The make up artist Lisa Eldridge has shown legions of women how to re-create glossy magazine cover looks via her You Tube channel. We might have expected her first book, Face Paint, to follow suit but anyone who is a real devotee of her videos will know that Eldridge is obsessed with the history of make up to the extent that she collects vintage cosmetic items. Instead of being a how to guide Face Paint is an exploration of the history of make up and examines the changing ideals of beauty. Eldridge convincingly argues that “Painting our faces is as much as part of human nature as the need to eat and sleep” and she also demonstrates that the acceptability of cosmetics has a correlation with the status of women in any given society: in Ancient Egypt, women could own land and (perhaps not coincidentally) they also wore kohl, lip and cheek rouge as well as nail colour.
Eldridge shows that whilst fashions change, particular physical characteristics have been consistently thought of as beautiful throughout history: for example, beauties as chronologically far apart as Nefertiti and Sophia Loren have been depicted with heavily defined almond-shaped eyes and have been admired for their high cheekbones, full lips and long necks. This is not merely an academic look at beauty, however: Eldridge has fun explaining the rivalry between Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden as well as how Marilyn Monroe’s make up artist made up her face, and even why the eighteenth century fascination with wearing black patches of silk or mouches on the face developed. Face Paint is a brilliant gift for any make up lover, not least because it can be enjoyed without looking in the mirror.