Friday, June 28, 2013

Ebony and Ivory

There is so much bad make up advice out there, floating around in the world. Sometimes I think about all of the bad advice that I've heard novices and professionals alike give (no offense, but I sometimes wonder what the requirements to work at these make-up counters are). And the make up advice tends to get especially sketchy when dealing with people of dark skin tones. I have some sympathy with the make up industry because black skin is so varied and just so complex that it is always going to be difficult to give advice and provide make-up for every shade of black. To complicate things even more, many black girls are one complexion on their neck, another on their face, and then their chest is a different shade too. Or even more confusing, the outer perimeters of their face is darker, like the forehead and beneath the cheekbones, but the inner portion like nose and cheeks, is a lighter shade. Using two foundations or mixing foundations to find the right shade is a part of life for many of us.

Especially for those of the African diaspora, who are often mostly of African-descent but have such a confusing genetic make up of African, European or Native American/Amerindian influences, finding appropriate make-up becomes near to impossible. For example, my sister is very dark, but some far-removed South Asian ancestor of ours has given her a yellow undertone instead of the standard dark-girl-red-undertone stereotype. Or like for me, who's got freckles even though I am very dark-skinned from some Irish ancestor. I am yet to find a foundation that hides freckles adequately. Finding make up has been an uphill battle for the both of us. Both of us are dark, but we are different shades of dark, yet we ended up using the same powder Clinique's Almost Powder Matte in the shade Sienna for YEARS before we discovered Black|Up, which makes make-up with specifically black women in mind. Looking back now, its funny to me that we ever used the same powder because our skin is nothing alike. Her undertone is yellower than mine which is actually neutral (there is no red undertone in our family, so the make-up industry with its racial stereotypes for black people were wrong again).

Anyway, because there is so much bad advice, I decided to share some tips and make up brands that I've had to find through trial and error on my own.

Some good make-up lines for us dark girls are:

Black|Up -- their two-way cake is a classic, but when I bought it I thought I had a red undertone (cuz I'm black and thats what the make-up industry said all black girls were back then) but not ALL dark girls have red undertones so if you have a neutral undertone like me, don't get it in TW05 like I did! I had a red face like a mask after two hours. It was terrible! But it was all I had so I used it for two years! Luckily I was at university then and only wore make-up occasionally on the week-ends.
Looking back now, TW03, which has golden/yellow undertones would have been better.
Anyway, its not a drugstore brand, so it's kinda pricey.
But I feel like that brand really understands black women's skin. No one beats them for shade, not even Mac. But honestly, apart from shade its just meh! The two way cake can be a bit drying after awhile because its matte. The matte-ness would probably appeal to you more if you have oily skin, as you'd have to blot less through out the day. But I have non-oily, sensitive skin, so maybe I should have purchased another foundation instead, maybe their fluid fountation. I have yet to try their Sublime Powder which I hear is the piƩce de resistance of all their cosmetics. I love bright finishing powders that give you a gold glow, so I can't wait to get my hands on it!

Black Opal -- good, solid drugstore brand. You cannot go wrong with that price. Its not gonna work miracles, but all their products do exactly what they say will. Nothing less, nothing more. The foundation will do what a foundation is supposed to do - give you an even skin tone. It will not illuminate or heal your skin or any of that fancy stuff pricier cosmetics promise to do. Its a great bargain brand if you're going through a rough spot (like me). Though I have found that their stick foundation is kinda waxy and may not be so great if you have very oily skin, or live in the tropics, like me. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect foundation to be honest. But right now I am trying their stick foundation and it's doing the job.

Milani -- I had a bronzing powder by them that I really liked but I haven't tried anything else by them but I am told its another solid for dark girls. I really want to try their lipsticks but all the reviews I see reveal the sheerness of all their lipsticks, and I prefer highly pigmented lipstick. (Ruby Woo has spoiled me forever).

Iman -- I've noticed their powders tend to have a very yellow undertone, so if you have a VERY red undertone, reconsider, though I have a crazy idea that sometimes a yellow under-tone powder can look great on someone with a red undertone if used sparingly (like powder is supposed to be used) because it brightens the skin immediately, especially bronzing powders or illuminating powders which tend to have lovely little gold flecks in them.

