The Patriotic Face Joanne McNeil If someone were to ask me to list things that are blue, I would start with the sky and sea, of course. Then berries and blue jays, blue fish, eyes, sapphires, and a few other common items. And eyeshadow. Eyeshadow was always blue. I thought of it as a colour before I even knew the purpose of the powder. Every year in June, my mother would take me to Brockton High School, a vast Barbicanlike structure with 4,000 students and a parking lot that seemed to stretch for miles. This concrete maze in the South Shore of Massachusetts is typical of the Brutalist public buildings constructed in the region in the late 60s. Still a toddler, dressed in a spangled tutu, I would stand before her at a table in the fortress of a lunch hall that was the makeshift backstage area for the performance. She would unzip a makeup bag and apply a garish magenta blusher and lipstick. Then I would close my eyes as she would dab on sky blue eyeshadow with a scratchy foam applicator from the plastic compact.
All the other young dancers lined up before their mothers with their makeup bags containing similar items. We all wore clouds of blue on our lids. The makeup ritual seemed to me then like an extension to the costume. But now I understand the point of it. Our faces would otherwise erase under flood lights and camera flashes in that cavernous theatre. As strange as I appeared in the mirror, layers of cosmetics shellacked on my face peeled away in the pictures taken from the audience. I gave up dancing when I was a teenager because I couldn't deal with the mean girls or looking at my thighs in a full length mirror for a sustained period of time. By the time I dropped out, I was buying eyeshadow on my own in neutral muted shades of mulberry, olive, and taupe to look “natural.” I haven’t worn blue eyeshadow since, but it remains the colour I associate with that product. Blue eyeshadow and red lips were the stars and stripes of an All-American lady’s face. FROM THE STAGE TO THE SCREEN TO THE STREET Skies are white and cloudless in most films made before 1926.(1) Most actors had dark eyes. This is because the earliest film stock for black and white motion pictures was blue-sensitive, high frequency ultraviolet light that captured blue as white.(2)(3) Performers wore blue grease paint to lighten their skin. Women favoured dark eye makeup, but the actresses who lined their eyes with blue and violet colours cancelled out any sign of a sleepless night. Those same colours would soon be used to “shadow,” and darken the eyes when Max Factor sold the first eyeshadow outside film and theatre in 1916.(4) Researching the history of cosmetics one might first encounter oft-told winding stories about the Egyptians covering their eyes with kohl to protect from the sun’s glare. Then the history is more vague — homemade treatments and ointments, like mother of pearl smashed up and mixed with something — until the commodification of cosmetics in the early twentieth century. That so little is written about cosmetics in the period between Cleopatra and the flappers is a story itself. This history is hard to unravel because it is a history of secrets. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the stigma attached to using crèmes and powders gave way to the glamour of a dressing table ornamented with bejewelled compacts and flacons. Actresses were thought of as tarts and barely a class above sex workers when Selfridges opened up a “beauty hall” of cosmetics counters in 1910.(5) Ten years later, Max Factor launched a line called “Society Make Up,” embracing what was then the vulgar term for these products. (6) “Cosmetics” had been the euphemistic word. “Make up,” however, was theatre argot, like the French equivalent “maquiller,” which means to blacken or to smear. The presumption was no right lady wished to be associated with the vulgar gestures of a theatre performer caking on greasepaint. “Make up,” is part of make believe, and “maquiller” shares its word origin with masquerade and mask. It implies deception. The success of cosmetics sales, and wide adoption suggests women may have secretly envied the glamour of actresses all along, and were eager to flaunt their capacity for trickery.
One of the earliest tins of Max Factor eyeshadow is a pigment similar to the bright sky blue I remember from ballet recitals, but more brilliant and saturated like a cube of chalk for a pool cue. No human skin has ever resembled this colour, and therein lies the paradox of eyeshadow. We blush and our lips redden by mood. Some of the earliest beauty advice has been to pinch cheeks and bite lips to uncover a natural flush. However, eyes are never “smoky,” and to bruise or bag, which a poor application of eye makeup can resemble, was never a look to emulate. The Thief of Bagdad was the first film to use chromakey blue to create a traveling matte. (7) Green screens are more commonly used for compositing now, but blue was first tested because it was the colour farthest from any skin tone. (8) So why would anyone wear that shade on their eyelids? “Eyeshadow” is a dramatically literal term for the product that creates the impression of a dark cast to the lid and crease of a wearer’s eye. Shadows on a peach complexion might tend toward a light purply hue, but an eyeshadow in blue is decorative. Maybe Max Factor was inspired by the makeup he applied to film actors that was designed to disappear when the film was processed. Eyeshadow is to the face what curtains are to the stage.
