On Sunday, I modeled in a photo shoot as part of my research for my client’s book on body language in photography. (She was my photographer, which made the experience all the more enjoyable and educational.)

I rarely ever wear make-up, i.e. sometimes I’ll throw on mascara to accent my already lengthy eyelashes, or add a pink hue to my lips to add a pop of color to my look. I never wear foundation. I don’t even own foundation.

While Yuri, my make-up artist, was applying my make-up – which turned into a stunning editorial vibe inspired by peacock feathers and sultry silhouettes – I started thinking about make-up as an art, as a ritual, as an element of the everyday life of (many) women.

After doing some research, I learned make-up application is a ritual rooted in early human history, one that has evolved in product but not so much in intention. Or has it?

Yuri and I went down our own glitter-laden rabbit hole, where she shared her own favorite make-up brands, tips and tricks. Apparently there’s one kind of foundation that photographs better, and another kind that’s better for day wear. (I will write this blog post another time.)

The roots

Archeological evidence suggests Egyptian women utilized cosmetics as early as 4000 B.C. The primary motive? To appease the gods. Women believed their appearance was directly related to their spiritual worth.

Cleopatra, for example, used lipstick that got its hue from ground carmine beetles, while other women used clay mixed with water to color their lips.

Egyptian women also added almond shapes of dark-colored powder (later called kohl) that might have been a combination of ingredients such as burnt almonds, oxidized copper, copper ores, lead, ash, and ochre.

A portrait of an Egyptian woman

The connection between beauty and spirituality remained for centuries, until the Romans gained power. The Romans adopted many of the Egyptians’ cosmetic formulas, but their primary motive was to improve their appearance for each other – especially the Roman men. Spiritual worth was not a consideration.

The reflection

Today, beauty products offer solutions that hide pores, smooth complexions, and turn the pale green of eyes a vivid shade of emerald. I would argue spiritual worth isn’t as motivating a force as it once was.

In fact, today there’s a dimension of “dress up” that is inherently satisfying. While I can’t speak for all women, I personally find make-up can be an artful form of self-expression as well as experimentation – which is what I found to be the most fun part of Sunday’s shoot.

Me showing off my ensemble at Christina’s studio

Yes, there is also an element of external impressions we seek to make, to offer the world the most enhanced version of ourselves. As with most concepts, it’s usually when we pursue an extreme existence that conflict might arise, within ourselves.

Oftentimes, we don’t know what we like until it’s shown to us, a true irony of the human condition. Which is why discovery and exploration is an integral part of learning, about the world and about the self.

While make-up also serves the purpose of hiding flaws and accentuating features, it can also be a tool for personal art.

As with many other ritualistic routines, like medication, exercise and daily food intake, which also happen to share the glory of billion-dollar-industries alongside make-up, it’s important to be mindful of your reasons for making the choices you do, and proceed according to your best judgement.

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