Mac -- You know, I don't think Mac quite knows what it has done for women of colour. By expanding their shade range to include darker shades, they opened a whole new world to us. I actually get kind of emotional when I discuss Mac. All I can say is thank you to them.
Anyway, their Studio Fix foundation is so amazing. I have a friend who is NW45 and she looks so amazing in it. It's like her skin; it matches that perfectly. Sad to say but I have never purchased any of their foundations myself. I tried one once and I didn't like it very much. I suspect my search for the perfect foundation will never end. Its so hard to find one not just because of these darned freckles, but also because I have highly reactive, sensitive skin and fine lines around my mouth. Foundation gets into those creases, and stays there. And yes, I've tried face primers. I've tried everything.

Anyway, I've found that girls at the other end of the colour spectrum have the same problem us dark girls have. Very pale girls find the foundations that make up brands make for them have the wrong undertones. I've noticed that lots of dark girls and fair girls actually have yellow or even neutral undertones, and far fewer people have pink or red undertones than you'd think. There are even people out there who swear they have no undertone at all; I read a comment from a pale woman who swore her undertone was white.
If I, a lowly, infrequent blogger, can find all these complaints by just browsing the interwebs, then why can't these major companies find about about all these concerns the very dark ladies and very pale ladies have??

Anyway, I can't pretend to have any great expertise on pale skin but from what I'm hearing from other fair shaded people, some good make-up lines for very pale girls are:

Estee Lauder (so I'm told; all I know is that their blushes are divine)
Laura Mercier (I have yet to find this brand on my island so I haven't tried any of their products) 
Illamasqua (UK brand)
GOSH is supposed to be really good too if you can get it (I believe its based in Denmark)
Lumene -- actually a Finnish company so they should have shades for very Nordic complexions. However, they are more into Skin Care than Make-Up but their BB cream is supposed to be very good.

And here are some random bits of make-up advice I have:

  • Here's a tip I have had to learn the hard way (red face like a mask), dark girls: always, ALWAYS! get a finishing powder with yellow or gold highlights if you are dark-skinned, it will brighten you up immediately. And its a good balancing act if your foundation had a red undertone. It will kind of neutralize it a bit. MAC Mineralize Skinfinish seems to work with this idea. Its gold highlights brightens everything.

  • And for the pale girls: If you find that powders are too yellow-y or orange-y, translucent powder is your best bet because it does not have colour and will just blend in with your skin tone.

  • Another tip for pale ladies: Splurge on a good foundation adjuster. I read that many foundations are always too orange-y or too yellow-y for them. A good alternative to just throwing out the foundation is to buy a pure white foundation adjuster, mix it with your existing too yellow/orange foundation, and keep mixing until you create the shade that is closest to your complexion. This one is supposed to be pretty good:

  • AND to all girls: HIGHLIGHTER IS OUR FRIEND!! It will add dimension and give you that healthy, glowing look.
 I use bronzer as highlighter btw. That's another tip for dark girls. Pale girls can use it for contouring but I advice against it because... (see following rant)

  • Another great tip for both ebony and ivory girls is to forget about contouring. Just forget about it. No, hear me out. On pale girls it just looks muddy and too dark if not done by a professional. Everyone across the board is too heavy-handed with contour, even some professionals. It's supposed to look natural. No one seems to understand that you have to BLEND the stripe out. To be honest, its more hassle than it is worth. On dark girls you can barely even pick it up because a lot of us are naturally darker under the cheekbones. So instead, REVERSE contour! As in highlight in order to create contour. The highlighted area will make the underside of cheek look darker in comparison to it. I don't know if that sentence made sense. Lemme try again. When you brighten the high points of the cheeks, the un-brightened area will naturally seem darker because you left it alone. I hope yall understood that.

Thats all for now folks. The struggle of being dark-skinned in an industry that can't figure your people's skin out and isn't interested in doing so continues. We just have to do everything ourselves, and learn from trial and error. Learning the art of mixing foundations and learning to disregard the wrong information you get at the make-up counters is a big part of life for us. But I press on.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ka'Oir Lipstick Review: Sex

It's been a very long time since I did a lipstick review - I believe Mac's Ruby Woo was the last one I did back in 2010. This blog has gone through a variety of changes since then as well. Recently I've been looking at pop culture and lifestyle more so than make-up products. This blog is kind of like a revolving door to be honest. You never know who or what's going to come through.
Disclaimer: Image courtesy of

Anyway, to the lipstick! So I found out about the Ka'Oir brand through an upscale hair salon on my island (Algernon Edge Hairdressing) which also now sells make-up and does facials, nails, etc. I happen to know the owner of the high-class salon personally and when I went to visit him recently, he liked my afro so much he insisted that one of his girls put some make up on so he could take some photos for their facebook page. Now I'm never one to refuse a free make-over, so I was all for it.

