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To line or not to line, that is my decision

eyelinerThe first time my German mum-in-law saw some childhood pictures of mine, she’d asked incredulously, “Wow, you used eyeliner even as a baby?”

She’d been looking at some of my childhood pictures and chanced upon one that was a tradition of sorts among my community.

I am a first generation Indian-Malaysian, whose parents emigrated from Kerala in south-west India to Malaysia in the late 1950s. Along with aspirations for new beginnings, they brought with them some customs “from back home”, which included capturing their offspring’s growth milestone when they learnt to turn on their tummies themselves.

The trademark pose was usually of a baby gawping at the camera, probably shocked by the flash. And regardless of gender, the baby always wore eyeliner.

So my mum-in-law’s observation struck me; my relationship with eyeliner indeed preceded my mastery of the cat eye or bat wing. As a child I’d dreaded the times when my Mum dressed me for any occasion and insisted that my eyes “be drawn.” I’d blink nervously as she dipped the applicator into the tiny pot of kajal that stung when she drew it along my lower waterline.

Makeup however was forbidden at the all-girls missionary school I later attended, and so we eagerly experimented whenever the rare opportunity presented itself. Photos of Christmas plays and school concerts, which were the only times makeup was sanctioned at school, reveal that my friends and I had mastered clown contouring (but not the blending!) decades before it became de rigueur in 2015.

Post-school and during my early working years, I had free rein. I enjoyed experimenting with makeup, poring over fashion magazines and eagerly volunteering for beauty assignments as a break from writing more serious stories.

AgingMy eye lining abilities became the stuff of legend. Girlfriends were in awe at how I could effortlessly line my eyes with nary a smudge nor crease. That was also the time when I hardly left home without makeup on, even if it was to get groceries round the corner.

In hindsight, that phase of my life could best be described like the headlines that one often finds on the cover of women’s magazines: be myself, and yet aspire towards something not quite myself.

Eventually, I had a private epiphany. Because let’s face it, makeup is time consuming, and can be hard on your wallet. And, it can be an inhumane industry towards animals on which these products are tested before they land on our vanities.

More importantly, I felt it was being dictated to me. That I’m incomplete without it. And that didn’t sit well with me.

The first time I walked out of the house makeup free was a heady mix of liberty and uncertainty. Liberty, because I’d finally freed myself of literally keeping up appearances. And the uncertainty? Well, it was whether anyone would recognize me!

With the exception of a few who’d asked me if I was unwell, it was business as usual. The difference was I was comfortable in my own skin, on my own terms.

I do however find it amusing how column inches are dedicated towards celebrities who’ve chosen to go make-up free or if it’s their clever use of make-up to look makeup free. Go Google Alicia Keys, and you’ll know what I mean. For in the end, as with everything to do with your self, isn’t it a personal decision?

As for me, I still wear makeup – but whenever I fancy. Besides, there’s more to me than my eyeliner.

Author: Brenda Haas

Editor: Marjory Linardy



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13.02.2017 | 15:28