Native Americans have long embraced the practice of using war paint to communicate different messages via colors and symbols during war. They were a highly spiritual people who conveyed their thoughts and ideas through the extensive use of body and face paint.  Wearing face paint is an ancient custom originating in Egypt in 3000 BC.  The Egyptians were the first recorded people who cultivated beauty in an extravagant way. Cosmetics and perfumes were prepared from berries, dyes, crushed insects, leaves, barks and minerals. They infused essential oils from flowers and leaves to make perfumes. Queen Nefertiti (circa 1400 BC) stained her nails red by dipping her finger tips in henna, and sported lavishly designed make up. Queen Cleopatra was known for her signature scents. The sea became heavily perfumed when she sailed in her royal barge. Her beauty regimen of ass’s milk bath or crushed pearls was legendary. Elaborate eyeliners prepared from kohl made from ground galena, Sulphur and animal fat were used by all Egyptians. It helped alleviate eye inflammation and glare from the sun. Make up was not just decorative; it was used for divine purposes. Jars of cosmetics have been found in tombs, so it was important enough to be carried to the journey after life. The original painted Harlot was   the mythic figure Semiramis, the mother-wife of Nimrod. She was said to use make up for religious rituals In Babylon.

The Romans and Greeks were influenced by the Egyptians and they too used fragrance and cosmetics lavishly. During the golden age of Greece (circa 500 BC) hairstyling became a highly developed art. Greek women applied preparations of white lead on their faces, kohl around their eyes and vermillion on their cheeks and lips. These applications were mixed with ointment or dusted on the skin in the same way cosmetics are applied today. In ancient Rome hair tints indicated one’s status in society. Only noble women could dye their hair red, middle class wore blond and black were the masses. The Chinese royals had a complete monopoly on red nail lacquer. Commoners were executed if they were caught using red on their nails. So if we look back at the history of cosmetic use from the kohl-lined elaborate makeup to white lead-based paint favored by the Elizabethans we will find women have always experimented with color cosmetics.  There was a stigma attached to wearing color cosmetics in the Victorian era.  Make up was the hallmark of ladies of the night, not upper class or regular women.

It is common to hear phrases like, “I gotta go slap on some warpaint.” Or, she is going to take hours in the bathroom putting on her war paint for a night out in town. The use of the term war paint is synonymous with an overabundance of makeup applied for the purpose hiding what lies beneath. Women wish to hide their vulnerable selves behind a mask of make up. This mask makes them feel ready to take on the outside world. The question here is “why do most women wear makeup today when most men don’t?” I say “most” men because rock stars like David Bowie, Prince or boy George had a huge fan following in spite of flaunting a heavily made up face. Women have been encouraged to look eye catching yet penalized if their efforts hit the mark too easily.  This is an example from Hamlet’s angry tirade towards his beloved Ophelia: “God has given you one face, but you make yourselves another. You jig and amble and you lisp. You nickname God’s creatures and make wantonness your ignorance “So, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  Make up plays different roles at different stages of our lives.  Girls start out playing with their mother’s lipstick and face powder as early as age three or four. As pre-teens, some girls start wearing eye shadow and lip gloss. Most girls graduate to full-fledged make up by the time they are fifteen, their genuinely dewy complexions covered by a mask of foundation in order to look more mature and sexy. Advertisement plays a big role in this precocious use of makeup. Statistics say seven out of ten women wear makeup to work every day. Most give up thirty minutes of precious sleep every morning in order to put on makeup and fix their hair. Some present the frightening spectacle of putting on mascara with one hand and holding the steering wheel in the other. I have yet to see a man hold anything other than food or beverage while driving.  As the cosmetic stalwart Helena Rubenstein said, “there are no ugly women, only lazy ones. “ Most women loath to appear slothful in this area of their lives. 

Can women advance up the career ladder, lipstick in hand? Apparently yes. Along with required qualifications, career women who wear restrained, muted makeup appear more likeable, competent and worthy of advancement. A slash of red lipstick increases the contrast between facial features and skin tones, new research claims. At other times crimson lips increases a woman’s chance of being picked up by the opposite sex.  A bright complexion, flushed cheeks and berry red lips signal reproductive suitability. Women have always wanted to look, smell and thus feel better about themselves.  In modern times, such goals became accessible to the masses only after World War II. Around that time, advertisement began to promote the concept of flawless beauty. This thinking took hold in the mind of women around the globe. Today, women in Ghana and other African  countries can be seen spending hard earned money on bleaching creams and other cosmetic products as they believe  white is truly better.

Everyone talks about aging gracefully, yet there is not a single Congress woman or Senator or mayor in any US city who sport an aging grey head. These women are in the public arena, they feel intense pressure to project a youthful, energetic image. Most women take a sneak peek at articles like “10 Makeup tricks to make you look younger”.  There are numerous helpful tricks from covering your under eye circles, filling out your thinning aged brows, dabbing highlighter or using subtle contouring techniques. Most of us fail to follow these helpful hints in our daily morning rush yet we succumb to buying the catch all products again and again. This is why cosmetics are a recession proof business. In times of economic hardship, the ordinary mom/ office worker may not buy a new winter coat but will easily spring for a bright new lipstick or the latest shade of nail lacquer.

I would conclude this discussion by saying that women subject themselves to unnatural standards of perfection which is hard to achieve even after using all the products we have in our arsenal. The others are not looking for these assumed perfections. There is beauty in originality. Instead of a cookie cutter homogeneous look, it is fine to experiment with color and use make up only so far as to express our creative side.  We as women should now exhale and give ourselves permission to be our best selves without being slaves of the cosmetic tyrants and image makers. If going makeup free is your thing, it is just as fine as a fully made up face.  The choice should be left to the woman alone.



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