I have a confession to make. After two months of going makeup-free, I actively sought to buy some last week. My acne is starting to come back, my cheeks are holding onto all this bhat and roti and chocolate bread, so I felt that makeup would make boost my confidence. (All the reason I left it behind in the first place, right?)
So off I went to each little “departmental” store, which are essentially just convenience stores. The pickings were slim. And just within that minimal selection, in combination with other beauty products I saw that they offered, the culture’s standards of beauty began to present itself.
“White and Beautiful.”
An array of skin bleaching and lightening cremes and lotions and potions.
The compact powder and liquid concealer were all in shades many times lighter than my own, despite the fact that all the women I saw had darker skin than me.
Not satisfied with my choices, I stumbled upon a spa that offered manicures, pedicures, massages, etc. I decided to see if they sold makeup in a darker shade, or if they knew where I could buy it. I figured they could point me in a better direction than the men at the convenience stores could, who looked at me with puzzled, tilted stares when I asked for concealer.
I entered “City Spa” in the heavily tourist populated area of Lakeside and was greeted by a girl, 23 years old, with full cheeks and a sweet smile named Namrata. I told her what I was looking for, and at first, there was a major communication barrier.
But we talked for awhile, comparing makeup products–colors and types and brands–and managed quite fine between her limited English and my even more limited Nepalese. She showed me a used bottle of liquid foundation that she had, which was still too light, but the darkest I’d seen. I told her I wanted one just like that. By that point, after talking and laughing and really just enjoying one another’s company, she told me she would go buy one for me, and to come back the following day.
When I returned, I met she and her other two friends who worked at the spa. She showed me the makeup she had purchased. She got five different types for me to choose from, and she and her friends helped me to decide which one matched best. They were so kind and helpful.
I decided to stay for a manicure even though I didn’t really need one. They had been so helpful, and I wanted to help their business. Plus, I didn’t want them to think I was taking advantage of them. It was well worth it, because I so enjoyed the time spent with them during the process. And it revealed even more about the mentalities of women, around my age, in the Nepali culture.
We talked about boys. We talked about love. We talked about life.
The oldest of the three, my age at 26, was married with a 10-year-old girl. I couldn’t believe she was my age, she looked so young. When we discovered the fact, she asked me if I, too, was married. I told her no. When she told me about her contrasting situation, I felt a sense of sadness, of longing to be in my position. I sensed that she personally felt like she wasn’t ready yet, that she settled too soon. It blew my mind that when I entered my first year if high school, she was getting married and a year away from having her first child. She blamed it on culture. “Enjoy being single,” she told me.
She told me that many tourists come through, and that she liked the American and Australian boys. She told me that she liked Rihanna because she “dresses so hot.” I agreed. She likes Brad Pitt and Angelina, too. She smiled and laughed and there was mischief in her eyes. I felt that she was allowing her true, wild self to be displayed. I realized it more when showed me the tattoo above her left breast, concealed beneath her conservative top: a large, blue rose. Tattoos are absolutely not accepted within their culture, but she showed me with so much pride. It was her little piece of rebellion. I think she enjoyed the escape our time granted her, from her life as a wife and mother, as we chattered away like teenage girls.
I asked Namrata if she had a boyfriend, and she said yes, already married. The last girl, 19, is not married and still single, and a bit boy crazy. She conceded to American boys being among her favorite of the tourists they meet, and asked me to find one for her before we all erupted in laughter.
We talked about the things typical in Nepali culture to talk about: family. Every time we meet someone new, after general introductions, they ask about our families. The translations of how to engage in this type of conversation is within the first few pages of all our Nepali/English language books because it is such a common cultural exchange. Mero pariwaarmaa aama, buwaa, didi ra bahini chha. In my family there is my mom, my dad, my older sister and younger sister.
We talked about the things typical in American culture to talk about: celebrities. They all love Shakira and One Direction and Selena Gomez. Justin Bieber. Not so much the Beyonce lovers that I am.
By the time my manicure was done, they weren’t ready for me to leave. “Come, I do your makeup,” Namrata said, pulling my hand towards the other room. When I resisted, they all joined in convincing me to stay. “You are friend, not customer. Come, we will do your makeup.”
As Namrata applied the foundation and powder, the other girls laid out each of their personal arsenals of cosmetics on the counter. They applied their own as they watched Namrata create my own mask: thick eyeliner, mascara, blush, dark lipstick and way, way too much lipliner in an even darker shade. Nepali style: the darker/brighter/louder the lipstick, the better.
The girls had gorgeous, thick, long black hair. They complimented me on my lighter shade of brown hair. They all have beautiful, clear skin, and envy my lighter tone. My body, lacking in curves, is perfect, they say. I am the ideal height at 5’6″ to their petite 5’2″-max statures, according to them. I have such nice, white, straight teeth, they agreed. The more they complimented me, the more it became clear that wanting everything we don’t have is universal.
With all these thoughts… the pressures that society places on women, the engrained cultural perceptions of beauty, the universal longing of the unattainable… swirling around in my head, I walked away from my girl time and new friends with what has become just one part of my intentions this new moon: be content.