They used some Medusa eyeshadow and some eyeliner, filled in the brows etc., but to be honest all I was really interested in was the lipstick. At first I was hesitant because it looked black in the tube and I actually told the girl flat-out that I did not want to wear black lipstick. Because trust me, I have tried to make that look work and I just don't have the face for it. She assured me it was not black. I was still worried but I let her have at it.

When I looked in the mirror I could not believe it. I was wearing dark lipstick and I actually looked good! First of all, its not black but a deep vampy red-purple. Its somehow pigmented yet sheer at the same time. It's very buildable. One coat and you can still see some pinkness of your lip shining through. Two coats and its opague. It's extremely moisturizing so its the polar opposite of my last lipstick review of Ruby Woo in that it isn't super-dry and won't flake. However, some cons are that it will stain your lips. Just tissue alone  won't get this off. You will need to use witch hazel or something even more intense like an oil or my go-to makeup remover which is Pond's cold cream (its a creamy classic!). It also tends to spread. Not past the lip line, as in the majority of the colour migrates to the limits of the lips, but then doesn't budge any further. So that you end up with a lipliner effect even though you have only used lipstick. Now I don't know about yall, but I love a lipliner effect so I was pretty happy about that. But I can see how other people would hate that the product does not stay put.

Its still pretty long-lasting in my opinion, but not as long lasting as a matte would be. But for a pearl-creme (which it was described as on the tube) I was very impressed by its endurance. I have sadly had to give up wearing matte lipsticks as my lips are naturally too dry for them, no matter how much I exfoliate, regardless of how much lip balm I apply before and no matter how much lip gloss I apply after. So I am all about cream lipsticks like KaOir's sex and also satin lipsticks like those of Mac's Pro Longwear collection.

Sex has been a great introduction to Ka'Oir's cosmetics and I'm very impressed. The deep purple/red feels very nineties to me and reminds me of Lauryn Hill. The lipliner effect reminds of Selena somehow too. But the nineties icon it reminds me the most of is Dawn from En Vogue in the "Don't Let Go" video. Her dark lipstick looks so FIERCE here!

I will forever be an En Vogue fan. En Vogue and Salt and Peppa and TLC were the females that made the 90's great.

Anyway, back to Sex! I didn't like the price of the lipstick, it was $45.80 on my island but everything is super-expensive here because of the high standard of living, shipping, etc., But in the U.S it's only like $17 so it's not so bad there.

I think back in the day when I did the Ruby Woo review I mentioned that it is super hard for me as a dark-skinned girl to find a lipstick that suited me. Quite frankly, the make-up industry decides to make make-up for black people as an after-thought and even then they tend to get it all wrong. I also recall pointing out that this is a problem which girls at the direct opposite of the spectrum: very, very pale girls also have to contend with. So now I do this odd thing where when checking out lipsticks of seeing whether it will not only suit me, but also very pale girls. Cause the ebonies and ivories are all abandoned on this make-up game so we gotta look out for each other right? Anyway, I found another review of this lipstick by a pale girl and it looks great on her too which is excellent. Here is the link: Cult Colours and Ka'Oir Lipstick

That's all for now folks!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Musings on Gender

I have been thinking a lot about children lately. Mainly because of my nephew. His name is Christopher, and his first middle name is Robin. Believe it or not, he was named after Christopher Robin from the Winnie the Pooh children’s story. My sister really loved that cartoon. Plus she was going through a depression at the time of her pregnancy so I guess she thought that maybe if her kid was named after a cartoon character he’d be happy and not depressed like she was.
 Anyway, the point is that I have been much about children, and babies recently. Christopher turned a year two months ago in April. But what I am intrigued by is how manly he is already, even from as early as nine months. Everything he does: how he twists his body, how he deliberately does things to annoy the girl holding him, how he immediately stays silent and unmoving when a male holds him… 

This is highly ironic because his mother is one of the girliest people I have ever come across and his father is rather metrosexual; the epitome of the Western, civilised, self-effacing, 21st century male. The only other person who lives with them is sister’s mother-in-law and she is a very sweet little old lady herself. So where did all this manliness come from all of a sudden? 

