The eyes have it

Makeup has always been a mystery. How much is enough to get that “natural” look—the finish that says “I’m not wearing makeup, wink wink; I was born with a natural glow and these huge smoky eyes”—and how much is too much? You don’t want to be Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard.”

Let’s assume you finally get it right, after years of experimentation. Then you grow older and find that your skin has changed. Now you have to start over, jettisoning the blue eye shadow and mineral powders, and learning some new tricks.

I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about makeup—the bare state of my eyes doesn’t keep me up nights. But last weekend at a party, I was so entranced by the eye makeup of a cousin’s wife that I began wondering how to replicate the look.

This is not the first time recently that I’ve fantasized about eye makeup. A young friend who used to live on our block is a whiz with makeup. Not long ago, she posted a photo of herself on Facebook with amazing cat’s eyes, ala Liz Taylor in “Cleopatra.” Stunning.

Can I get that look, at my age, I asked in the comments, only half joking. Wear whatever makeup you like, whatever your age, she responded with all the assurance of a confident twentysomething.

My generation of women has been on both sides of the makeup wars. In the ‘60s we wanted to look like Twiggy, with kohl eyes and white lipstick. In the ’70s, many of us abandoned makeup altogether, either to make a feminist statement or in pursuit of a back-to-nature look. Those who did wear makeup went light and fresh—think Cheryl Tiegs.

By the ‘80s, we were back in war paint. It was the only time in my life I wore red lipstick. Thank you, Madonna.

The art of applying makeup didn’t come naturally to me. I’ve always worn lipstick (I’m too pale without it) and mascara. Beyond that, I’m lost.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with foundation (the color is never right); blush (contouring? but how?); and, especially, eye makeup. Drawing Magic Marker lines on my own eyelids, one at a time, is a messy undertaking. I’ve experimented with pencils, paints and powders and pretty much failed with all of them. As for shadow, the colored ones seem garish, the monochrome ones, drab.

What kind of sleight of hand would I need to reinvent my makeup now? A quick Google search of “makeup for mature skin” produced depressing results involving “hooded eyes” and ways to minimize wrinkles.

But in truth, I’m never going to look like cousin Melissa, even if I were to copy her eye makeup line by line. She is years younger than I am and happens to be drop-dead gorgeous. She would look good without anything on her face.

And that, I think, is the ultimate irony of makeup: The women who look best in it are the ones who patently don’t need it.

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