Beauty and Make-up. Conceal or Reveal?
My month in images
Beauty and Make-up. Conceal or Reveal?
Always REVEAL, but let me set the context first.
This topic would often pop into my mind at the end of my private makeup lessons. So many of my students come from a place of struggle in regards to make-up, which stems in part from them being overwhelmed by the array of products on the market and the countless one-size-fits-all Youtube tutorials, but also from their belief that make-up is elaborate (e.g. they say they have no patience, no time, no skill, etc). These two struggles are generally connected, as one complicates the other even more. Whatever topic I am teaching I always infuse the lesson with a sense of what make-up should be. As far as I’m concerned – fun, experimental, based on mood and intuition rather than rules, trends and unnecessary techniques, and certainly not overcomplicated.
I’d get asked if I wear make-up on a daily basis, and my answer is always “not really”, which seems to be quite surprising for some. My weapon is my skin (what's yours by the way?) – consistent efforts to look after it, on the outside but mostly from the inside out, without overdoing it. And let's face it, “blaming” it or relying on genetics from a certain age onwards, doesn't do the trick any longer. When in need or when I just feel like it, I put on an electric blue mascara, a pop of cream blush and a red lipstick – all three together, a combination of two, or just one. (Read more on this in the next section.) I can't think of anything more powerful than simplicity with a twist. I do love a catchy look, but I always need to have a clean fresh canvas, which probably mirrors how I function as a whole. The cleaner my mind is – and we can extend this to my kit, my desk, my room – the more creative and free I can get.
These being said, please don't beat yourself up for struggling with your skin at the moment. Look for causes and try to heal it the best you can, but most of all treat it and treat yourself with patience and gentleness. Also, think of how intelligent and protective your body and skin, in particular, are – the best alarm system of “something's not quite right and I am letting you know in advance”.
Let's give make-up a new purpose and a fresh clean start, ditch trends and rigid techniques in favour of personality and realness. I will be celebrating the moment when we will all be over the unflattering social media trends, obsessing over stripes of contouring and ghostly shades of concealer, permanent fake lashes that reach the moon, and skin looking unidimensional and plasticky, There’s a sea of creative possibilities out there, we just need to shift perspective on what make-up is. The tendency to hide whatever struggles we are dealing with (visible or not) will only put a shadow on one’s uniqueness and won’t usually fix the real issue, not to mention that using too much make-up is likely to exacerbate a “flaw”. One of my favourite ways to conceal something is actually through revealing something else. A bold lip, a fun pop of colour, a dust of glitter or a flushed cheek would catch the eye and divert the attention from anything you might want to conceal. Yet, as a lover of particularities, I will enhance them whenever I have the chance or permission to do it.
The ability to marry confidence with vulnerability, lightness of being with unwavering values, things we love with things we wholeheartedly accept – that's the essence of beauty for me. An external reflection of who we are without the extra layers, the literal or metaphorical masks. This reminds me of a wonderful photography project on beauty, as envisioned by one of the most talented and insightful people I know, my friend Kristina Varaksina. I invite you to explore it here and reflect upon it.
To (red) lipstick or not to lipstick?
This is yet another frequent question from the people in my make-up chair. Some don't even consider wearing a bold lip because they think it doesn't suit them, while others are just confused by what shade or texture is the right one for them.
I love a red lip and there is so much fascinating history around it. Believed to have come to light some 5000 years ago, and to have been invented by the ancient Sumerians and Indus Valley men and women, lipstick has since taken so many different shapes, methods of preparation and symbols. Possibly the most experimental make-up product in terms of ingredients used for its concoction, people across history made use of everything from crushed bugs (carmine), animal blood (whatever works, right?!), minerals, plant juices (which make a comeback in today's green beauty) and castor oil, to the current widely commercial ingredients. Its significance and symbolism also went from one extreme to the other, from morally questionable, as linked to prostitutes and actresses at the beginning of the 20th century, to an expression of power and strength during the Suffragettes movement, or of financial independence for the women who started making their own money after WWI.