There is something interesting in my family in that all of us look very muscular and tough even though we hardly exercise. Both Christopher’s mother and I have rather large calves. People always ask my sister if she was an athlete. I have very well-shaped arms and whenever I stand with my hands akimbo people ask me if I work out because biceps appear from nowhere. My other two siblings, another sister and a brother, have smaller limbs but even they look tough. The brother because he is a martial arts champion has trained his body to look fit. But what was startling was that as soon as he started to work out, he very quickly looked super muscular. Honestly, I work out for a week and I start getting a six pack.

The true test is my other sister. She has very smooth slim legs and arms, which have only recently started to get bigger because of her diet, but she is changing that now. But she has the kind of extremely firm, very large, round behind that one would normally associate with an African American athlete. I’m talking a Serena Williams behind. How can her derriere be so firm if she hates exercise?

Anyway, I’m getting off track. This isn’t meant to be about fitness or my family’s weird athletic looking features. This is meant to be about Baby Christopher (never Chris). And I’m about to get academic sounding here but its nothing too ivory tower so its cool. Baby Christopher really challenges all the beliefs of the gender theory and Judith Butler's Gender Trouble. She and that school of thought believes that gender (not equal to sex) is not biological, but taught. This theory believes that all of the behavioural traits that come along with gender are taught to us by society and not inherent by our sex. I am still a firm believer in this because notions like boys shouldn’t cry and girls are hysterical pretty much get thrown out of the window when babysitting at daycare I observed the fact that male babies tend to cry more than female babies who are often more composed. Anyway, then along came Christopher with his masculinity who made me doubt my beliefs. I still believe many traits are taught and I hope Christopher’s masculinity won’t hold him back from crying (which indicates emotion which is a necessary sign of humanity and the denial of that component in masculinity is what turns some men into uncommunicative, heartless monsters). But the intuitiveness of his masculinity really makes me wonder. Is this an essential, unchanging part of him? Or will it change? Will he outgrow it? Or will his masculinity only get more…intensely masculine? 

I see a problem here. Masculine is too vague a term. Interestingly, its not as fixed a meaning as feminine which brings more (mostly negative) connotations to mind. Maybe that’s because women are constantly told what a “lady” is supposed to be by men. Men don't suffer from the Madonna/whore dichotomy that women do after all. In any case, masculinity in terms of how I am using it here refers more to an “Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!” Sparta warrior cry ideal. Or think the series Spartacus. Hmm, all these movies/shows are set in ancient times. For a more 20th Century example think of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. A great 21st Century example is Ali in Rust and Bone. It shows the kind of brutal, oblivious, insensitive force that I characterize masculinity as.

But of course, there are other types of masculinity. Forget the warrior/abusive husband/boxer uber-machismo ideal and think of the more debonair stereotype. The smooth talker. The charmer. Benjamin Schwarz wrote a FANTASTIC piece on the charmer that I suggest everyone read because it explains the manipulation of the charmer better than I can.

To be honest it doesn’t matter which one you prefer because both those stereotypes are calculating and cruel. One uses brute force/uncontrollable rage and an inclusive brotherhood that women are not allowed into, while the other uses smooth language and manipulative schemes to get into a lady’s pants while not giving a shit about her.

I don’t want either of those masculine ideals for Christopher. But you know, I am an open minded girl and so I think what needs to occur is a re-evaluation of masculinity.

Can we have a masculinity that respects women? One that, yes, provides, but understands that a woman can provide too and that that does not mean she is trying to emasculate him? Can we have a masculinity that is able to accept and understand that a man can cry and that is okay because it makes him human? Can we have a masculinity that doesn’t try to manipulate and seek to destroy womanhood at every turn? Can we have a masculinity that is not self-destructive and de-humanising of himself and harmful to all other people around him?

Cause that’s the kind of masculinity I’d like for Christopher. I love him very much, and this is why I am prepared to teach him the kind of masculinity I’d like to see in the world.

So that one day, when he falls in love with a girl or a boy or whatever, he will be the kind of caring, loving partner that everyone wants. And hopefully he will have the good sense to fall for a caring person too that gives him the kind of love he deserves too.

This is my wish for Christopher, and for the world.