When I was a kid, my hippie mom, God bless her, dismissed displays of femininity as corrupt. All that primping and performing—it was for women with backward priorities, for conformists. Her disgust made makeup, that femme-iest of femme preoccupations, both intriguing and confounding. I'd inspect the moms of friends and wonder, Have they been conned by the propaganda machine? I couldn't help but echo my mother's judgment.

But adulthood complicated matters. In college I had bad skin; I bought concealer. In grad school I had worse skin; I switched to foundation. Then I got a grown-up job, happened to befriend several very attractive people and felt compelled to step up my game. That is, I capitulated—at least a little bit. I crafted a bare-bones beauty regimen (in addition to the foundation, there was pressed powder, a faint shade of lip gloss, an eyelash curler) designed solely to get me up to par. I wasn't aiming for pretty, just decent.

Then I discovered eyeliner.

No one could accuse me of wearing too much—it's just a modest sweep—but it's jet black, and the line is a touch thicker than something aiming for "natural." It's the only remotely aggressive aspect of my makeup routine (though most people would laugh at the word aggressive in this context) and one that isn't simply a utilitarian masking of flaws. My eyeliner makes me look vaguely retro, I think, and also renders my blue eyes, my best feature, especially piercing. It doesn't change my face—it just turns up the volume.

Which is ironic. My mother distrusted the trappings of womanhood because she believed they obscured us, took something natural and beautiful and squeezed it to fit society's arbitrary, punishing parameters. I agree with her to an extent. But wearing eyeliner is different. A smart cook knows that salt makes ingredients taste more intensely like themselves—and I believe cosmetics can work the same way. My assertive eyeliner opens my face, brings my features forward. It doesn't mean I've tried to fit into a template that doesn't suit me, and it doesn't make me look like everyone else. It makes me look more like me.


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