I’ve always been interested in makeup, and had a particular talent for it. I’m an artist, and makeup brushes feel just like paintbrushes to me. It’s natural. On a lonely Saturday night when my plans had just been cancelled, I was feeling restless. I felt like doing something, but didn’t particularly want to try to make new plans, and I was sick of television. I felt the familiar itch of wanting to do something creative, but was too lazy to set up all my painting supplies, so I took out my makeup brushes instead. I intended to transform my face—in this case my canvas—into something beautiful, using sharp lines and contrasts and all the bright colors in my eye shadow arsenal. But I found myself drawn to the darker colors, the black, gray, green and dark purples and blues.
I intended to just give myself a black eye. I looked up pictures on the internet, trying to figure out how to get the shading just right. There was a lot of variation, since eye bruises look so different depending on how they were inflicted, as well as how recently. I decided to wing it. I started by accentuating the creases around my eye, to make them look deeper, and highlighted the parts I thought might be swollen. I mixed blush with my purple shadows to make the area seem red and irritated. I powdered my eyelashes with the same colors as the bruise so the eye wouldn’t seem as wide as my other one. I even paled the skin on the other side of my face to make a starker contrast. As I blended the colors on my canvas, I began to envision a story, and an attacker. I painted another bruise on my chin, and finger marks on my throat. I later blurred the throat bruises because that seemed like too much, but I added red lipstick to the inner part of my lips to make it look like my mouth had been bleeding.
Once I finished, I looked scary. I had made my face into a work of art, and it was truly believable. I debated showing people, and perhaps I should have deliberated a bit more, but the wonders of Snap Chat and picture messaging meant that once I made the decision, it took about ten seconds for several of my loved ones to see what I had done.
The reactions were different depending on who the recipients were, and what message I sent with the picture. At the time I didn’t realize it, but I was cruel. The picture I sent to a few of my male friends had no message at all, just my face looking like I had been attacked. Others, including my siblings and parents, received the picture with a caption clarifying that I was wearing makeup.
My dad was out with a friend (who also happens to be my boss) when he opened the message. He knew it was makeup, but he showed the picture to my boss, who immediately thought he and my dad needed to go find and kill the person that did such a terrible thing to me. I got a similar reaction from my close friend and coworker in New York. He called me, frantically asking what happened and if he needed to drive up to Massachusetts to beat someone up. I told him to calm down, explaining that it was makeup. I didn’t let anyone get too upset over it—I mostly wanted to showcase my talent and let people think it was real only for a minute.
But then I got cocky, and mean. My friend of five years responded later than everyone else, because he had been at work. He got out, saw the picture of Mangled Me on his phone, and sent me several messages with extra punctuation asking what happened. I sent back some brief, detached messages, spinning a transparent story about getting mugged on the way back to my car after work. Logically, he should have been able to tell that the story wasn’t true. I had told him earlier in the day that I was getting out of work at three in the afternoon, and the walk from work to my car is about fifty feet. The bruises looked a few days old, and I made it sound like the incident happened a few hours ago. But of course, in that situation, who would be thinking logically? We exchanged a few messages about it before I told him what really happened, but it was enough to make him really angry with me. And he had every right to be. I was insensitive, not realizing that caring for me would make him feel so strongly about the situation—a situation I never should have put him in. He didn’t stay angry with me for long, though he could have.
That was the fatal flaw in my little experiment: my insensitivity. I usually try hard not to be insensitive. I’m liberal, I’m a feminist, I’m pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ rights, etc., but in this situation I was too focused on my art. I looked past the implications—assault, rape, abuse—even though I knew people might jump to those conclusions. Once my friends and loved ones knew I was okay, I got mostly positive feedback. They said I was talented, that I should be a makeup artist for a crime show, like CSI. My brother was the only one who pointed out that what I did was “inappropriate,” and that I should be careful what I did with the picture. He said that posting it on Instagram, even with the makeup clarification, might be upsetting to people who actually get beaten.
My own views are still conflicted. In some ways I want people to understand that it’s just art, the same way someone might paint a picture or write a song. But putting it on my face undeniably makes it much more personal, because I am the canvas. It’s difficult to look at something like that objectively, as if you are looking at a painting, because I am not an object and I tend to surround myself with people who share that belief. People who love me, or even know me, clearly found it difficult to separate art from actuality even when they knew the truth, and it was probably unreasonable to expect them to. I still want to experiment with makeup transformations, but perhaps I’ll step more lightly next time, now that I know the consequences.