Mascara, blush, rouge, lipstick, makeup… Common words and common enough objects; you can find one of these things in a woman’s handbag along with many other beauty products and knickknacks. 🙂 Makeup surrounds us and nowadays it is easily accessible and caters to any budget. From the cheep and cheery (or is affordable the more appropriate word?) to the very luxurious ones. Whatever your budget or desire you’ll find something for yourself.
But as with any common object that we use daily we rarely stop to think about its origins and history. Come now tell me how much do you think about the history of a fork or spoon or a chair? I’d wager you don’t think about it at all. 🙂 And after all why should you? The history of everyday objects is not taught in schools. It is neither glorious nor relevant enough to be a part of the history curriculum filled with Europeocentric diplomatic history, men and wars. We barely manage to fit women and other cultures in there. I apologise if this is not the case in your country, but this is (in my opinion) a pretty good estimation of Croatia’s history curriculum.
But often the history behind those “mundane” objects is most fascinating to people. Perhaps they are interested because the story behind these objects is not taught in history class (and that automatically makes it more interesting, less boring and dull 🙂 ), or because our innate desire to know how some things are made and how they came to pass. I’m a historian by profession, and until my 4th year at university (for those interested I studied History and English at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Split, Croatia) I have never been taught about history of everyday life. That’s when I discovered that there’s a whole branch of history dedicated to research of everyday life and objects in a particular historical period. And I knew the moment I saw Lisa Eldridge’s YouTube video announcement about her Face Paint book, that it was something I needed to have in my book collection.
Face Paint: The Story of Makeup is the full title of Ms. Eldridge’s amazing book. Filled with gorgeous illustrations and photographs the book is a real treat to read, regardless of the endnotes. A little side note about endnotes and reference systems. As was explained to me once, British and American writers prefer to put their references in endnotes because it makes it easier for the reader to follow the narrative and look up references later if he/she desires. In Croatia we put our references in footnotes so the reader can immediately see the source of the information. Now as a historian I am trained to look for references the moment they are indicated in the text so footnotes make it easier for me to do so, while endnotes make things a bit more difficult. More page filliping as it were. But that’s a personal preference, you might not even notice or care about that.
My, I did get a bit sidetracked there, so let us (well me) get to the matter at hand. The book is divided into two main sections, the first entitled The Ancient Palette and it deals with the history of makeup – how it was used, who used it, what was it made of etc. The second part is entitled The Business of Beauty and it talks about how makeup became mainstream, how it turned into this huge industry and it also gives us the history of some of the big names in the industry and its history. Along with that the book is sprinkled with Ms. Eldridge’s makeup muses and as you read through the story about them you find out some really interesting titbits. Ms. Eldridge explained this more clearly in her video which you can find here and you can see the book too. 🙂
For me personally the favourite parts of the book are those related to history, especially those that describe the attitude and opinions of various people, usually men about makeup and about women who wear it. Here are some of my favourite passages regarding that topic.
“If you explore the use of makeup through ancient times, it soon becomes clear that the freedom and rights accorded to women during a given period are very closely linked to the freedom with which they painted their faces.
Generally speaking, it’s during the times when women were most oppressed that makeup was most reviled and seen as unacceptable.” (Eldridge 2015, 22)
Since makeup is such a common thing nowadays I rarely thought about the links of the freedom to put on makeup and woman’s rights. Now in the 21st century, generally speaking women are free to express themselves through makeup. They can paint their faces in whichever fashion suits their mood that particular day. We don’t really think what it took to get to this point, or what this freedom cost. But sometimes a woman’s freedom to put on makeup, even at this day and age, can be restricted. Sometimes parents restrict the use of makeup to their daughters because of their age, but sometimes women are told, by their own partners nonetheless, that wearing makeup makes them look like prostitutes.
It is a strange, but fascinating thing, that every time a woman puts makeup on her face she will get all kinds of comments and reactions. As they say everyone and their grandmother has an opinion. The comments can be really positive, like:
“Wow, that lipstick looks great on you! What colour is that?” “Your base looks flawless!” “Eyebrows on fleek today.”:-)
But unfortunately women can also receive (extremely) negative comments.
“You look prettier without makeup.” (Gosh and here I thought I always looked pretty.) “You use too much makeup; no wonder men have trust issues.” “Wearing makeup makes you look like a clown or prostitute.” “You look so fake plastered with so much gunk on your face.”
Hearing or reading the negative comments can really be disheartening, especially if someone says this to a young person, or an insecure person, or a person who just started using makeup. Makeup is a form of art, and it’s old as mankind itself. We use it to express our creativity or our mood. We cannot all be great artists, painters, writers, musicians, but with a little practice, the right tools and knowledge (technique) you can create a beautiful look for every occasion. It’s something very precious, this skill to enhance a person’s feature, hide a blemish, present ourselves in the best light possible. And at the end of the day it’s just makeup, it washes off (with the appropriate cleanser 🙂 Remember folks if you’re going to wear makeup you need to learn (how) to take it off, but that’s another story.).
Face Paint: The Story of Makeup is a wonderful and interesting book that I wholeheartedly recommend you read. It’s not just for makeup lovers/enthusiasts or for women or those interested in the history of everyday objects. It’s not a book about rouge or eye shadow filled with beautiful pictures, Face Paint is a well thought out book that gives its reader an insight into the history of makeup and its evolution to the mainstream. Although at first glance it doesn’t look like a thought provoking book (and I really need to come up with a better description/definition than this), to me, this is a book that will make you think and see makeup in a completely different light. And it makes a really thoughtful and lovely present for the above mentioned folks 🙂 so if you can pick up a copy I suggest you do and enjoy reading this in your favourite chair with a cup of your favourite warm beverage. 🙂