Women’s application of makeup is an update of the Narcissus myth. One cannot apply it — or at least not well — without looking in a mirror. The self-reflexive gaze required has elements of the lover’s gaze: Eyes and lips are focal points and demand the most attention and care. Thus, applying makeup is a ritual of self-love, a kind of worship at the shrine of the self, though it can also reflect insecurity and even self-loathing. At its best, it is an exercise in self-critique, and, if you’ll permit me to be grandiose, a path to existential understanding. Like all great human efforts at improvement, makeup is “over-determined,” weighted down with multiple, often contradictory meanings.
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