Rebecca Willis in More Intelligent Life:
Recently I went to a party as a panda. It wasn't fancy dress—I just put on too much of a new, smudgy eyeliner that I'd never used before. Special occasions prompt us to want to look our best, and make-up, like clothes, offers the chance to choose what that might be. But where on the spectrum from natural to mask-like artificiality do we want to sit?
…In her fascinating book “Bodies” (Profile Books), Susie Orbach describes how the culture we live in determines the marks we make—or “inscribe”— on ourselves. The world we live in is literally written on our bodies. The objective of make-up nowadays seems to be to mimic the smooth, even-toned skin of youth, and, to quote make-up artists and shop assistants, to “open up the eye” (singular). They all talk about opening up the eye; this is not a surgical procedure, thank goodness, but seems to mean making it look brighter and above all bigger. No one could tell me why that should be so desirable. Then I read that the distance between eyeball and eyebrow is a key factor in gender perception, and is much greater in women than men. To enlarge that distance is to exaggerate your femininity. And when the eye itself is widened it is a sign of submission, so opening up the eye makes us kittenishly vulnerable. No wonder early feminists went bare-faced. Narrowing my eyes, I picked up a book on body language. “The use of lipstick”, it read, “is a technique thousands of years old that is intended to mimic the reddened genitals of the sexually aroused female.” Was ever a sentence more likely to give you pause before whipping a stick of Chanel’s Rouge Allure out of your handbag? We might just want to reflect a moment on these things before we hand over the contents of our wallets to the billion-dollar cosmetic industry, and slap our purchases, in the name of improvement, onto our party-going faces.