War Paint


Some girls won’t leave the house without their favourite lipstick.
Others are never seen without their signature eye liner.
With me, it’s rouge.

I had always regretted not having freckles, and I liked how sunburn looked on me. I still do. I think it has something to do with breaking the pallidness of my skin – I usually look into the mirror and think I look like something that has just drowned. Or a zombie, depending on the rings under my eyes.

I’m not quite sure when it started. My mother and grandmother – and with them my female childhood attachment figures – rarely ever wear make-up. When my friends in seventh, eighth grade started plastering themselves I didn’t have any interest in painting my face other that with black or red stripes of war paint (which is sort of frowned upon, so I actually didn’t). Later, when I got into the realms of darker subcultures there was the occasional corpse paint, or actually red war paint for a LARP character.
I remember, though, one of my first experiments in the field of blush, or the field of make-up generally. I think I was thirteen, and I had just read in some magazine that applying that stuff under your cheekbones would make them look sharper. I actually like my cheekbones, so I have no idea what eventually drove me to get my mother’s rouge and apply it, well, under my cheekbones. Not all of it, of course. I actually have no idea what the outcome looked like back then. I only know that on this very afternoon I went to a choir practise I had with people I knew from elementary school. Most people I had been friends and comfy with in elementary school weren’t there anymore and so what I was left with were people I weren’t comfortable with at all, and who, in turn weren’t comfortable with me.
They were already in the phase when smoking, wearing make-up, being generally cool, trying to impress boys, was considered to be the thing to do. All the while I was still deeply rooted in childhood and very, very earnest. A rather naïve, idealistic, when-I-grow-up-I-want-to-be-a-Greenpeace-activist, rather non-gendered, earnest child-person.
One of the girls there was a hard sort of person, and I had never been friends with her, not even back when school first started and the notion of “cool” and “uncool” was far from being indoctrinated in our minds.
Anyways, this particular girl sat on a small stone wall, smoking, being whatever they thought was cool with her friends, staring at me. Gathering data. Checking for flaws. What ever it was she did. And then she asked:

“Have you been painting your face?”

I denied it as fast and firm as I could. I even insisted I must had scratched myself or something, and this was the cause of parts of my face being unnaturally red. The truth is, I felt exposed. Embarrassed. Humiliated, because everyone was watching. I didn’t even really know why I felt like this was a bad thing, being called out for being painted, but to me, it was. Maybe she hadn’t even meant it like that, but I felt wrong. I tried to rub the paint off my face with my sleeve when I thought nobody looked.

About five years later I got called ugly at school, just because I wore no make-up at all.

Finally, around the start of university, I started wearing rouge every day. I had done this for two or three years irregularly, but it somehow became part of my routine. By now, if I counted correctly, I own about ten different blushes, my favourites being cream blushes as they require less fuss. I tend to warm, light colours that match my colour palette, and I’m horribly non-ceremonial in applying most of the time.
But when I face a rough day – many people, a lot of noise, stress, things to do, places I don’t like, days when I just want to stay in bed and pull the blanket over my head again after the alarm rang – I take the paint, and I paint the horizontal lines carefully, first the right cheekbone, then the left. The lines stay for a moment, pink, a surprisingly sharp contrast to my pale skin. I could leave them like that, I think, always. But then I blend them out, leaving healthy-looking light pink circles on my cheekbones, not under them, making me look stronger and healthier than I feel right now, just the way I actually should feel. What people don’t see are the stripes that still remain, invisible to them, my war paint. I wear it every day, no matter if good or bad, no matter if I leave the house or not.

The paint is my shield, the paint is part of who I am. Most people don’t even recognise me as painted, but I know the difference, not only in looks, but also in feeling.

3 thoughts on “War Paint

  1. Wie du dich vielleicht erinnerst, trage ich kein Make-up. Praktisch nie. Dass ich trotzdem einen Blogpost komplett lese, der von Make-up handelt, liegt an nichts anderem als deiner wunderschönen Sprache und an den Bildern, die sie in meinem Kopf aufploppen lässt.

  2. Nice.
    For myself, I’ve never gotten the hang of rouge…

    I think my form of warpaint is my henna-colord hair which often does not get recognised but defines me as who I am. (I know it has not the same meaning as yours, but I think I sense some similarities)

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