Make-up For Dummies (Like Me)

“So … I’ve been meaning to ask you … did you get a new boyfriend or something?”


“Because lately you’re all styled up and glamorous and make-up and everything!”

We were in the bathroom at an office party. My workmate is the most gorgeous human being I’ve ever seen. She has pouty lips, luscious lashes, dark curly hair, and the slightest blush. She’s 5’9, a true African beauty with generously yummy curves, superb hips, and a flat tummy. She’s one of those girls who could wear a pillow case with a belt and look good.

Her sense of style is impeccable, and I often spend hours staring at her, trying to figure out what makes her outfit work so well. She throws on a shirt and jeans, forgets to comb her hair, and still looks like a super model! Yes, I’m straight, and no, the girl on the right isn’t me.

My friend’s only flaw is her shoe size, so when she described me as suddenly glamorous, I was wowed by the compliment. She still insists it’s because of a guy, and she says I should congratulate him for the changes in me. Well, it isn’t a guy. It’s more of a phase. See, I enrolled for this class that required me to dress up a few times a week, and since the class was at 6.30, I ended up in smart casuals all day long. I got heels, boots, fitting pants, flattering blouses, and handbags. Since I was in sneakers one day and heels the next, I kept forgetting what shoes I was wearing. Watching a girl catwalk in Bata Bullets or duck-waddle in heels is immensely amusing. Luckily, I enjoy at laughing at myself, and my evil cackle generally stops others from joining in.

I took a class in etiquette to learn some make-up basics, and had a friend give me a make-over. Since I’m completely ungirly and have blue-black skin, I was curious to see how things would turn out. I’d worn professional make-up for weddings and interviews (I wanted to be a stewardess), and I didn’t like it. Plus, I once heard Ajuma say her stylists have no idea what to put on her beyond lipstick, so I was sure I’d end up looking ridiculous. I started out with a cautiously negative attitude, so it was an interesting and mildly uncomfortable adventure for me.

I started with a facial cleansing routine. I was advised to buy Simple cleanser, toner, and moisturizer. Get them at Bestly, they’re almost 300/= cheaper there. My friend Janet used her own Mac products for my make-over. They’re pricey, but really good. She put some foundation powder on my cheeks and nose, liquid eye liner on the upper lids, eye-pencil on half the lower lid, eye-pencil on my eyebrows, and mascara on my eyelashes. Then she put a beige base on my brow line and purple eyeshadow on the eye lid. Yes, I know that’s all greek to the average ungirly girl. All I did was cram the names and watch how she used them. Then I tried to reproduce the effect once she was gone. It didn’t work.

So here’s what I did. I walked into Bestly and bought an eyeshadow palette of LA Colours at 450/=, then bought a smaller palette from Super Cosmetics for 250/=. I experimented with the colours, and it took a week of daily application before the eyeshadow stopped ending up on my nose … and the floor. I noticed that blending the brow was a lot of work, so I skipped that step and just applied eyeshadow on my eyelids. I also skipped the eyebrow pencil, because it always ends up on my fingers anyway. Nervous habit.

I bought 80/= mascara and 30/= eye-pencil at Ebrahims. Mascara makes your eyelashes look long and pretty, while eye-pencil does … well … I don’t really know what it does, but everybody uses eye-pencil. I start my make-up routine by drawing a very thin line on the outer edge of half my lower lid and the edge of my upper lid. From what I’ve read online, a thick line gives a smokey look. I have no idea what that means, but thick liners make my eyes itch. I also read that you have to sharpen the pencil before every use. It’s not so much about getting a fine line, it’s more about getting rid of bacteria from your previous application. Who knew?

