Isze and I have been friends since we both started college at NYU three years ago, and she’s been Frostie Delite (her alter ego-slash-imaginary-friend-slash-makeup-service) for the last two. As Frostie, Isze has done looks for fashion shoots, music videos, and events like Halloween and prom.
Meanwhile, I’ve only worn makeup a handful of times in my life. Until recently, my perception of the art was limited to false associations with unrealistic beauty standards and superficiality.
This was Isze’s first time experimenting with my face, and it fostered a level of intimacy between us that neither of us expected. It’s just as much an ode to our own experiences as it is to our friendship.
Each of the following four looks took over two hours for Isze to perfect and even more time for her to shoot. To make it special, we also made collaborative playlists for each shoot day that are linked below.
By the end of the project we’d spent over twenty hours with my face in her hands. And we recorded all of our conversations, which ranged in topic from our experiences with insecurity to the intersection of feminism and professionalism.
It was uncomfortable having somebody—even Isze—within breathing distance of the facial features that have defined my experiences, and for such an extended period of time. This piece is the product of that discomfort and our best attempt at honestly capturing our take on the conflict that is being a woman.
This look was meant to emphasize and reclaim my most feminine qualities—the side of myself that doesn’t come across as particularly badass at first glance. Its accompanying playlist consists of songs Isze and I listen to while getting ready in the morning: Disc 1 Side A. It reminds us of spring, a beautiful leather journal, sticky lip gloss, and a bouquet of dried flowers.
“I apologize a lot. When I’m in a data science workshop with all boys, I adopt a more masculine persona. Sometimes I pretend like things don’t bother me so that I don’t come across as sensitive. I want to be honest with myself and empowered, but vulnerabilities don’t really have a place in corporate ‘girlboss’ feminism.” – A
Isze: Empowerment in mainstream feminism right now is so defined by its actionability. Even my career in makeup is regarded as frivolous. I think it’s because there’s nothing completely tangible about what a blue eyeliner can do.
Aashna: Which is absurd. The act of applying or wearing makeup is so deeply personal. You are currently defining what I’m going to see and how I’m going to see myself when you’re done with this look.
Isze: Right, which is something so misunderstood about makeup… that its purpose is for photos and to be appealing to the Western gaze.
Aashna: Or to be externally viewed, as opposed to felt.
Isze: Right, internally felt. Exactly. Look up at the ceiling for me. Okay, perfect.
Aashna: The definition of a strong woman, right now is a woman in a position of power…but that makes strength contingent on a career or an idea that isn’t necessarily what every woman wants for herself. I find myself existing almost apologetically and with hesitation, and then feeling guilty for apologizing and hesitating. The older I get, the more I realize how much that feeling of guilt is inherent in the female experience.
Isze: I even think about it in terms of makeup. Like, why am I questioning something that I love to do, and I know makes other people feel happy? I think my own way of dissenting is enjoying these things unapologetically.
Aashna: Have you faced backlash for makeup being “anti-feminist”?
Isze: Yeah, actually, when I was interviewing for Yale with an older alum. He asked me this question which I thought was so interesting. He basically asked me about the contradiction of being a gender studies major and wanting to be a makeup artist. I wanted to turn the question back on him and be like is it?
Isze and I took a lot of inspiration from elements of ‘60s mod and pictures of our mothers growing up. Disc 1 Side B is a love letter to our moms. Think tuberose, Dolly Parton, sweater vests, and the iconic Bollywood winged eye.
“I think the cultural struggle and restraint our mothers endured so that we could even have these conversations about vulnerability…were their gift to us.” – I
Aashna: One of my favorite things about growing up is my mom no longer seeing me as somebody she has to advise or control or protect. It wasn’t until college that I started being articulate and open about my anxieties with my family. My mom won’t really say anything at the time, but then months later she’ll be like “I’ve never talked about this with anyone before. It’s shocking to me that the person I’m doing this with is my daughter.” I think it’s forced her to process things that she never realized she had to revisit.
Isze: I think about that a lot. When I was younger, I would say offensive things about my parents’ divorce or about my dad that I didn’t realize were offensive in the moment. I never understood why those things bothered my mother until I had the very same person asserting his power over me as a man. I think we’ve almost been blessed to have a firsthand understanding of what not talking about things can do, and I think it’s what will define us as people and as parents.
This is an updated version of our high-school experience—songs Isze and I wish we’d listened to (Disc 2 Side A), makeup we would have worn (and rocked), and dresses that would have been so much cooler at prom than the velvet strapless numbers we went with instead.
“I wish I could go back to my high-school self and just tell her how proud I am of her for writing that way-too-personal essay in English class or, like, getting the terrible perm and bangs. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those were some of the first things I did for myself and not for other people.” – A
Isze: I look back at when I started to feel attractive in high school, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel as ugly and pretty at the same time as I did then.
Aashna: I almost find it uncomfortable to look back on, in part because it’s when we first started to actually think about, and for, ourselves.
Isze: Right! I didn’t start to feel like I had a place…anywhere until I started to do things for myself. Matching my eyebrows to my bright blue hair wasn’t me changing who I was but just asserting that I’m not a perception… I’m a person. Even if I wasn’t entirely sure of who I was, that was me getting to know myself.
Womanhood isn’t binary, concrete, or even tangible. But this playlist, Disc 2 Side B, reminds us of strength, and when paired with groovy pants and a bedazzled face, it feels as chaotic as the kind of women we are and want to be.
“Makeup makes me look how I feel. I trust it to reclaim parts of myself I would’ve otherwise let go.” – I
Aashna: One of my favorite things about getting older is getting to know myself. It’s really exciting when your reactions or opinions don’t surprise you as much and actually start to feel familiar.
Isze: Part of getting older is also making sure to forgive myself when I mess up. I let myself be imperfect and I don’t hold onto my mistakes. Women, especially BIWOC, have a tendency to almost “doublethink.” We’re taught to be “nice” or “chill” but also not let anyone stand in our way. How are we supposed to exist as five different people at once?
Aashna: It’s part of the whole “women can have it all” idea. It’s exhausting having to combat this one-dimensional perception that’s been imposed on us by being, like you said, five-dimensional.
Isze: Exactly. We almost gaslight ourselves and other women…and we do it constantly. Women won’t ever be able to come together if we can’t let each other breathe or fuck up sometimes.
Aashna: God, yes. Breathing sounds so nice. I used to think, or hope rather, that one day all of this conflict and confusion would magically poof away, but I think womanhood for me now is less about having all the answers. Existing in the world as a woman teaches you a kind of empathy, and I think womanhood is existing in that conflict, embracing the contradictions you’ll inevitably be, and extending that empathy to yourself.
By Aashna Agarwal