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Teisha Williams
courtesy of Instagram/@teishajenaie

What does your eyeliner mean to you?

From soothing anxiety to helping lessen dysmorphia, eyeliner can be about so much more than looking good. Dazed Beauty Wellness Editor Emilia Ortiz speaks to five different women about what their eye make-up means to them

Throughout history, make-up has served multiple purposes within different cultures around the world. While still used to enhance or preserve beauty, it was also used in religious and spiritual ceremonies, before going into battle, to ward off illness, and to protect from the elements. While a lot of these traditions have been lost, there are still those who use make-up for ritualistic and spiritual purposes. In fact, make-up can be used for a variety of things: in wellness routines, as a connection to ancestral ways, it can be a way to express yourself, it can still protect you from the elements, and it can also enhance your confidence, maybe not on the battlefield but in some of the more challenging areas of your life.

For me, eyeliner has always been very important. It has been said that in ancient times, the painted eye was a kind of amulet, that warded off evil spirits; when undecorated, the eye was vulnerable to the influence of the “evil eye”. Queen Nefertiti herself sent chemists out to harvest galena leaves and refine the formula for kohl to grant her additional spiritual protection. I use eyeliner for a cocktail of things. A wing sharp like a knife that makes my eyes embody the energy of “if looks could kill,” to protect me from people who would mistake my softness for weakness. Eyeliner enhances my CBF (chronic bitch face) and I need that in certain settings to let my energy speak for me. Getting the perfect angle takes skill and completing the task can soothe my anxiety, especially when I’m having a hard time and get it perfect. I also use eyeliner for spiritual protection purposes, to ward off energies and protect the windows to my soul. It isn’t an all the time thing for me, as it once was. Still, whenever I bust it out, I carry a certain energy that is undeniably big for someone as small as me. I let everyone know “you don’t want to fuck with me.”

Here are five other women discuss their relationship to eyeliner:

Celina, co-founder of the Decolonizing Beauty Project

"For me, eyeliner has always made me feel like my best self. When I started my transition it made me feel the most connected with my body and allowed my dysphoria to lessen while wearing it. Now I have pushed myself to not always need it as a “security blanket” in my daily life, although it does still make me feel my most confident self. While I have tried to challenge my dysphoria by working against some of the things that make me feel the most secure, I think some part of it is still there. I guess you could say I find refuge in wearing eyeliner.”

Florcy, founder of Women of Colour in Solidarity

"When people think of make-up, in general, it’s usually associated with something used solely for aesthetic purposes. For me, make-up, and specifically eyeliner, is a form of protection. It’s deeper than my $1.99 ELF liquid eyeliner. When you look at some of the different ways in which eyeliner has been used, it ranges from medical use to spiritual use, as well as for enhancing your beauty. The protection I speak of comes with spiritual purpose. I come from a people that believe our eyes carry generations of souls, of history, of medicine, so I don’t make eye contact with many people. Look into my eyes and you’ll see not just me but the ancient ones that protect me, that came before me, and are still in me. So I protect them with eyeliner and eye paint (particularly red eyeshadow) to ward off evil spirits."

Teisha Williams, make-up artist 

"Being able to execute new and different looks each time is a huge part of what self-care means to me because I’m constantly levelling up. There is no limit and my creativity knows no bounds. A simple mess up and I figure out how to make it pop, which is how I handle misfortune in my life. I could let my losses knock me down or I could flip them to my benefit and make it work. That’s what I do with my make-up and that’s how I live my life. The way I do my liner has easily become a part of me and the way I exude a bit of who I am.”

Pata Fria, artist, podcaster, dominatrix

"I started wearing winged liquid eyeliner and heavy mascara when I was 11 years old, around the same time I started tattooing myself. For me, it began as a defence mechanism. Thick eyeliner has always said “don’t fuck with me” and the harsher I looked on the outside the more I’d be left alone. It protected the delicate me on the inside. I’m a creature of habit and because of my OCD, the same eyeliner routine paired with perfectly separated eyelashes quickly became a full-on ritual. I wasn’t comfortable in social settings unless I had them and they had to be precise. Soapy Q-tips to sharpen my wings and a clean needle to run through each coated lash over and over again were supplies I couldn’t live without. Before I knew it my daily routine was costing me hours. I eventually discovered the ready-made perfection of false lashes and was able to break up with mascara, cutting my get ready time in half. To this day liner and lashes are the only makeup I consistently wear; it’s become my signature and isn’t going anywhere.”

Shanoah K, make-up artist

"Simply put, my winged liner makes me feel beautiful – complete if you will. Contrary to the usual assumption that make-up is worn to cover up or hide one’s natural appearance, for me make-up enhances my beauty and emphasises the areas that I may not always be fond of. My eyeliner seals the deal, it gives me the added confidence I need to walk out the door. One, because the perfect winged liner is already an achievement itself and two because it brings a boldness to my look and speaks for me when I’m too shy to reveal that edgy side for myself.”