Makeup, and bold makeup in particular, has had a curious impact on popular culture. Women seen to be wearing makeup, most significantly red lips and nails to match, have been associated with brazen confidence, sex appeal and somewhat ‘vampish’ traits so consistently that the movies would have you believe that innocent girls wouldn’t dream of wearing red. We’ve seen screen idols like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor immortalising the red lip, and even animated characters like Betty Boop (1930) and Jessica Rabbit (1988) have been iconic for their fiery pouts. ‘Sex bomb’ is the term loosely used for them all.
A woman’s persona, it appears, is written by her makeup. The cleaner the face, the clearer the character.
Up until very recently, Pakistan’s television dramas validated the stereotype with annoying precision. Imagine a heavily made up female character, ostensibly wearing three layers of mascara on her fake eyelashes and coloured contact lenses to magnify them a bit more. A thick coat of foundation reflective of war paint covers her face, which is then contoured and highlighted by strokes and strobes of various powders designed to convolute the face. The lips are often an entirely independent character: the deadlier the character, the more lined, filled, built-up and basically bold lip she’ll have. This kind of woman you’d have seen in Pakistani dramas, and soaps in particular. In the average soap, the made-up woman was the manipulative mother-in-law, an equally toxic sister-in-law, or the quintessential ‘other woman,’ the home wrecker.
While it’s still makeup versus no makeup when it comes to defining the innocence of a character, things are no longer as over the top as they used to be. The turn of the millennium saw the influence of Indian soaps wearing off, and we saw the rise of subtlety; that said, the principle of the character remained the same.
The heroine has evolved to have fifty shades of fresh face. Mawra Hocane as Rashtina in Nauroz, or Sabeena Farooq as Barbeena in Kabuli Pulao, are refreshingly sans makeup. Urwa Hocane has a signature ‘no makeup look’ that we see in her drama serials, most recently in Meri Shehzadi. Urwa’s eyes are made to look bigger and more bewildered with mascara and no kajal, liner or eye shadow. A natural-toned rouge gives her a youthful and innocent blush across the cheeks and nose. The lip tint is kept as natural as possible. You could have a Meerab (Yumna Zaidi) in Tere Bin, a Mehek (Dure Fishan Saleem) in Kaisi Teri Khudgarzi, a Zoobia (Dananeer Mobeen) in Muhabbat Gumshuda Meri or even an Aliya (Sajal Aly) in Kuch Ankahi and you’ll see the pattern: good girls don’t depend on makeup. They’re born pretty.
Makeup, even in its subtler form, is mostly restricted to several types of female characters. First and foremost: the negative character, evil, manipulative or home breaker. Think of the wicked step-mother in any Disney classic. Think of Niggo Jee’s (Saman Ansari) Star Plus soap inspired alter ego in Fairy Tale. Two: the rich b*tch, and she’ll inevitably have grey undertones under the makeup if they’re not more obvious; Kiran Malik plays her to perfection as Natasha in Jaisay Aap Ki Marzi. Three: the westernised woman, meaning the one in jeans and shirts, who’s thrown modesty to the wind and just doesn’t care about cultural sensitivities. This character is hard to find, as every woman must subscribe to cultural sensitivities, but every now and then you’ll have a Faha (Washma Fatima) as we saw in Mujhe Pyaar Hua Tha. Four: the ambitious woman, one who’s better dressed and perhaps even fashionable as she has a life beyond the four walls of her home. Sonya Hussyn’s Noor ul Ain was destined for heartbreak and solitude (Tere Bina Mein Nahi) the minute she chose her career over marriage. As per drama values, she obviously didn’t care about family values.
We’ve seen these tropes play out on TV for far too long. It’s time to see a good girl not afraid of a slick of Russian Roulette. Or some high contoured cheekbones and a French manicure for a successful albeit loving woman in a relationship. It’s time for an extreme makeover, wouldn’t you think?
Aamna Haider Isani is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Something Haute.