Maya Itah: Face Painting / Face Reading

This article was originally published in The Daily Pulp on October 22, 2014.

Read more about author Maya Itah here.

Of all the nicknames for makeup, “war paint”is my very favorite.

The term might sound ridiculous to you. As far as most people are concerned:

War paint = Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”

Makeup = totally frivolous; something girls wear to look as inoffensively appealing as possible

But that seems like an unfair way to think about eyeliner, blush, and mascara. There are plenty of women who use makeup to make their faces meet society’s ever-evolving ideal—clear skin, pouty lips, flushed cheeks, whatever—but there are also plenty of women who pair bright eyeshadow and orange lipstick; women who make themselves look like they belong in the 1920s; women who make themselves look intimidating or downright scary.

And as for the women who wear more typical makeup—so what? Are they trying to attract members of their preferred sex? Likely. Are they trying to look polished and get ahead in the workplace? Also likely. Are they trying to mark the transition between being home and being in public, between being kind of a five-year-old at heart and demonstrating adult levels of competence and self-restraint?

That’s what I use it for. When I put on makeup, I feel like I’m both literally and figuratively putting my best face forward. Applying eyeliner every morning might not be the most productive way to address my anxieties about What Adulthood Means, but that’s a discussion for another time. The point is that it doesn’t make sense to assume anyone wears makeup for any one reason. My motivations for wearing makeup have changed a lot over time:

Age 10 to 13

At my local community theater, I spent summers applying thick foundation and bright pink rouge before shows. In truth, my favorite part was learning how to make myself look like I’d just stepped out of a horror movie. Putting a convincing bullet hole in my forehead was much more fulfilling than making my lashes look convincingly fuller. (Plus, the fake blood tasted like sweet mint. Mmm.)

Age 13 to 18

I only started wearing makeup on a day-to-day basis to cover up my tragic freshman-year-of-high-school acne, the kind where you notice the pimples before you notice the actual person’s face. I saw it as a necessary evil, a reminder of my skin’s daily failure to behave. I was terrified of going outside without it. I didn’t wear anything to accentuate my features; makeup was purely corrective.

Age 18 to 21

My routine changed about a year after I started going to college. I attended a Southern California school known for embodying every negative LA stereotype—and plenty of the positive ones, too, because everyone was hot. It was so nuts that venturing off campus felt like entering an alternate universe (“where did all the pretty people go?”). I realized that the student population wasn’t necessarily genetically gifted. People “took care of themselves.” That didn’t mean students got enough sleep or exercised any kind of restraint with alcohol. It meant they went to the gym obsessively, did their hair, and wore all the right things.

I decided that my crunchy NorCal style wasn’t going to cut it anymore, and thus began my entry into the world of Real Makeup: Physicians Formula Mineral Wear® Face Powder, Benetint on my lips and cheeks, and Maybelline Line Stiletto® Liquid Eyeliner, which I took great pride in using to do a cat eye, the kind I’d been low-key coveting ever since I saw the look on this one girl who went to my high school. On the nights I went out—mostly to sweaty basements and backyards—I wore bright green and red eyeshadow, which I promise looked better than you think it did, though not when I tried to add some black in there because I truly didn’t know how to blend.

From what I understand, most ladies reach this stage of their makeup journeys in high school. I guess I was late to the party.

Age 21 to Now

College was a crazy time, and not always in the WOAH MOVIE fun way. For a bunch of boring reasons, I took a lot of extra classes, and getting funding for them required me to maintain a fairly high GPA. I did study abroad in Amsterdam for a semester (awww yisssss), but mostly I dragged myself through those years in a zombie-like, sleep-deprived state. My goal, makeup-wise, was to establish a thought-free routine that would make me look good in the most boring sense of the word. After graduation, I spent a year wearing a uniform and working 11 hours a day at an elementary school, so that attitude persisted.

But things changed when I moved back up to NorCal and got a Big Girl Job. I suddenly had a previously unthinkable amount of free time, and I used it to figure out how I really wanted to present myself to the world.

Signaling that I’m put-together enough to spend time on myself in the morning is my main motivation for wearing makeup these days. Still, all that goopy stuff also gives me a concrete way to experiment with my identity.

Has anyone ever asked you whether you’d rather be loved or respected? On any given day, I can tell how I feel about that question by considering the following: Am I wearing precise eyeliner or poppy-pink blush?

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