My Aunt Mary and Dolly Parton had something in common; they never left home without their “war paint” on. Pond’s cold cream and Oil of Olay – goop on, goop off. Gluing on false eyelashes and curling the ones she had, applying foundations, powder for the shiny spots, rouge to add color to the cheeks she just painted beige, eyebrows plucked, eyeliner traced across lids, lips painted with a color to match the manicure. Clairol’s honey blonde dyed hair wrapped like cotton candy, coiffed and sprayed. Her neck was encircled with metal and stones, ears were pierced and hung with baubles, dangling and glittering like fishing lures.
I would sit on the bed, she perched on the tufted stool at her vanity, lifting one then the other jar of unguents and potions. The makeup would leave Aunt Mary’s telephone surfaces smeared with the blues and tans of eye shadow and cover up. How would Aunt Mary cope now? She was always the glamorous one, I expect her masks would be fashionable, another matching accessory.
I am exhausted, just remembering the elaborate war paint ritual.
I realized recently that she selected from a complexion wheel with several shades of “natural” but only one shade of brown. “Racism in the makeup aisle!” Sometime in the 60’s Crayola changed the name of their pinkish tan shade from “flesh” to “peach”, because, like, it ISN’T flesh colored, not everyone’s flesh anyway.
She also planted the idea in my head that since whale and bull sperm has been used in cosmetics for years, how about using the raw material? So, if you’re giving a blow job, don’t spit it out, don’t swallow, but smear that jism around to tighten up those sagging corners. Would that not save thousands of dollars wasted on plastic surgery, not to mention saving the whales?
I think about my face, this face that simply merges and replicates those features worn by my mother and father, it sports the Broeker nose, the Niedbalski chin, the blond wispy hair of Teutonic ancestors and the pasty complexion of the Celts and the Brits. So pasty, even my hippy mom would wheedle: “Aw honey, you would be so much prettier with just a little mascara…
I realize it shields me from the ingrained suspicion of dark faces, it shields me everywhere I go. My whiteness pops out from the cloth edges of face coverings.
Are we now putting on masks over masks? Without the best cosmetics showing off our makeover skills, is the playing field levelled in an unintended way? Will all of it get wiped off on the inside of our masks, where only our lovers can see what’s underneath? Will we miss Tami Faye’s face melting when she cried? Is that why Orange 45 won’t wear a mask? Afraid of the smeared face underneath?
I hope our men will take to decorating their eyes, to augment their expressions while masked. I hope they embrace the eyebrow plucking concept or at least trim the wayward finger length hairs above their eyes, free of societal pressure to conform by gender.
Sometimes, outrage leaks out of my face. My whole body goes into fight-to-the-death mode. I got this thing against being hit. I mean, If you hit me, I will take you down. Did you know I was suspended from school three times (in three different Oakland public schools) for fighting? Those three kids never hit me again. This righteous warrior part of me is not a mask, it is full body armor. I love my inner warrior. She is the reason I survive.
This face can wear a beautiful mask, or when enraged, can wear a hideous mask, lips twisted, teeth exposed. I can wash off the tears, I can moisturize their tracks, hide the traces of despair, place artfully the invisible mask of false contentment upon the surface, but the anger remains.