I was never the heavy makeup kind of girl- smothered in facial condiments, never leave home with out it. However, along with my tasbih (prayer beads), my purse did often tote a tube of #815 ‘Barely Nude’ Loreal Lip Gloss and matching lipliner. I imagined that these two superpowers could transform me from a speckled and withering, white petal into a radiating full bloom. Somehow, with a smear of lipstick, I felt worthier.
Yes, I read about the lead in lipstick…it’s poisoning salve! For this reason alone I considered abandoning it, but only for a few moments, just until that mad dash out the door…but wait…where the heck are my lipstick and liner?! In my other purse? Ugh! Let me see.
Digging my paws into the dark labyrinth, scouring for these items, sorting through the rubble and stubble of a no man’s land. Tis’ a mom purse. There can be found some stale cracker crumbs, a lone piece of gum, a dried up pen and an eraser, a Lego man, a Bandaid that is crumbled and stained by crashing with a lone crayon- clear evidence of the fact that I can never seem to recall its whereabouts when I need it.
There. I found them. Fortunate me!
“Just a moment kids, be right there!,” I call out to my boys. My daughter is standing close by, gaze afixed, my lips are swept out over the brink of my teeth. I take one strong, serious look into the mirror at my complexion – the only good stare-down of the day. As I carefully edge the lines of my small mouth, my six year old daughter asks: “Why do you wear that when you go out?”
I have no dawn good reason. Nothing to say.
Last year on Eid she asked only for a makeup kit. My five year old daughter asked for a makeup kit! I scoured the internet for organic play make up and found one company from which to buy. My little girl promised to play with it only inside the house, though she occasionally begged to wear it out on a special occasion. I faintly remember acquiescing once.
How did this come to be?
When I became Muslim and then embraced the practice of wearing hijab (headcovering), I did so audaciously, like a hard zealot. I wanted to be known as the verse explains:
…to draw their veils close round them. That will be better, that so they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate.” (Qur’an, Surah Al-Ahzab: 59).
I lacerated the puppet strings of the advertising kings. Goodbye Vogue, Redbook, Vanity Fair, and all the other peddlers and snake charmers. Goodbye to all the absurd self-help protocols that tell you on one page how to be healthy and strong, yet on the next page, how to even your complexion with chemical salves, or stand in a more flattering position for the camera; and yet another article on the ‘tell-tale signs to know when your man’s been cheatin’ on you!’ I was done acquiescing.
If I was going to accentuate, fiddle and toil, it would be for the sheer thrill of myself and intimacy with my husband. Firmly convicted, I relished in the opportunity for others to get to know the bare me- to listen to the content of my speech and interact with me sincerely, not to be sidetracked by my ability or inability to subdue my thighs into a more flattering shape, wear highlights, or accessorize my wardrobe properly.
I was a giddy covered woman for a time. I don’t know when the foundation, eye shadow, blush, and default lip stick featured into the picture. However, I do remember feeling that I needed to make “this” work. At some juncture, I had a set-back and decided that If I was only going to put my face out to the world, I should show it well, with at least some of the fixins.
As a young girl, I remember slouching on my grandmother’s rust colored, corduroy arm-less chair as the ladies in the room passed around a color wheel and accompanying make over book. I ruffled the shag carpet with my tiny toes, half listening to the ways of womanhood. They said women came in all the four seasons, and it was incumbent on every woman to know her season, so she could choose the appropriate color palette for her face. Only women who used toothpicks between their teeth in public places didn’t know the difference. Those dowdy women who grabbed the closest dime store tube of pink or red and slapped it on…or worse yet none at all. Nay! She should wear the colors according to her complexion.
My mother and grandmother spun the wheel near my face- certainly beaming with earnestness and curiosity. They angled it from all sides, then in one fell swoop cast expressions of concern and delight. I was declared a ‘fall’ forever more. Every gift of clothing thereafter would be a a shade of pea green or orange.
On my thirteenth birthday, when my doting grandmother determined that I had blossomed, she took me to the mall to get my first make over. I was beaming in my green, sleeveless turtleneck – proud to have arrived. I still have that Polaroid shot, taken by the waiter at the Bubble Room where we ate lunch that afternoon. A piled high piece of chocolate cake in front of me, I’m ecstatic to have shed my smallness and slipped into my new skin.
I learned how crucial it was to match my foundation precisely to my skin complexion, and to smile in the most eccentric way in order to accentuate my cheek bones in an attempt make the blush look nearly natural splayed across my face. Being a woman meant fixing up every day before leaving home. I realized that being a woman was an expensive chore.
I think as a covered Muslim woman, I could never reconcile my beliefs about what freedom authentically meant; indeed, what my soul longed for, with my hard-wired understanding about what it entails to be a woman. I wanted my hijab to be palatable and the bare me would not cut it. I needed to embrace my outer ‘fall’ in the company of complete strangers to really count.
