my favorite poet Yeats penned:
Despite the seesaw journey makeup has been on throughout the ages, what remains clear to all of us is “a little powder, a little paint, makes a lady what she ain’t.”
My love affair with makeup started early, as I watched my mother transform her tired, too little sleep face with makeup every morning. She would grab Coty Airspun Lose Face Powder (born in 1935), Maybelline Cake Mascara (created in 1915 by a 19 year old chemist/entrepreneur) and some cheap drug store lip stick or another (in pink or coral), then splash on some L’Aimant by Coty (launched in 1927), and throw on a sassy scarf (it was the 1960’s after all) to trot down the front walk and head to work as a secretary. She was one of those women with little money due to raising four kids alone, who nevertheless struggled to make a statement with her look, even painting her fabric pumps to match her outfits and dying her hair a vibrant red….though it broke her scalp out and lead to an unfortunate series of wigs. She had no walk-in closet, just a small closet perhaps two feet wide and in the bottom of it, a pile of heels that my sister and I spent a lot of our childhood in, at least until she decided that being a tom boy was better and I was left to my lonesome, posing in the mirror. Mom put Preparation H on her eye bags to shrink them, Crisco on her skin to remove make up and to moisturize. I wonder if I’m the only one who had a container of Crisco in the one bathroom growing up? There were the hours of plucking hairs out of her chin, her eyebrows, which to me seemed a hideous torture. There were no expensive concoctions, no trips to a medspa for injections, but still a love of makeup and staying young-looking, as long as humanly possible. Even at the age of 95, bedridden in Maui, she still loved being plucked and powdered!
So, my obsession came about early. I grew up stealing my mother’s cake mascara out of the trash, where she’d chuck it when she hit pan. For those unfamiliar with cake mascara, it was a black cake, in a hard case, with a small wired brush, that you needed to add a few drops of water to, to use. Being perpetually crunched for time, I remember my Mom spitting into the little case. While an unsanitary habit, she was not alone as this type of early mascara was jokingly known as “spit black.” I remember sneaking my trash treasure to school in third grade and taking it out, whenever I used the bathroom, to add a little to my eyelashes. What was I thinking? I wonder now, if my teachers noticed…
Recently, a friend of my daughter’s came over to the house with a touch of mascara on. My husband committed the cardinal sin of commenting on this thirteen year old’s look, discouraging the use of heavy makeup, which lead to an afternoon of tears and apologies. What he failed to realize was that we don’t wear makeup for men. We wear it for ourselves and to be noticed by other women. Who hasn’t met up with a girlfriend, only to hear the, “ooh, I’m loving your makeup!” Makeup forms us into a secret society, where we share Holy Grails and Must Haves. Perhaps an idle pastime for some, for those in the secret society, it is an Art form to be taken seriously, as the canvas, i.e., your face is constantly changing, constantly challenging us to try new techniques and products, to enhance what our mamas gave us.
I was surprised to find out that the first mascara was made for Queen Victoria, a concoction of vaseline jelly and coal tar by someone named Rimmel—yes that Rimmel, the brand that is still producing make-up today. Whether you are an eight year old playing with it, or a thirteen year old venturing out into the world for the first time, or a 95-year-old hot babe, makeup is, ultimately, a very personal thing. Let’s just right now add it to the list with religion and politics, as things not to discuss in polite company. If you don’t like someone’s make up, let it go and stay silent.
For us secret society members, developing a look or looks, can be a serious proposition. Yes, it can be a very powerful thing, a public statement to the world saying, “heh world, this is me and I don’t mind if you know about it!” Frankly, it takes balls to wear makeup, whether you are a man, or a woman and that’s something even George Washington knew about, as he was known to apply a little powder and paint. So realize Dear Reader, that it can be a sensitive matter, as we see that aging face staring back at us in the mirror, to believe in that face enough to say, “I still deserve to adorn you”.
One thing I know for sure is, if I’m lucky enough to live to 95 with all my marbles, I will still covet my makeup bag and need to know where it is at all times. Dear family and friends, if I start to lose it, do me a favor and please help me find it? And….if you have it in you to pluck and powder me, I wouldn’t say no to the offer. Thanks for listening to my thoughts on powder and paint. If you think I have too much on that makeup table of mine, or on my face, don’t judge, cause this Sassy Pants is still hustling to get the job done. Whether it’s a hit or a miss, we are all a work in progress. Wrinkles are gonna come, that’s for sure, but I’m gonna wear them proudly, like I do my makeup. So, here’s to all you beauties out there in the Blogosphere, to your Holy Grails, beauty secrets and passed on traditions. May you share them and wear them well.
Stay sassy and beautiful.
Mrs. Sassy Pants