An essay about makeup as an artist’s ritual, my hesitations with femininity, and a minimalist’s desire to learn to use the tools she owns.
Like most things in my studious life, my interest in makeup began with a class.
I love to learn, especially in an organised fashion! A couple of Decembers ago, Ellen and I booked into a holiday eyeshadow class at Jenners. I was clueless about makeup, but so curious. I showed up eager to make the most of it. I think I even brought a notebook.
The masterclass dazzled us.
Makeup artists wielded their palettes and brushes with dreamy, effortless expertise. I asked loads of questions, but the instructors didn’t really have answers. ‘Honestly you just sort of play with it,’ they said.
And so I decided to play, in the best way I knew how: a structured 12-day challenge.
Ellen and I promised each other to put our gleaming new purchases to good use. In the ultimate Ravenclaw/Gryffindor collaboration, we gathered our glitter palettes and a Google Doc, to design 12 Days of Eyeshadow: a compilation of 12 tutorials to try.
It seems that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who know EVERYTHING about makeup, and those who know NOTHING about makeup. I was firmly in the latter category. But never fear. In 12 days, I would self-educate, and overcome that first hurdle of basic understanding.
Deciding to wear makeup at all was a huge, feminine leap.
Years ago I’d untangled fashion from anti-femininity, but I dared not touch makeup.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint why. It may have been that growing up, most of the commentary I heard about makeup was critical. Women and girls were scoffed at for wearing ‘Too Much’ of it, as if that’s up to anyone other than the makeup wearer herself.
Something about makeup drew a line for me, the line between me and ‘That Sort of Girl’. Who she was, I couldn’t tell you. Not studious.
At university, I didn’t get why my peers invested time and money into makeup. Weren’t they busy? I was still grasping the concept that everyone has a different version of fun. It never occurred to me that makeup could be joyous, empowering. I thought it was about hiding.
I feared dependency.
I remember watching that Gossip Girl episode where Jenny is sick, her face is free of its usual dark eyeshadow. She looks like a different person. This was frightening to me, as someone so attached to my own identity. I didn’t want to stray so far from myself that I’d have to ‘put on my face’ to recognise who I am.
I was wary of marketing, telling me that I needed more products, more tools. From the outside, I could see the slippery slope: once you’re in, you’re in, and you’ll have to keep buying more. For EVER.
Makeup is like anything else: it’s about finding my way of wearing it.
I insist on keeping my beauty cupboard minimalist. I buy less, and use what I have in a million ways. Or to start, 12. I see purchasing a palette for what it is: an artist’s tool.
12 Days of Eyeshadow is a creative challenge, and a studious one: how far can I go with just a few colours? How can I find a style that feels like me? What skills do I need, to bring my vision to life? I started to break through my old beliefs. Makeup isn’t about covering up. It’s an art, a discipline, and a form of play.
I was surprised by how much I could do with one palette.
Surprised by how makeup helps me dress for the occasion, something I love to do! With different swipes of one eyeliner and one eyeshadow palette, I can transport myself to my decade of choice — even one from a long time ago in a Galaxy far far away. (The past few Decembers have meant Star Wars, so I’ve developed a signature look I call Kylo Xan.)
With makeup I can dress up without accumulating random accessories. Makeup, it turns out, makes good company with minimalism: it’s an ephemeral art project, wiped away at the end of the day. A ritual for being present as well as being presentable.
Since dabbling in makeup, I’ve discovered a new sense of community with friends I already have.
We swap products and tips, gifting each other our unwanted samples, because everyone’s skin is different, and we are all here to help each other out. An unofficial global girl’s club.
Year three of 12 Days of Eyeshadow has just begun. But I don’t feel like looking up tutorials. And there’s a reason. I don’t need them. Honestly? This year, I can just sort of play around with it.
Until the Next Chapter,
P.S. I would love to hear your story too. Please write back on Patreon, Instagram, or email. Usually, I say no advice, but I do welcome your best makeup recommendations.