100Cyborgs: 71-80


Make-upWe would be hard pressed to find a more diverse industrial network than that which manufactures make-up: plant oils, the crushed bodies of insects, mineral dust, ground up herring scales... the make-up cyborgs wear upon their faces a macabre concoction worthy of the most fantastical fairy tale witches brew.

I don’t have that much personal experience with make-up... my wife doesn’t use it, and although I’ve used a little on stage or for fancy dress parties and the like, it’s a small part of my life. Yet I have not failed to notice the number of people who ritualistically ‘put on their face’ in the morning and then, just as laboriously, remove it at night. Next to this practice, the obligations of Islamic prayer (salat) or a Christian monk’s canonical hours seem almost tame!

It would be easy to take a judgemental stance here: why do you need to cover your beauty with paint? Why get anxious to show the face underneath? Yet there is something to the rituals of make-up that people draw strength from - and this is nowhere near as gendered as it may first appear. American football players may not spend as much time crafting their faces, but they still put on ‘warpaint’ before they hit the field! What’s more, unlike that conspicuous prosthesis of the wealthy elites, the suit (cyborg #36), which must be expensive to serve its role, make-up is an affordable option for the majority of people on our planet. Compared to designer clothes and shoes, grotesquely overpowered cars, or jewellery, make-up provides a way to project a persona that is not merely aping the conspicuous excess of the commercial aristocracy. In the simple act of painting a face lies a tool for self-confidence that allows for its own excellences.

Yet I am mindful of Baz Luhrmann‘s admonition: “Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.” There is truth in this claim, a tyranny of image maintained by elites for their own benefit, and one that bulldozes the inherent beauty of ethnicity with conventions rooted in whiteness. Beyoncé straightened her beautiful hair to conform to the norms of white beauty. Make-up is primarily made for lighter skin tones... those with a darker complexion not only struggle to find suitable make-up (should they wish to use it), they are repeatedly and systematically sidelined in the image industry, reinforcing a set of stereotypes of beauty all at heart celebrating a pre-prescribed image of whiteness.

As make-up cyborgs, your excellences lie in how you choose to present your face to the world. But this act is also a form of subjugation in so much as the cybernetic network distributing images of ‘beauty’ provides the dogma upon which each face finds its normative foundation. In this way, our faces become not our own possessions, but a means of possession by demons beyond our individual control, doubts and anxieties. The cybernetic network of all faces carries the baffling risks of every labyrinth.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #94


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