MAKEUP AS POLITICS In the early half of the 20th century, red lips were political. Red lipstick became a symbol of the women’s movement when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman encouraged the audience to apply it at the 1912 New York Suffragette Rally. “In both America and England, women publicly applied lip rouge with the express intent of appalling men. Lipstick’s long proscription by social, religious, and legal male authority made it a ready symbol for female rebellion,” Sarah Schaffer wrote in a 2007 paper for the Food and Drug Law Journal “Reading Our Lips: The History of Lipstick Regulation in Western Seats of Power.”(9) Applying the makeup in public meant no plausible deniability, no speculating whether it was natural colouring. It was no longer a secret. As the use of lipstick became more visible and mainstream, Schaffer notes, there were attempts to legislate its existence away, “New York’s Board of Health considered banning lipstick out of concern that it might poison the men who kissed women wearing it. A bill introduced in the Kansas legislature’s 1915 session would have made it a misdemeanour for any woman under age 44 to wear cosmetics if ‘for the purpose of creating a false impression.’”(10) Medeleine Marsh, author of “Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty From Victorian Times to the Present Day,” describes British suffragettes as the “epitome of Edwardian feminine elegance.” Their red lips were in contrast to the “beautiful hats and snowy white dresses that set off their pretty purple, white and green suffragette sashes they dressed to confound the ‘harridan’ image; to create an attractive uniform, and to provide an extra frisson of surprise as a lovely lady in a picture hat lobbed a brick through a window.”(11)
In New York, Elizabeth Arden marched past her salon on Fifth Avenue with some 15,000 suffragettes in 1912. (12) Twenty years later, she was one of the wealthiest women in the world, (13) as the head of a multinational cosmetics company. Until the outbreak of war, members of the Nazi Part High Command frequented her salons in Germany, but only for skin care treatments. Hitler despised makeup. According to the memoirs of Albert Speer, Eva Braun’s only opposition to his leadership was to speak out against his proposition to ban all cosmetic items in 1943. (14) He relented with a compromise that simply halted the production of “hair dyes and other items necessary for beauty culture.” Lipstick was not rationed in wartime Great Britain. (15) The bright reds were unmistakably patriotic and an affront to the frumpy looks mandated by the German Fashion Institute. March quotes a 1942 Yardley advertisement proclaiming "We have to remember that to yield to carelessness is to lower our standard to the enemy. There must be no surrender to circumstances, no giving ground to careless grooming...Never should we forget that good looks and good morale go hand and hand." (16) No longer a powerhouse brand in Germany, Elizabeth Arden began marketing colour cosmetics with patriotic names throughout the war like the 1941 lipstick “Victory Red.” The U.S. Marine Corps Women later commissioned her to develop products for the marines who wore matching red lipstick and nail polish as part of the uniform. Arden’s “Montezuma Red” rouge, lipstick, and nail polish line was created to coordinate with the red chevron and cap tassels trimming their “Marine forest green” uniforms. It was also sold in stores. Women on the home front could paint themselves to look like “marinettes.”(17) THE PATRIOTIC FACE A five-tier black makeup case sold at a Christie’s auction in 1999 for $266,500.(18) It belonged to Marilyn Monroe. Included were two Elizabeth Arden cream eyeshadows in “Autumn Smoke” and “Pearly Blue.” Mattel’s Barbie doll has worn blue eye shadow since its launch in 1959. Twiggy’s “Eye Paint,” a Yardley cosmetic from 1966, was a shadow duo in white and brilliant blue. Anna Karina’s enormous eyes are caked with sky blue power in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1961 film A Woman Is a Woman. The red lips and blue eyeshadow in postwar years appear as traces of makeup’s patriotic history. These are the colours of the tricolour flag of France, the Union Jack, and American Flag. It always seemed to me that the makeup I wore for those dance recitals had something to do with the Star–Spangled Banner. The recitals were held at about the same time as “Flag Day,” a holiday that only seems to be celebrated in American elementary schools. It is the anniversary of the Continental Congress folding away its variation on British red ensigns, but Flag Day is not a federal holiday. Independence Day is just a few weeks later, but that coincides with the summer vacation, so we would miss the opportunity to learn obscure patriotic anthems and other indoctrinations. School children are instructed to wear red, white, and blue clothing, before the barbecues and fireworks on the 4th of July, and sometime around that time, I would wear the colours of the flag on my face to dance.
