The eyes, according to Shakespeare, are the windows to the soul. But in times of a pandemic, they are the only thing you see. I don’t know about you, but I now recognize friends by their eyes. When you see them on the street from a distance and have no idea who they are — face covered in a Frida Kahlo mask — and then you see their eyes, and it all becomes familiar.
I have also taken to reading strangers by their eyes. You can hardly understand a word people are saying with the mask and can’t see much of a facial expression. Are they smiling? Or grimacing? Now, when someone bumps into me in the market — you try social distancing in a Brooklyn bodega — I look them straight in the eye to see if they are about to say excuse me or tell me to sod off. I am learning the language of the eyes.
The mask amplifies the eyes. They become like two screens that reveal much more than anyone would ever want to say. Where words are difficult, the eyes tell the real story. The one true thing the pandemic has taught me is that human communication is as essential as air. So if I am to communicate with my eyes, I might as well make them a statement.
I keep on thinking of Princess Diana, masked, watching a hospital surgery. Those blue eyes rimmed with what looked like kohl were most effective. Forget the hair; the eyes had it. I need to hone up on the best eyeliner and eyeshadow for the holidays.
Make-up can define a woman (and this doesn’t mean that the absence of make-up can’t) and even make her iconic — especially the eyes. Eyeliner defines the look; eyeshadow is the painter’s palette. Think of Greta Garbo’s deep-set eyes, Amy Winehouse and her swaths of eyeliner, Twiggy and her doe-eyes, and Cleopatra — the mighty Queen of Egypt who loved both Julius Cesar and Marc Anthony. No one wore eyeliner better than Cleopatra. (Okay, maybe Queen Nefertiti, the other famous Egyptian monarch, with her lined almond-shaped eyes.)
Over five thousand years ago, the Egyptians used eyeshadow to adorn and to protect their eyes from the hot sun coming off the desert sand. The first eyeshadow was a green, pasty pigment called malachite. The green paste went on the lower lids; a deep blue with gold flecks made from ground lapis lazuli went on the upper eyelids. Black kohl — made from powdered lead sulfide and animal fat — made the eyelashes longer and the eyebrows darker. We owe the smoky eye to Egyptian women.
Ancient Egyptian documents reveal that people believed that if you wore a specific make-up, the Gods would protect you. Those looking for divine interventions from Ra and Horus to help them not get sick would coat on the makeup. Horus was the sky god. Horus’s eye, one of the best-known symbols of ancient Egypt, represented protection, royal power, and good health. If wearing eye make-up might protect you from getting sick, I believe that is something to consider.
We also owe a tip of the hat to Greta Garbo and her bedroom eyes. Garbo used Max Factor powder in Silver Stone, which gave her a subtle glow that made her look beautiful in her movies. Her striking pale-blue eyes were defined by a dark shade blend applied to the crease of her eyes, making them look deep set. A silky line of eyeliner extended beyond the outside corners of her eyes and made them iconic. It’s the look we remember as she said “I want to be alone” in the 1932 film Grand Hotel or sailed as Queen Christina in 1933.
Twiggy made androgyny and big eyes iconic in the 1960s. Her trademark eyeliner was not easy to do. She used liquid eyeliner to line the top lid — thick — and then drew individual lines, creating the idea of longer lashes. She applied various coats of mascara and then, as a finishing touch, false eyelashes. Mod make-up that makes you want to listen to Dusty Springfield or put on The Mamas and the Papas.
Eyeliner, more than eyeshadow, is my preferred poison, although I am crap at putting it on. I envy women with perfect winged eyeliner — that slash of power. I stretch my eyes out and will myself to think more of Elizabeth Taylor than Amy Winehouse, but I always end up with a wonky line or two lines that look nothing alike. But I still try. It makes the whole fear and mask thing a bit better; it makes me feel close to what used to be normal. And if the Eye of Horus can protect me, much the better.