Makeup. The commodity that got people to spend $8 billion on annually, just in the USA alone. The industry that allows makeup gurus on YouTube to become billionaires, have their wax figures made in Madame Tussauds, just like any Hollywood stars. All these demonstrates how much love we have for makeup. It can be seen as a form of fashion, art and sometimes even a way of making people feel better about themselves. Furthermore, it is also a topic that creates many debate about how much to wear, what to wear and when to wear since the beginning of history. Makeup can tell us about how one’s culture is like, especially when you know how makeup is perceived as in particular cultures.
ANCIENT ERA (5000BCE -1000BCE)
ANCIENT EGYPT (3100-1070BCE)
The civilization famous for the dark lined eyes, wigs and elaborate fashion sense. They wore makeup for a variety of reasons as seen in simsyeunice in details in her blog-post. So I will just talk about the uses relatively briefly.
For instance, for magical protection provided from the god Horus when they lined their eyes with black-khol and green malachite.
Furthermore, some researchers reported that their makeup protected them from infections and even increased their immune system because the ingredients they used (arsenic and lead) could kill bacteria. However high dosage would cause high toxicity. The fact that Egyptians were attracted to such compounds due to the colour payoff produced is not very arguable, however whether the Egyptians were aware of the toxicity or benefits of such compounds is disputed.
They viewed cosmetics as objects with magical healing properties, rather than non-magical objects with healing properties like medicine to us. As we have learnt in lecture that they have integrated music into all aspects of life, it makes it difficult for them to view objects with healing properties as non-magical. In my opinion, because of the fact magic was so intertwined with their lifestyles, they themselves probably were not very sure of the actual properties of the substances. Even if they were good at making cosmetics, they may just think that each ingredient possess a special therapeutic function due to the rituals they perform while making the cosmetics rather than having knowledge of the properties.
Makeup was not restricted to some privileged few, but rather something that everyone had access to because both men and women of all classes wore makeup then. We can also infer from this that women enjoyed some degree of independence or rights. Makeup was also used religious reasons, beauty, and health by everyone. Its presence was weaved into their culture, deeply ingrained. The role of makeup in creating the history of Ancient Egypt and telling us about their history is thus significant.
Classical Era 1000BCE-300 CE:
Classical Greece 800-350BCE:
With the influence of women’s role in the Classical Greece culture, women were expected to be virtuous and were not supposed to reveal anything. This social expectation extended into the practice of makeup because women were not allowed to wear heavy makeup since they should be virtuous and focus on domestic chores. Hence, women would only wear a light layer of white powder on their face, colours on their lips and cheeks with fruits or plants. Sometimes they would even use toxic lead-based of mercury-based ingredients for their cosmetics. They also had a unique perception of beauty…
They preferred a natural look, just like the current trend of “no-make-up-make-up look” minus the uni-brow of course.
The minimal take on makeup expected by Classical Greece women shows us that the women had little freedom as they were not supposed to be concerned with how they look, but rather focus on being virtuous and fulfilling their domestic duties.
Medieval Era 300-1450CE
Due to the religion during the Early Medieval Era by the churches, women in Europe were not allowed to wear make-up because it was taught to be associated with loose morals. There were even periods where make-up could only be used in brothels. They were also associated with deception and sin. This inspired women to look as natural as possible with their own sneaky techniques experimented at home. This reflects on how women were perceived as the source of temptation and probably did not enjoy much freedom. It also shows that the society then valued spiritual beauty rather than outward appearances due to religion.
During the Late Medieval Era, makeup was back in use. Contrary to the culture in the Early Medieval Era, it was said that an Italian Catholic priest reluctantly agreed that woman should wear makeup to be attractive enough to prevent their husbands from committing adultery and not cause husbands of other wives to commit adultery with them.
Flawless and fair skin was seen as beautiful because of the prevalence of diseases then and also because fair skin meant that one was a wealthy person who did not have to work outdoors (Hmm, fair enough! See what I did there). English women also made their skin pale by applying flour or even based makeup. The females would make their face pale, plucked their brows and applied rouge to make their cheeks pink. Up to this moment, I cannot help but wonder what is up with society and their eyebrow trends? Frst unibrows, then no brows and today, thick bushy brows!
In conclusion, the practices of makeup can reflect on the cultural values of a society as well as giving us an insight on women were perceived as during then and even today. I am thankful that we do not have such restricting rules for makeup today but just some flexible ones that are even encouraged to be broken at times (eg. "Thou shall not wear heavy eye makeup with a bold lip").