Saturday, January 26, 2013

Special Effects

The continuing themes at this blog, touching on the history of hygiene, beauty, and costume, get me to thinking specifically about the use of cosmetics in the human pursuit of self-beautification.  I haven't posted a great deal specifically about makeup and paint, but the fact is that as I have long said, "Makeup is one of my favorite toys."

Several months ago, I was sitting with a friendly acquaintance, out on a Saturday night having fun, and schmanzied up per my usual going-out excess.

He is someone who has on occasion flirted a bit, and without being judgy it may be said I believe he had enjoyed a couple of cocktails.  By way of compliment, he said to me, "You don't need all that makeup."

Never minding the way we train men to relate to women in our culture, nor the presumption of judging someone to her face, I realized what an odd compliment it really is.

"Hon.  This paint is not remediation.  This is special effects."

My favorite aunt once saw a picture of me dressed as Clara Bow for Hallowe'en, and she swore to me for half an hour "That is not a picture of *you*."

I had put on a wig, altered my eyebrows, under-drawn my lips, even goosed my actual expression for photos.  The point had been to achieve a period effect, to look more like Miss Bow - to be in a costume, not to look like myself.

Still - bit of a surprise that someone who'd known me all my life could not see *me* underneath a very simple layer of paint.

The makeup and wig above, the makeup my pal was trying to pooh-pooh out of necessity - not about being fixing any kind of ugly.  And not, indeed, about hiding who I am, either.  I was wearing a fabulous dress, fabulous shoes.  Gotta give fabulous face, it's all drag.  It would look weird to wander around dressed up and sporting my freckles, which I love but which I get to wear ALL the time.

For me, there can be no interest in looking the same way all the time.  I revel in what I am today, a makeup-naked hausfrau playing with my pets in sneaks and comfy pants.  I also revel in impeccable shoes for work, or a great jacket to go with jeans for an outing with friends, and - yep - long, soft dresses and impractical heels for a night out.  It is fun for me to change from situation to situation, to shift, even to surprise sometimes.  As far back as high school, I was told "you never look the same way one day to the next" - and this has turned out to be one of the formative compliments I've ever heard.

I contain multitudes.

I look at people who are always "on" and don't understand the appeal - but, then again, for me to never *ever* be "on" would be a bit of a drag too.  My personality isn't suited to stagnation, and playing with the way I look stimulates some creativity.

And so ... painting my face is not about fixing something (I think/anyone else might think is) wrong.  I go around without any makeup at all, and I go around with a lot less than in this photo, MOST of the time.  Something like this shot is about, if anything, heightening and emphasizing what I might feel is right with my face.  Or just having some darn fun (yeah, wigs itch, but getting told I look like Barbara Feldman is enjoyable indeed).

Special effects can also be about capturing something other than beauty - period authenticity in a costume, for instance, or simply creating a look which evokes a certain reaction.  Makeup can be used for a sense of personal change, too; the way some people get haircuts - or *surgery* - or redecorate ... I can make a change in my face (and still wash it off later, no damage done).  For me, this is not about a lack of self-esteem, or denial of self, but the simple diversion of change.

It is also a frank indulgence - to spend decidedly un-counted time physically pampering myself, to bathe, to scent, to primp, to dress, to pick out overstated earrings, to take care of myself.  Cosmetic application is fun - which way will I do my eyes today, how well will this method of blending, this color, this painting of my mood or attitude work.  It's my theory that some part of the reason people say I don't look as old as I am is that my mask is not set - indeed, was not set in 1986 - because I am always trying some new thing, never allowing myself to petrify visually.  I don't have clue-catcher bangs and a spiral perm - and I don't tan and wear frosted lipstick either.  Nerdliness is next to youthfulness, after all.  Heh.

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