I’ve always been a “wish,” girl.
I wish I had different colored eyes, I wish I could pull off lighter hair, I wish I could have better skin, I wish my nose was smaller, I wish, I wish, I wish…
Makeup and I have been going steady for five years now. That’s longer than any relationship I’ve ever had with any man. Makeup and I are very much like most couples. We get along most days, don’t have any contact other days, and our relationship changes with the season because, you see, we both are chameleons—always forming and conforming to new trends and new desires. In the spring, I add a pop of color to my cheeks. In the summer, I sport brighter lips. In the fall, I have dramatic eyes. And in the winter, I stick to neutrals.
When I was in high school, I wore a streak of black Indian kajal (eyeliner) on my waterline or painted a bold purple or teal on my lids and nothing more because I was fine with my skin; there weren’t any pimples or dark spots to worry about then, even though I had the greasy snacking habits of a New York City street-rat.
My second semester in college, I discovered mascara. That lovely creamy paste that turns your lashes into something only Neruda could write about. My family’s Indian genes gave me naturally long lashes but mascara? Oh, mascara gave me charisma. Mascara gave me confidence.
Mascara taught me to make eye contact instead of staring at the concrete beneath my feet.
People always say things like, “Those unhealthy eating habits are going to get to you one day, just you watch,” or the famous one from the movie version of “Alice,” “That pretty face won’t last forever.” And we of course shrug it off. We think that the present will last forever because we’re teenagers and with that right comes utter invincibility. But that time did in fact come. I gained a little weight after high school. My skin became scarred with more than a few blemishes and those very same people who assured me that this would happen stood smugly by to tell me, “I told you so,” and I questioned, what happened to a reassuring arm around the shoulder and a few kind words? What happened to women empowering women? What happened to debunking media’s influence and its depiction of an unattainable measure of perfection?
So what if I gained some weight after high school and my skin broke out during college? Did that really make me a lesser version of myself?
Instead of turning to the people closest to me when things seemed to be falling apart, I turned to my makeup. Last year, foundation came into my life. It wiped away my blemishes as if they were tears; leaving no remnants, no footprints of troubled skin or bad eating habits, or college stress, or hormones, or, or, or…
Foundation taught me to pull back my hair instead of hiding behind it.
Since then, lipsticks of various tints such as,” Cherry Picked,” and “Red Velvet,” stand tall and proud on my shelf like combative knights in a game of chess; ready to fight the war against dullness while also making it seem like I was submerged in superficiality.
But I disagree with the latter.
Lipstick taught me to appreciate the shape of my lips and accept their natural pigment.
Wearing makeup doesn’t make me fancy and it doesn’t make me think that I’m better than anyone. There is all this talk about how makeup makes women fake, how women mislead others into thinking they’re someone that they are not.
Why can’t makeup be an art? Why can’t it be an enhancer rather than a trickster?
Makeup and I have had a stable relationship over the years and it remains a constant in my life because it does not judge me. It covers up my insecurities without asking questions. It allows me to feel confident without diminishing my sense of self. And most importantly, it doesn’t make me do anything. I control everything.
Sometimes, I take a picture of myself right after I’ve washed my face before bed and analyze it. I can see the hard to fade keloid scars that greatly contrast the color of the rest of my skin; they look like a vast constellation of stars that seem to be forever expanding like the night sky. I can see my rotund nose that reminds me of a baby rhinoceros because of the awkward bump at the bridge. I can see the shadows beneath my eyes that expose the hard work and trials of the hours before. And I can see the chapped lips that I have habitually bitten out of nervousness and its purple wash that I have always tried to change.
In actuality, makeup has taught me to accept myself for these splotches of imperfection because they tell a story about me as a person, as a human who is full of complexities and contradictions.
Five years after countless days of teetering back and forth and a plethora of internal arguments, I can say that makeup and I are still going strong. It holds my hand on the days that I need it to but it also sits patiently on my desk on the days that I don’t.
Five years later, I am no longer a wish girl.
I am exactly who I wish to be.
Mahjabeen Syed has her BA from the Creative Writing department at Columbia College Chicago. She is currently an arts contributor at Newcity Art and runs a blog with ChicagoNow called The Magic of Writing about feminism, lifestyle and fitness, as well as writing tips. In her spare time, she reads, eats Pistachio ice cream, avidly has Ugly Betty marathons, and takes catnaps.