If I were to envision heaven, it would be similar to a cosmetics section of a department store; bright and attractive. Whenever I go to a city, I find a department store and its cosmetics. It’s like a ritual, enchanting every time.
I’m serious. Every visit fills me with a specific kind of contentment as I gaze through eye shadows, try slashes of lipsticks on my wrist, smell intoxicating clouds of perfume and read descriptions to mascaras that offer length, volume and a rainbow of colours.
To me cosmetics are like modern day witchcraft. Potions and bottles that promise you beauty. Makeup is like magic as you use the ingredients to hide, enhance and highlight through shadows, light and colours to the extent that the person looking back to you from the mirror looks nothing like the one who first gazed into the cauldron.
It has been done for hundreds of years and through trial and error the craft has been perfected by the selected few, sorcerers keen to unravel its secrets who now sell the potions like ancient wise women.
This is pursued through means that nowadays have been declared as science, chemistry and psychology. My friends’ boyfriend organises lighting to expensive department stores and luxury car shows and I know now that not a single ray of light is an accident when people are meant to be buying something. Behind the normality is a complex and carefully thought out web of plans to make the ordinary extraordinary, turn maybe into a yes.
And despite knowing about it, I still fall for it. Every time.
Why? Maybe for the same reason that I refuse to even entertain the idea of how magicians perform their tricks. Some people get a kick out of the speculation, to me it’s almost sinful. You are not supposed to know, it’s magic. The irony is not lost on me, as I’m such a cynical person otherwise.
Maybe this is the childlike naivety in me that wants to believe that in the world where everything has an explanation there are things outside the field of vision, beyond comprehension, such as magic.
Of course there is a limit. I know there isn’t and there never will be a mascara that will create a realistic impression that I’m wearing false eyelashes but I still go to the cosmetics department and try to find exactly that. I want to believe into the promises, into the comforting possibility that one day, somehow, there will be a product that will bring me the vision of beauty that I seek.
I really got into makeup while I was in hospital and had a load of time on my hands. I would watch youtube tutorials and heed the advice. I’m no pro but I’ve improved massively. I think makeup became a method of self-expression but also self-preservation. Knowing that my makeup was on point made me feel more comfortable about facing the world. Walls might be collapsing around me, but at least I looked good.
This happened the other day. I was at a Bodyshop, and a teenage girl with Down’s syndrome was having a makeup lesson. A lady working at the shop was going through everything with her, starting from the base all the way to doing her eyes and choosing which shade of lipstick suited her skin tone. She had her family with her, who were following the process with keen interest. Everyone was fussing around her, and she was clearly loving every second of it.
I have a confession to make: That sight made me feel so emotional that I had to leave the shop. Someone had been thoughtful enough to offer this young woman this experience despite her disability. She is still a young woman, and getting to witness her taking some of her first steps towards womanhood was almost sacred.
Another occasion. Different city. I’m at a cosmetics department. I hadn’t planned to buy anything but since the morning something has been nagging at me. I hate every single shade of lipstick that I own. It’s extraordinary because a couple of months ago I really liked them. Now it’s like someone had turned off the attractive lights and I could only see bland and boring colours that did nothing to enhance my features.
I have no idea what I’m looking for, but I instinctively head towards a brand which I would’ve adored as a teenager when I wore a corset and leather trousers to school. The brand has over a hundred shades, with most of them screaming colour beyond any shred of conformity, blues, golds and blood reds. Colours which I would’ve loved as an edgy teenager but are now hopelessly out of reach.
Then I see it.
The lipstick is a very deep pink, almost purple. The shreds of glitter glisten in the attractive web of light like the surface of a secret bay of mermaids, a small piece of universe with billions of constellations. In that moment it’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It could also make me beautiful. I ask the consultant if I could try it on and once I do, a hue of that enchantment looks back at me on the mirror.
“I couldn’t pull that off but you can,” says the salesgirl.
I ask if I can have a test run, go to a few shops to see how the lipstick stays on before making a decision. The last feeble attempts of common sense to step in and say that a 25-year-old shouldn’t be wearing such a bold colour. The magic will evaporate once I’m out on the street.
But it doesn’t. On every reflective surface the lipstick is still just as pink and glistening, comfortable to wear and complimenting my skin tone. Men will never believe this but if this planet was only inhabited by women, this wouldn’t affect sales of cosmetics in the slightest.
Makeup is about feeling good about yourself and that confidence is what attracts others towards this mystery, which again makes some want to unravel it and others to just stand in awe. Could she really be this beautiful?
I bought the lipstick.