Think glamour. Long drop dead eyelashes batting,
the sweep of an eyebrow, a scarlet pout. Think men thinking women’s things,
the way women think they think. Lipstick, golden cylinders unwinding red
crayon tongues to be stroked onto pursed kiss-inviting lips. The neat click
shut of gold or mother of pearl compact clasps. Then the lips prim together
and she’s all ready with a new face. Think allure, the stark red and white
mask of a geisha, the ultimate graphic design for the faces of all women.
This is the face she was born with: flat planed,
broad, flat nosed, thin lipped. The other was the face she had before the
world was made: tawny blush sculpting cheekbones out of non-existence,
two thin gold lines making sense out of a Donald Duck beak nose and the
gilt glitter of eye shadow to idolize it all. Make up is the ultimate illusion.
“It’s all right to gild the lily,” my mother said,
making nonsense of naturalist protests. At 13, life was frilly petticoats
and the can can of a Park Street restaurant with a windmill and a Parisian
flair. Thickly mascara'ed and eyelinered mothers pushing their daughters
in and out for a special birthday treat. A pink powder room with frilly
skirted tables and flashing mirrors where the mothers touch up their faces
and compare shades of lipstick - all universally Max Factor and unblushingly
red. Then the can can, a froth of more frills and legs, dimly embarrassing
in some 13 year old senses, but a foretaste of night life and adult excitement.
All the people who are somebody come here in suits,
chiffons and cigarette holders, to sit between the muralled walls and listen
to the crooner breathe huskily into the mike and watch the same can can.
This is where the big bad world turns. This is glamour.
The crooner even has blue eye shadow on. Pure sapphire,
startling against pink skin. I remember thick buttery cakes set in squares.
Bright emerald, turquoise, sapphire and violet. Those cakes were basic,
without today’s psychedelic swirls of peacock colour. Fingers spreading
it on thick, with no sticks muffled in sponge to help.
The more drama around the eyes, the better. Thickly
layered hooded lids with tragedy in the shadows underneath, loves lost
in one bristly emerald flutter of the lashes, late nights, desperate gambles
in a game of hearts, sad sirenical silences. Curtains hung around the windows
of the soul. Growing up, practicing sweeps with the mascara wand. Easier
than the toothbrush and the black matte cake of the fifties. A swirl, two
careful sweeps to each eye. Fifties actresses carried as many as eight
layers of mascara on their lashes, ten if they wanted the weight and the
eye smoke to be more pronounced. (False eyelashes could be gummed over
the real ones, then mascara stroked on, with a wait between each coat as
it dried.) Young girls skipping to the hairdresser’s and blinking bravely
at the tweezers and the stylist’s approach. Being beautiful is painful,
though not perhaps as painful as the Chinese lily feet. However, some of
them never never return to confront the ordeal again. Others, however,
keep coming back, regardless of pain, allergy, or anything else.
And, when you can get the look right, then you’re
really grown up. Make up was useful for slipping into A movies before the
days of U/A. A little penciling, a touch of pink lipstick and a girl could
jump from 16 to 20 in a matter of minutes. Make up got you into adult parties
where you sipped shandy and pretended you knew it all when you actually
didn’t, but you’d die if anyone found out.
It was the advantage you had over boys. Knowing their
eyes would go to your red lips. Knowing a compact snap said, “Look at me,”
the way the slither of silk hissed danger. All you had to do was choose
the statement you wished to make, in a world where men drowned in pools
of eyes fringed by starry lashes, romance lingered like a song on the corners
of moonlit terraces for silken ladies draped in the misty soft focus of
Dark eyes emphasized for glance contact on direct
confidential days. Yellow and purple eye shadow for light banter. Gilt
lipstick for a touch of conversational dazzle without real substance. Shades
of the rainbow, shades of moods, the titles on a book jacket, a woman’s
personal credits flashing on the screen of her face.
Basu is a full-time advertising person,
a part-time journalist and a one-time academic. She also writes short stories
and is based in Calcutta, India.