YES to red lipstick, I say! Thin lips (hello, have you seen mine?!), small lips, full lips, pale skin, olive skin, deep skin, you name it. I personally don't see how someone wouldn't look good wearing red lipstick. In the quest to choose the “right” shade, it all comes down to skin tone, outfit, season, but most often than not, to mood and preference. By all means, go with what feels comfortable, a neutral shade if you're unsure, a red lipstick with blue undertones if you have a predominantly cool undertone, or a warm shade if you have honey-like skin. But every now and then, try the opposite and everything in between. A clash of tones can look so beautiful. As I always go about, make-up is for playing and experimenting, creating a certain atmosphere and an attitude, not for following rules.
Some people like to go unnoticed, and feel a red lip will defeat that purpose. And that's perfectly ok. It's also a matter of preference as I've mentioned before. Yet you can use it as your harmless weapon when the time comes when you do want to stand out or make a point.
I personally believe there is nothing more powerful, playful and appealing than a red lip, particularly if it's paired with a bare skin. It works both ways, it's a confidence booster but also an expression of confidence. I wear it when I'm ready to go for it but also when I feel I'm not. I have an olive skin tone, which typically means I can get away with wearing both a cool shade or a warm one. I am all up for a bright orange red on a bubbly summer day, yet I generally prefer a blue toned red as it counteracts the yellow-green undertones in my skin. My skin can appear quite dull and the yellow undertone stands out, especially when I'm tired, hence a pop of a fuchsia lipstick will bring the freshness and aliveness back on. I blend a bit of the same on my cheeks and away I go! Nothing else needed.
I have created a few short videos all about red lipstick if you want some further tips on the subject, all easy and fun. This is how you can wear a bold lipstick if you have thin/small lips, and here I show you how to mattify a lipstick, instead of using a matt one, and how to easily create a stain lip (a favourite and so easy to wear).
WHO (vs what) do you want to be when you GROW (up) and how to make that happen
During my now regular somatic therapy sessions I've been prompted to think of the “HOW” and “WHERE” I was feeling what I was feeling, instead of ruminating on the “WHAT” and the “WHY”. This meant listening to the raw pulsations of my body instead of just focusing on surface feelings and sensations.
There comes a time in our lives – it hit me hard in my mid-30s – when, with or without warning, something starts pushing us to reflect on the person we want to become (or go back to) and on what really makes us feel at home in both our bodies and our environment. We can't separate one from the other.
Most often than not, we believe we want something just because it sounds good “on paper” or because it looks good on other people. Most often than not, that's just projection vs reality. Ask yourself this question: What is it that you really want, who are you underneath all these layers of external guidance? Start with the end in mind. How would you like to be remembered? Visualise yourself when you are old. Do you feel an ease in your body regarding who you are at the moment? If the answer is “no” or “not really”, start building that inner home, brick by brick. Be brutally honest with yourself. Do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes, to reach that state of honesty. That is freedom in itself.
I would despise the cliché corporate question “Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? What about in 20?”. Yet it makes more sense now and has a different meaning when I am the one asking it and when I don't have to give an answer that needs to match someone else's expectation.
I have often found myself stuck in the creative industry, questioning my worth, my path, my belonging, craving to get somewhere without really knowing where. I would get stuck in the trivial and the miscellaneous, hence getting peanuts in return. You know, what comes around goes around. I would often not feel worthy or capable of reaching higher, as my learnt coping mechanisms would stay in the way. And when I’d finally reach a certain state of confidence, I'd get overwhelmed by my own energy, dispersed ideas and too much internal pressure.
It's then when I decided to hold space for the bigger picture, instead of just building insurmountable todo lists. I grabbed my favourite planner (it can be anything that appeals to you, be it a creative paper, journal, planner, or your wall), I took a deep breath and shared my true self, needs and dreams on a blank piece of paper. As I left aside all expectations, judgement and rumination, it felt so easy and natural to write about what I want that is in alignment with who I am. Since then, every time I'm at a low point and I don't really know what to do with myself, I go back to this piece of paper and I internalise it, until I come back to the feeling that I am on the right path. If my heart and body still burst with energy and enthusiasm at the look and feel of those words, then I know that's still my path.