After using make-up for a few days, I noticed it fades really quickly, especially the eyeshadow. By lunch time, it was all gone! So I saved up and bought Sleek Eyeshadow, which is beautiful, lasts all day, and costs 895/=. They have stands at Uchumi and Nakumatt, and they have free testers and mirrors, so you can try out the colours that suit you. I bought a full palette, but I only use five colours – purple, blue, green, brown, and turquoise. I’ve tried the other colours and I don’t like them much, so next time, I’ll just buy eye-dust tubs in my chosen colours. The tubs cost 295/= a piece, so it’s not really a saving, but it’s better than having all those colours that I’ll never use.

Deciding what colour to wear is easy – I just use whatever colour matches my t-shirt, hoodie, or shoes. For mascara, I bought Sleek Magnitude Mascara which costs 795/= and is in two coats. First, you apply the white coat to thicken your lashes, then you top it off with the black coat. I love the effect, but it takes a lot of practise to completely cover the white flecks without messing the rest of your make-up. It takes me at least 10 minutes to do that, because I have to keep cleaning up the mess and starting all over again. It does get easier with time though. I hope.

After playing with eye make-up for a month, I got a bit bolder and decided to try lipstick. I found my favourite lipstick accidentally. Years ago, I saw it on a friend’s table, tried it, and loved it. I use Signature No. 28, which only costs 50/= but is often out of stock, so I buy 4 or 5 sticks when I find them. I also thought a dark red would look good on me, because it works on the girl in Disorder in the Court, so I got a burgundy shade of Dark & Lovely at Ebrahims for 70/=. It works beautifully. I usually apply some lip balm as a base to keep my lips from drying out, then I put on a few coats of lipstick. Yes, I blot in on tissue. I don’t know why, but all the girls on TV do it. I should probably Google that.

I remember reading somewhere that you should only highlight one area at a time. You should either focus on your lips or eyes, never both. I don’t know how that works, but for me, I have a few basic looks. When I’m wearing blue, or purple eyeshadow, I wear the dark red lipstick. When my eyeshadow is brown, green, or turquoise, I wear Signature No. 28, which is a deep golden brown shade. It looks dark orange when you blot it on white tissue, but it looks brown on my lips. So far, Green Sleek Eyeshadow + Signature No. 28 lipstick is my favourite look.

When I first started wearing make-up, I was so conscious of myself that I was constantly running to the office bathroom to touch up, but I got used to it after a while, and it seems to stay on longer when you fuss about it less. I never touch up my eye make-up during the day, but I carry my lipstick around and re-apply it 4 or 5 times a day, usually after meals. As for lipstick stains on the office coffee cups, well, wash your own mug.

The next step in the make-up evolution is foundation and facepowder. They make your face look flawless and silky smooth. But I really can’t be bothered with that right now. It feels like an awful lot of work. And it makes my skin itch. I suppose I’ll get there one day though. After all, three months ago I thought lipstick was irritating and eyeshadow was tiresome, and now I’m so used to it that I feel naked without my make up!

One of the coolest parts about being ‘girly’ and wearing make-up is getting home. I walk into the house, take off my heel[ed boot]s, change into a t-shirt and track-suit bottoms, clean off my make-up, look at my own face, and realise how awesome the natural look really is. I guess sometimes you need the contrast to really appreciate what you have. Looking gorgeous all day, then getting home, washing up, and feeling even more beautiful does wonders for my self esteem.

I’m still not completely girly. I still wear blue jeans every day, and a hoodie that matches my canvas sneakers. I still carry my stuff in a bright red back-pack. I still wear my hair in short, purple dreads. Sometimes I wear heeled boots, and once in a while, I use a wicker handbag that I got at Toi. I suppose now I’m just a tomboy in make-up. But I’ve noticed my walk is different, and the way I carry myself. I feel more like a woman now than I did before, and it has very little to do with make-up.

A few people have commented on my new style. They generally exclaim and look shocked, and I grin, say thank you, and assume they were tongue-tied by a compliment. My look is far from subtle, hardly polished, and not particularly professional, but I love it, and it makes me happy. So take a chance on yourself. Explore your girly side. It may be a lot more fun than you think!

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Crystal Ading' is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through

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