"Your lipstick looks stunning. It suits you perfectly well!"
How did she react?
"Aw, thank you! This has been my color since I was fourteen! Can you believe it?"
How did I feel?
I adore make up. My vanity bag is not just a plastic container full of colors. It is much more: I call it my toolbox for liberation, exploration and re-identification. Its content kicks off endless fun. As a kid I would apply make up to my sister's face for hours, investigating all the angles and characteristics of her visage, unfolding the countless possibilities her face contained. I celebrated her looks. However she did not quite agree and remained critical about it. Reluctantly she let me do as I liked for a while for I managed to convince her that being her older sister was equal to being the coolest and wisest person on the planet (unfortunately she stopped buying that at some point). Until one day - I think it was when I painted wrinkles and grey stubbles on her eight years old skin, frolicking "Check this out! I am turning you into an old geezer! I'll find a pillow to squeeze under your shirt in a second so we can make you look fat, too. Isn't this awesome?" - she declined my requests for playing her make up artist. For good. My beautician's career ended cold-turkey. I still believe that was as close as I have ever gotten to being a visual artist.
Living in Berlin I see at least one drag queen, body paint model, or face painted rocker per day. Unlike in other places in the world people make use of a full range of make up accessories in their every day lives here. I love that. Some of them use pens and brushes to make a statement. Coloring their skin they tell everyone who lives beneath those pores of theirs. Others sweep away their sadness and seriousness with glitter every Friday night. I bet you have seen it even if you don't reside in Berlin. Think about the carnival, your favorite festival or the last theme party you went to. During those times the colors of make up work like tunes of a musical instrument tickling peoples' feet and shaking their hips, inspiring everyone to dive into a realm away from suit and tie and reinvent themselves in the moment. Make up does not just re-frame bodies, it donates new contexts to whole situations. Triggering fascination, imagination and helping you let go it invites you to become whoever you want: A tiger, a leather fetishist, a hippie. An abstract piece of art; Or, maybe (if you ask my past self: Definitely!) an old geezer.
One of the million characters make up is capable of turning someone into is the classic dame. A lady with long lashes, rose cheeks and fine eyebrows. In this case, rather than pasting every inch of the person's skin, it can be sufficient if the maquillage underlines only one characteristic of the person's face: Maybe eye shadow tastefully repeats the color of her eyes, a beauty spot points out the lines of her face or a pair of earrings stresses her head's shape almost unnoticed. This particular use of make up sparks less of a firework of colors as it does for masquerades and crazy parties, and instead makes whoever wears it radiate with a certain kind of femininity. It is its own art form. Charming me when I see it it triggers a brainstorm on divas and charisma inside of me. Last week I was lucky to experience one of those diva-moments in Cologne. It happened at a place I least expected it to: A bakery at Venloer Straße. In the middle of the day I opened the door, ready to treat myself to a coffee. Closing the door behind me I heard a woman's voice cry, "Hello!" in honeyed tones from the back. I answered, "Hi!". While I was busy checking out the pastries she entered the space behind the counter. I looked up. And was blown away. There it was: A lipstick's red that made a madame's lips stick out perfectly. They were personified womanhood. I did not spot any make up in her face on top of that, just those two red lines. She looked amazing. The color contrasted her black, full hair, and made the lively expression of her eyes stick out. She was so pretty I was a bit intimidated. While she served me I kept secretly glimpsing at her just like, well, yeah- the geezer from across the street who stares at his cute neighbor all day, drool dripping down on his slippers. Suddenly I was representing who my sister had denied to embody years ago. Now that I call karma. Finally, after I had paid and she had handed me my cup I gave myself a push and said, "I love your lipstick. It suits you amazingly well." Within a second a broad smile occupied her face. She said, "Oh, thank you! This has been my color ever since I was fourteen. Guess what, they don't even sell it in Germany anymore. Every time my mom visits from Italy I am making her bring a whole range of it." We laughed. Then she pointed at my mouth and said, "Yours is pretty cool, too!" "Thanks", I said, and grinned. Then I asked her, "So are you from Italy?" And she said, "Yeah!". I told her my ancestors came from Naples and she shook her head, her curls swaying from side to side, and shouted to the back "Did you hear that, boss? I told you, all the pretty girls come from Italy!". Together we laughed. I took a sip from my coffee, said, "Grazie e buona giornata!" and waved at her. "Grazie a te!", she answered. We exchanged one last smile, then I left.
I feel like I should clarify one thing:
Praising make up I am not turning a blind eye to the giant make up industry there is. I am aware of their ads and how they brainwash girls, pelting them with photo shopped pictures that dictate the meaning of beauty. No, I am no fan of that. And no, I am not saying make up is a must wear. The most beautiful girl I know lives in Northern California and I have not seen make up on her face a single time. However her prettiness is everywhere as soon as she enters the room. Pulchritude is not a result of applying concealers, eyeliners or lipsticks. To me those things are means to exploring, having fun and independently choosing an identity and I appreciate them for that, no more, no less. The general definition of beauty is a whole different chapter which shall be opened some other time. And now excuse me, I am off to dye my hair in all the colors of the rainbow, paint some butterflies on my ankles and apply zebra stripes on my face.