Try this little exercise and stick with it, visualise it, move towards it with intention and hope, but let it flow, don't linger too much in the freeze zone every time an obstacle takes you a bit further off from that ultimate goal. We can't always predict how life will turn out. It might throw things at us when we least expect it. We need to embrace that in order to allow for good things to happen. But once you define a meaning for your own life, it will imprint itself on the paper, as on your soul, and it will guide you without the need for you to make constant and consistent efforts. You will get there.
It's ok if your long term goals don't have the most concrete form at the moment. It's also ok if you can't specifically relate them to your current endeavours, if nothing makes sense anymore. You might realise that you are looking for something different in your life, and that's ok, keep on adding to it, until it becomes so vivid and tangible that your whole being will know what to do, without too much struggle. Let yourself be surprised by your purpose. Maybe you already are the person that you've just written about, and that's fantastic, embrace it. Start small and dream big. You are worth it of dreaming big, whatever that might mean to you. Lose yourself in order to find yourself. Soften – your body, your mind, your spirit – so that you can get stronger. Let go of the grip and linger in the grey area a little while. It's easier to live there than in a black or white scenario, where the world is that or the other, where YOU are either that or the other.
I still wander, I still heal, there's still a lot of anxiety creeping in at the most inappropriate moments, but that's ok even when it's not. I've realised that the more I loosen up, the more I practise the daily minimum 10 minutes of grounding myself, the more I trust and stay with the healing process, the more I move forward with intention, then the more resilient I become and the closer I get to my blueprint.
Recent findings that sparked my interest
A TED talk: How Dance can Unleash your inner Joy
One of the things that helped me be more in my body and less in my mind, but also (re)learn to relax and let go, was to take on contemporary dance lessons. I came across Ryan Heffington's work recently, then I also found out he’s quite a big name in the industry (he choreographed Sia's videos with the mega talented Maddie Ziegler) and I thought he is brilliant. I love his humorous naturalness and the way he encourages us to go past our limiting beliefs that we are no good dancers. A belief that can extend to anything else we convince ourselves we're not good at, therefore we won't even try it. Instead, he prompts us to “Find out how your own body loves to move and find out that inner rhythm that feels so good. Think more body and less critique.” Life itself is dance, and once we start shifting our perspective in this direction and push the boundaries of ridiculousness, we will be able to see dance in the mundane and our habitual daily movements. Dance, in any form, is a simple means to access our inner joy, while goofiness is a sure antidote to a world in disarray.
A movie: The Work
The film is set in a single room at Folsom State Prison in California and follows a group of men in a four-day group therapy retreat. The retreat is an interaction between level-four convicts and three volunteers from outside. The volunteers' curiosity to get a glimpse of the convicts' life and struggles turns out to be a reflection of their own traumas and trapped emotions. The Work is an intense and insightful portrayal of mental health issues, of male rage and violence rooted in old traumas and shame, but what makes this documentary even more powerful, in my opinion, is the all-men scenario and the environment that holds space for them to show their visceral vulnerability and support for one another, in a society where boys don't cry.
A book: Flowers for Algernon
A book that tore my heart to pieces and mended it back on, in order to break it again. With a writing and a story that linger, “Flowers for Algernon” is the most beautiful and touching book I've read in the past 3 years and one of my all time favourites. There is too much to say about this book, but one thing that had a profound effect on me is its honest message that our humanity is not measured by how smart we are, but rather by our kindness, compassion and interaction with others. And this message, as simple as it sounds, is even more relevant in a society that praises the IQ and gives emotional intelligence the back seat, at most.
Let’s hear your thoughts
If you were to make-up your own (ideal) life's choreography, what would it look like? Describe it, draw it or dance it.