I place the blame squarely on me, as there was no pressure coming from elsewhere. My husband has never been the sort to even suggest, much less pressure me, to look like a good catch, as some men do– holding their wives out as, let’s face it, material gains for others to gawk at in a vain, pathetic attempt to evoke a sense of jealousy or pride. Yes, Muslim couples engage in this sport too! You know those men who post dolled-up photos of their wives on Facebook, taken just before some party, before which she has painstakingly fixed herself from every angle. After a few bad shots, he manages to get the right pose, and contingent upon her pre-screening and approval, slaps on a caption that could just as easily be transferred to a ’look at my Ferrari post,’ (if only he could afford one). Or maybe he is a little more wily; he wants to be envied without obvious pretension, so he attaches a subtle, flattering caption like: ‘All these years and still going strong.’ Maybe she even edits the caption.
No, I never felt that part and parcel of my worthiness to my husband was based on how prized a possession I may appear to be. Fortunately, the weight of affection was always based on intrinsic qualities. Yet, especially in my 20-some sprint of life, I was so seeped in a need to be an adorable, hijab-toting woman, that I scarcely left home without some article of makeup. It was as routine as fastening the pin on my scarf in the morning. No one in my professional circles should see what I really looked like. God forbid!
As for my lipstick, once I found #815, and accompanying lip liner, other women took note.
“That’s pretty on you? What color is that?”
I’d be feeling fortunate (and a tad smug) to have the good sense to know my season and wear it well.
As the years progressed, and I settled into myself on my quest to become a big girl, I shed much of the visage, yet, clung to #815, and if I ever had an important meeting to go to, one where I needed to make an impression, I was sure to wear a complete face.
Then, I attended the Reviving Rememberance Retreat, Al-Maqasid with my dear, old friend from Texas. Of the scholars, Anse Tamara Grey, was in attendance and provided a series of lectures to an all female audience. In one lecture “Saving Superwoman,” she poked good fun at the women (like me) who just had to have that jolt of eyeliner or smear of lipstick, justifying it at every turn- sparring with themselves to reconcile its use with their notions of modesty and enlightenment. I laughed as she impersonated the likes of me and so many other women I’m blessed to call friends.
Then, she narrowed her tone, cut to the chase, and dared to grate the rough layer of my ego. She claimed that women like me were trying to compensate. Instead, we should be confident in our choice, wear our hijab with absolute resolve and unapologetically bare our faces. We should leap out from under the veneer and be at peace with ourselves. She said that if we stood up with confidence and refused to apologize, or make our ways palatable to others, we would garner more authentic joy and respect.
She profiled the women mentioned in the Qur’an; for example, Hana (the mother of Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her), who struggled with infertility, then seemingly beyond hope, she received the fortunate news of a soon-to-be born daughter, whereupon, she unflinchingly pledged her child to firm spiritual devotion and upbringing in the Temple. Then, Maryam (mother of Jesus), though a virgin without a husband had a miraculous conception and labor whereby she brought the baby out, as a single mother, among a gawking public; yet, with firm resolve and faith, she refused to shrink or accept chastisement. Also, Assiya (wife of Pharaoh, may Allah be pleased with her), who stood up against one of the most notorious tyrants of all ages, defying her husband’s command to kill all newborn Jewish boys. She took Moses (peace be upon him) into her home and raised him as her own, plus gave refuge to Moses’ mother who nursed him in his infancy.
The distinguishing feature of all of these women, Anse pointed out, is that they refused to bow to the prescribed norms of their societies whenever it grated against their firm convictions to do the opposite. They paid a price, no doubt, but each was ultimately fulfilled for her prowess and sincere faith in her deep and abiding connection to her Creator and Sustainer.
Suddenly, my lips felt like they were buzzing and sending off an alarm of discontent. A real light bulb moment was a blaze. Where at once I opined that it gave me an edge, now I felt that it diminished my essence. I had the urge to wipe it away with the cuff of my sleeve. I grated my lips on my teeth, trying to scrub off the last remnants of #815. I wanted no more to do with her.
I believe the best reactions are those to clear truths, that spring on us so suddenly we scarcely have the window of opportunity to duck or flinch. We simply react on instinct, and swiftly, my instinct told me to take it off. Take it off! Now. Now. Now!
If we give ourselves space to be analytical in such raw moments, we can easily get caught up in a swarm of alternatives, each with a special justification, that ultimately hinder our honest goals by enabling us to justify the course we are already on and the choices we have already resigned ourselves to make.
The next day, shed of #815, I looked at myself in the mirror. I didn’t like what I saw — a speckled and withering white petal. I wanted #815 back, badly! But, I also wanted to live up to my full potential as a woman. I wanted to be authentic and strong without the fixins. I wanted to feel beautiful and walk firmly in my own flesh. Bare me. I wanted to feel worthy without products and compliments.
It has been almost a week. I still yearn a little for #815. I’ve replaced that yearning with a stronger dose of remembrance of Allah (Most High) and prayers upon the Prophet (peace be upon him). I’ve replaced it with prayers for myself and my society.
I don’t have to be silent to my daughter any more when I go out. She can look up at me now without a question in her heart.
Bare me. Beaming as I go out. A lightness in my heart. A prayer on my lips.