Loving make-up is a complicated fight between what you know is a beauty standard and what you want your face to be, says Damini Kane
“You should use kajal,” a friend told me at fifteen. Everyone wanted to look older than they were at fifteen, and kajal was the one accessible, culturally-appropriate cosmetic most of us were allowed to use. It took a bit of cajoling on her part, but I eventually did buy my first ever stick of kajal. It was Himalaya, apparently full of natural ingredients, and it ran down my eyes within minutes.
When you first start using kajal, you become familiar with a word you never had to think about before: waterline. It’s where your eyelid meets your eye, the place from which your eyelashes sprout. Well-applied, kajal coats your waterline with a smooth, defined line of black. Advertisements will promise you’ll look sultry and mysterious, your eyes looking somehow bigger and deeper at once.
I pulled my waterline down, and ran a tentative streak of kajal across my waterline. My eye reacted instantly. Tears burst out, my eyelid blinked wildly, trying to physically reject the invasion of make-up and contrived beauty standards.
Another word frequently dropped by kajal-users: smudge. “Your kajal is smudging,” a helpful friend would say, and I would rush to the college bathrooms and try to wipe the sooty black make-up that would shadow under my eyes. I was always unsuccessful, and I’d emerge from the restroom defeated, the smudged kajal making me look seven-nights’-sleep-deprived.
For the first six months, kajal always made me cry. I’d practice using it every day, and my hands got steadier, my lines got cleaner, but my eyes always resisted. My waterlines became battle fronts. Me, my weapon, and my ideal of beauty, waging war against my defenceless eyes. Eyes, I’ve noticed, are generally rather helpless against the onslaught of commercials and movies and photographs telling us what is beautiful and what is not.
Eventually, my eyes gave up their futile resistance. They no longer watered when I applied kajal, as I did every day for two years of junior college and three years of undergrad. My cosmetic skills improved all round; I could now blend eye-shadows, immaculately outline the peaks of my upper lip, paint my eyelashes with mascara, and dust my cheeks with rouge.
But the kajal remained my standard. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without it.
“You should wear eyeliner,” a cousin told me. “Over your eyes. Add a bit of a wing towards the end.”
Liquid eyeliner is Satan’s cosmetic. My eyes never burned and rebelled the way they did with kajal (I dare say the fight had drained out of them with every involuntary make-up-related tear they shed), but eyeliner made my eyes uneven. I could never—I still can’t—get the lines exactly right. I would streak one eyelid with a smooth, confident black line, only to lose heart with the other eye and paint something smaller, meeker, instead. Then I’d overcompensate, running the eyeliner brush over the thin line again and again, until it would look bolder than Bold formatting in MS Word. To even it out, I’d redo the first eye, over and over again until I closely resembled a panda.
But when it was all over, I’d stare at my reflection and smile, because my face was finally pretty.
“Are you sick?” someone once asked on a rare day that I hadn’t lined my eyes with my usual kajal-eyeliner combination.
I suppose it was a little shocking to see a face without makeup.
Damini Kane is studying for a Master’s degree in the UK. Her debut novel, The Sunlight Plane, is being released in Mumbai on Saturday.