Today's Reading

The effort pays off. Eyeliner, of course, can make a woman appear significantly more attractive, and attractiveness, or "pretty privilege," is meaningfully associated with a disturbingly wide range of positive social and economic outcomes (though often the woman would have to be "conventionally" attractive to benefit from this privilege). Women, especially women of color, are held to high and specific standards when it comes to their appearance at work. In the office, women who wear the right kind of makeup-not too heavy, not too light-are seen as more competent and effective leaders; a pronounced wing may be looked at less favorably than tightlining. When worn well, eyeliner can give the illusion of doe eyes, implying youth. And those with "baby faces" are thought to fare better in life as they're perceived to be more honest, trustworthy, or charismatic than others.

Conversely, some young people wear eyeliner to appear older or more mature. Twelve-year-olds Alice Craig and Cristina Wilson, grade-school classmates who now attend different Manhattan middle schools, gather in friends' bedrooms on weekends to trade eyeliner techniques gleaned from YouTube tutorials. Among their group, the girls explained, eyeliner is the cosmetic of choice. "It's not about looking 'cute,'" Wilson says. "Eyeliner makes you look cool and bold. It makes you look older, too. It's not like anyone will think you're fifteen. But maybe they'll take you more seriously."

"A lot of girls we know mostly use makeup to cover up things they think are flaws, or they're doing something subtle to look prettier but natural," says Craig. "I think if that makes you feel more confident, go for it. But my friends and I don't find that way of using makeup very interesting. Eyeliner is different. It's basically the opposite of subtle or 'naturally pretty.' Eyeliner shows your personality." This is eyeliner's sheer power, unmatched by those other items in your makeup bag.

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Eyeliner resides comfortably in almost every corner of pop culture, from music and theater to film and art. It's regularly employed as a transformative marker of maturity, drama, seduction, sexuality, strength, or rebelliousness. On Western screens, high-intensity eyeliner has been used to signify madness or transgression. Femme fatales such as Akasha, played by the late Aaliyah in the 2002 film Queen of the Damned, and Julie Marsden, played by Bette Davis in the 1938 film Jezebel, were made up in eyeliner (Graham Greene memorably described Davis as having "popping, neurotic eyes, a kind of corrupt and phosphorescent prettiness"). Twisted male protagonists like the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight and Robert Pattinson in The Batman wore smudged lines. In the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, several of the rebellious female inmates at a New York prison creatively and consistently trace their eyes with pigment, my favorite look being the long and thin flicks worn by the gutsy Maritza Ramos, played by Diane Guerrero. In Game of Thrones, the nomadic group known as the Dothraki wear eyeliner prolifically, particularly its male warriors on horseback. The troubled chess player portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit draws lines that grow more dramatic as she becomes progressively more unhinged; in an alcohol-induced haze, she paints
floating lines a centimeter below her natural lower lashes, producing an uncanny, doll-like effect. And in the HBO show Euphoria, the eyeliner worn by actor Alexa Demie's character, Maddy Perez, is distinct and bold, reflecting her tough yet emotionally volatile persona. As depicted in The Crown, Princess Diana, prior to being interviewed by the BBC's Panorama program about Prince Charles's infidelity, applies black eyeliner heavily to her bottom waterline, giving her eyes a somber, mournful appearance. Eyeliner, incidentally, isn't always used on the eyes. John Waters, the American filmmaker and director, creates his trademark pencil mustache with Maybelline's Expert Wear Velvet Black eyeliner.

Eyeliner has also served practical purposes in the arts. During the 1920s, with the introduction of "movie palaces," films were broadcast in black and white, and directors required that cast members line their eyes to ensure they popped against a monochrome backdrop. In theater and opera historically performed against candles or lamplights, eyeliner was applied liberally to performers' faces to help the audience see their expressions more clearly. Some celebrities and artists have had especially intimate relationships to their liner, so much so that it became a trademark that they would be unrecognizable without. Consider, for a moment, Amy Winehouse without her graphic wings, or a barefaced Trixie Mattel.

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Eyeliner speaks a universal language of transformation. But its roots lie firmly in the East, beginning with ancient Egypt, where the earliest evidence of its use dates to at least 3100 BCE, and where it was used for medicinal, spiritual, and cosmetic purposes. In Africa's ancient Land of Punt, galena was likely used as a source for kohl, as evidenced by trade between the kingdom and ancient Egyptians. People across the continent, from Berbers in Morocco and Oromos in Ethiopia to nomads in Chad, also use kohl to repel the sun and to beautify or medicate their eyes. However one refers to eyeliner in the Global South-kajal, kohl, surma, or sormeh-the cosmetic has been highly influential, and can convey messages about power, religiosity, and a commitment to moral codes.

Communities of color today also use eyeliner to express themselves and assert their identities in the face of marginalization and white supremacy. Ziwe Fumudoh, an American talk show host who went viral for pressing her interviewees on Black culture and politics, often boasts a signature eyeliner look. "Most hosts are like, 'What's your next project? How can we promote it?' as opposed to 'How many Black friends do you have? What do you like about Black people qualitatively?' " she told Allure in September 2020. "I'm asking those questions with my intense eyeliner and pigment on my face. I'm trying to contextualize these products that I have and bring them into conversations about race and class and gender... Nothing exists in a vacuum. I don't exist in a vacuum, the makeup I wear doesn't exist in a vacuum."

This excerpt ends on page 32 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Lessons for Living: What Only Adversity Can Teach You by Phil Stutz. 

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