The Taegukgi, South Korea’s flag, is also red, white, and blue. It depicts a blue and red yin and yang symbol framed by four I-Ching black trigrams. The most memorable use of eyeshadow in a film appears in the South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s 2005 film “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.” The actress Lee Young-ae plays a woman just released from prison after serving a sentence for a murder she did not commit. She begins dressing vampishly in little dresses and high heel pumps. And she applies a heavy coat of blood red eyeshadow, which she wears throughout the film. The colour is as striking and inexplicable as it would be if she had dyed her hair green. Blue eyeshadow is just as bold but it is a tradition mollified by its history of use spanning over a hundred years. Red, a colour that appears sensuous on the lips looks unhealthy and animal around the eyes. When another character asks her why she wears this red eyeshadow, she answers, "I don't want to look kind-hearted." MAKEUP ON THE INTERNET In 2013, the makeup artist Melissa Murphy (“XmelissamakeupX” on Instagram) began posting before and after photos of her clients who work in the adult film industry. Her heavy makeup application erases all beauty marks and unique features. Fake eyelashes and intense contouring transform the women in every “after” into cartoon echoes of one another. The actresses are unrecognizable beneath the colours and textures brushed, lined, and powdered on their faces. The makeup disguises and anonymizes them. But their distinctive features are in full display in the “before” images. The irony is, that for these women who perform undressed, it is their face without makeup that expose the most. One can imagine these women easily go about their lives, at coffee shops and dentist offices, without ever being identified. Another makeup meme: “beauty” bloggers post images they call “swatches” along with their reviews of various makeup products. Different shades are painted in squares to the underside of a the photographer’s forearm — a sort of selfie of the limb — so the viewer can compare the saturation, shimmer, hue, and lightness of various colours on human skin rather than in a plastic compact. In crisp high definition images you can see just how remarkable the substance is in its formulation. Eyeshadow has to be a fine, silky consistency to apply to that delicate patch of skin around the eye. Cheaper powder of rougher textured shadows jams up at the fold at the lid so it looks like a crease in the spine of a book. A Google image search for “eyeshadow” brings up images of palettes and train cases with dozens of colours in rainbow shades. Like a box of Crayola crayons, a few colours become the old standbys. That blue crayon is always the one that gets dull first, the paper begins to tear away at the ends after so much use illustrating skies and seas. But blue eyeshadows in a palette case would be a rarer selection. To “hit the pan,” is what makeup bloggers call a much loved eyeshadow shade, that is, to use so much of it the tin at the bottom is visible in the palette. Few owners of these kits would hit the pan on blue. It is there to complement the rest of colours in the collection.
TOO MUCH BLUE EYESHADOW “The first rule of eye makeup is that you can never wear enough blue eyeshadow.” That’s the famous line from the schmaltzy coming of age drama, “My Girl.” The film came out in 1991, the same year Paula Begoun published “Blue Eyeshadow Should Absolutely Be Illegal,” a book criticizing garish 80s makeup trends. Advertisements at the time might suggest pairing blue eyes with blue eyeshadow, as if coordinating iris and lid made any aesthetic sense. The decline of the popularity of blue eyeshadow coincided with modelling agencies recruiting more diverse women, meaning fewer and fewer models with blue eyes. More than twenty years later, models wore eyeshadow in cyan and aqua at Elie Saab, Ungaro, and Fendi shows at the most recent Paris Fashion Week. No longer customary, is is a pop of colour like nail varnish. Blue is no longer the colour of eyeshadow. It is a colour in a palette that falls in and out of fashion hiding nothing of its artifice, resembling nothing natural, perhaps it is makeup at its most honest.
1. Cosmetics and Skin. “Early Movie Make-up.” http://cosmeticsandskin.com/cdc/earlymovie.php 2. Ibid. 3. Enticknap, Leo. Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital. Wallflower Press, 2005. 4. Jones, Geoffrey, Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry. Oxford University Press, 2010. 5. Facebook. “Selfridges.” https://www.facebook.com/selfridges/posts/10151268948475678 (Link to website that has since been updated.) 6. Tannen, Mary. “The Man Who Made the Faces Up.” The New York Times. Accessed November 13, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/29/magazine/the-man-who-made-thefaces-up.html 7. Vimeo. “Hollywood's History of Faking It: The Evolution of Greenscreen Compositing” http://vimeo.com/70304814 8. Ibid. 9. Sarah Schaffer wrote in a 2007 paper for the Food and Drug Law Journal “Reading Our Lips: The History of Lipstick Regulation in Western Seats of Power.” 10. Ibid. 11. Medeleine Marsh, author of “Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty From Victorian Times to the Present Day,” 12. http://www.elizabetharden.com/Elizabeth-Arden-Biography/her-story,default,pg.html 13. Woodhead, Lindy. War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives. Wiley, 2003. 14. Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Orion Books, 1970. 15. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/55/a5203955.shtml 16. March 17. March 18 The Marilyn Monroe Collection. “The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe.” http://themarilynmonroecollection.com/the-personal-property-of-marilyn-monroe-christies-1999/ Title Image: Vintage Max Factor Supreme Tin Lining in "Light Blue". Source: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/124210932/vintage-collectible-max-factors-supreme?ref=market
This essay considers the aesthetics of eyeshadow pigments. Decades ago, blue was as customary an eyeshadow colour as lipstick in red. This p...
Published on Dec 18, 2014
This essay considers the aesthetics of eyeshadow pigments. Decades ago, blue was as customary an eyeshadow colour as lipstick in red. This p...