by Asha Rajan
Growing up in an Indian household in Australia meant walking a perpetual cultural tightrope. With my dark skin and thick black hair, I was never going to fit in with the Kylies and Sindys at school, and finding fashion and beauty idols that looked anything like me was nearly impossible.
Thankfully, frequent summer vacations in India, visiting the endless nesting dolls of obscure relatives (how is that old lady who feeds her silky terriers bananas related to us? Which cousin was it that ran off and started his own circus?*), provided ample opportunities to browse Femina and Filmfare magazines.
Mostly Bollywood actresses, but a few models too, beamed seductively from those glossy pages. At least they looked a little like me! Silken skinned, dark haired, often highly educated and well traveled, those women posed with a drink or cigarette in one hand by a pool, or dressed in their finest wedding regalia. They were equally risqué and the "good Indian girl," and embodied my eternal conundrum.
Their perfect lips, their kohl rimmed eyes, their beauty routines, a heady mix of traditional methods and modern cremes, were detailed in "Wow! Get the Look!" headlines. The directions to attain this Everest of beauty were laid out for every woman to follow. I dutifully cleansed my skin with milk and tulsi (ocimum tenuiflorum), moisturised with Vicco Turmeric, and slathered on Fair and Lovely, hopeful of magical skin lightening. Most importantly, I rimmed my eyes in kajal and practiced the carefree flick of the perfect winged eyeliner that each of my beauty idols favored.
So here's my handy-dandy guide. This is only a guide to winged eyes, so don't write in with how-am-I-supposed-to-put-on-foundation-now. If you wear foundation or use a primer, do that first. I know you can do this, Blossoms. I believe in you!
1. Start with a clean, moisturized face. I am the very worst at rigorous beauty routines, and use (avert your eyes if you're squeamish) soap and water. I moisturise with Olay, because it doesn't feel greasy, but also does a good job of not making me look like a desert landscape. Plus I have oddly reactive skin and it's one of the few products that doesn't cause burns or hives. Bonus: You won't need to draw down on your 401K to buy it! But you do you, and cleanse however you would normally. If you wear foundation or use a makeup primer, now's the time for all of that.
2. Shape your eyebrows. Everybody has different preferences for their eyebrows, but brush or draw them to start. They'll form the framework you use to decide how to angle your wing.
3. Line your bottom lid. Use a kohl pencil (or eyeliner pencil) and give your eyes some definition. Make them stand out, make the whites pop. You don't want to take an eye out, so go easy on the coffee beforehand.
You're aiming only for definition. If pandas or raccoons show up to woo you, try cutting back on the coffee and enthusiasm.
4. A little powder to dull the shine. Quite aside from taking the shine off your freshly moisturised face, a good powder also provides a better base for eyeliner to "stick to." Again, it doesn't have to break the bank. A light application is plenty — you're not going to be accessorising with a red nose or oversized shoes.
5. You don't need expensive eyeliner. A good liquid eyeliner from the supermarket or chemist will work just as well as expensive liquid liners from fancy brands. If your eyeliner is circa 1982, it's time to stop in at the cosmetics aisle and pick up a new one.
6. Line your upper lid. Just from the inside of your eye to the end of your lid. Don't worry about the wings yet. Let the liner dry before you practice your swish and flick. I don't recommend saying wingardium leviosa at the same time.
Admire your steady hand and how pretty your eyes already look.
7. Fly, my pretties! It's finally time to put on your wings and fly. There are all kinds of tropes about "exotic" women from the subcontinent and the desirability of our almond shaped eyes. I have giant almond-shaped eye rolls for all of that, but it did give me a readymade excuse to superimpose almonds on my eyes — because, why not?! The almonds will give you a better idea of the shape and angle to aim for.
Don't forget to join up your wings with a very fine line to your lower lids! See, Blossoms? It's just like connect the dots.
8. Time to zhuzh it up. Like a 1980s reality TV home-decorator, I'm bringing my shiny best to this party. Grab your favorite shades of eyeliner and have some fun highlighting your wings. If you love your blues and greens, don't let some 20-something know-it-all listicle writer put you off. Don't forget to blend, or you'll be sporting tiger stripes all day.
9. Et voila! Add your finishing touches, your lipstick, or not, but go sport your nutty (see what I did there? Almond… nut) new look with all the confidence of a bearded hipster in a new fedora.
Like all baby birds leaving the nest, you'll probably feel a little self-conscious about your wings at first. Practice, Blossoms! The more you wear wings, the more natural it feels, and really as people of a gives-no-fucks age, why do we care what others think of our chic new look? Flap your wings, Blossoms. Feel the wind lift you into a new confidence.
*I really do have an older relative who used to feed bananas to her silky terriers, all of whom were named Sidney. As each terrier died it was replaced with a successor, also named Sidney. I also do have a distant cousin who, unsatisfied with the passé act of running off to join a circus, ran off and started his own.
Asha Rajan is the senior editor for Domestic Arts at Maximum Middle Age. When not wearing her cape, Asha is an Indian-Australian writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. She lives with her devoted husband, two teenaged sons, and two dogs in Texas. She's currently working on cobbling together a novelette that grew from a series of flash fiction pieces. She is published at Modern Loss, PANK, It Starts With Hope, and Dead Housekeeping.