By Ann Sim
Gathering the painting tools to my reach, I observe the canvas reflected through the mirror in front of me. My face, this tranquil, angular visage, is a canvas__ a blank, colorless sheet of paper. The first tool of choice to paint this countenance is a flat top bluffing brush. Three pumps from my Mac liquid foundation should suffice and I even out the product across the surface of the brush using the back of my hand. And with my right hand, I begin the process of exhausted ritual that began in the 4th year of my high school career when I first started to become self-conscious of my appearance.
The soft bristles glide over my right cheek then across my chin towards the other cheek, and finally, a couple swirls across the forehead and down my t-zone. My pale skin that indicates an origin story of Eastern European, Romanian background looks even paler after evening out the skin tone with foundation. “white and pure as snow; white, white lies of innocence,” as said by an acquaintance from my ballet academy named Jan.
Jan seemed to dislike me as if it was often that she would make me such backhanded remarks. T was later that I found out that she was angry that that I had only been in the academy since I started middle school while she had started out much younger, but I was given more of the prominent roles than her. I fiddle with two mascaras in my hand and decide to go with the ultra-lengthening one. Somewhere within me, I hated myself for wanting to hear those words that drip with poison. With great precision, I stagger the bristles of my mascara to life and curl my lashes from base to tip. I am painfully aware of myself, and just as she said, I knew that the innocence that I portrayed on the outside was just an excuse to hide the monsters that I did not want to accept within me. Having thin and shorter than average eyelashes, I used to be fascinated by the ability to give the appearance of naturally open eyes by a couple of these swift applications. “you are so lucky you have such feminine eyelashes!” people used to say to me as I silently thought to myself, “But they are not real. Like nothing is anymore.”
After repeating the process on my right eyes, I move onto the next step of ritual: applying eye liner. I hold my hands steady as if I’m standing in position waiting for the music to start. And then it begins: the jet-black color glides over my waterline from one corner to the next like the invisible line that I once traced with my tip-toed feet to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major. It was an incredibly difficult piece; the high-speed galloping of the violins and energetic staccatos were hard to keep up with and perhaps it was the exhaustion that resulted in my injury that day. It’s true what they say about athletic injuries. It happens so quickly and when you take time to recover you find that there was something even faster than the injury: dance had kept moving and left me behind.
I open the drawers to my large, rectangular makeup kit and rummage through the container. A gold shimmery eye-shadow that was said to reflect the image of sunny rays and an oak-colored shadow, I think back to my first dance recital in 8th grade.
The dance instructor who was also our coach, choreographer, and stage/performance coordinator was a strict rule-enforcing lady in her early 40s who had philosophical sentiments that belong more to a teacher of the humanities than performance art. For every performance, all the dancers were to have uniform hair-dos, makeup and outfits. The tightly gel-backed buns without a single strand of hair sticking out did not bother me as much as the way she insisted our eye-shadow to be done. Dark colors, black and grey had to cover our entire lids from the waterline all the way to the tip of our eyebrows.
The aim was to be dramatic, and as the girls (and boys) sat on the tile floors of the auditorium getting ready, our instructor would often yell, “Remember ladies and gentlemen, we are not only in the art of performance but the art of creating a narrative that the audience can believe. And what tool do we rely on to control the form that allows people to have a certain experience or feelings?” Among the restlessness and chaos, someone would always shout, “Personas!” to which she would say, “Yes. It is through personas __the cumulation of the self that is perceived and fabrications we create that are not our own. So, forget about expressing yourself, forget about the truth, put on your masks, darken your shadows, and become something not of this world!”
When engaged with any other aspect of life, one might say that I a highly obsessed with the exactness and perfection. Although mostly true, that is not the case with my brows. “Brows should be twins, not sisters,” is definitely not my motto as I hurriedly fill in just a couple empty patches. The action would usually conclude the ritual, but I open up the new lipstick package that was gifted to me as an early birthday present by my best friend. A red as deep as the color of blood; not a shade that I am usually comfortable wearing. Twisting the stick, unknowingly I glide the product over my bottom lip. I think about the truth behind this action. The fact that any mask placed over my dull face fits perfectly and allows me to play any character because its core being is vacant; I am empty. I smack my lips and observe myself for the last time. I think about the reflections in a person’s eyes are full of deception. Curling my lips, I force a smile. The mask speaks: Don’t be naïve__ things are never as they appear.