Eyeliner: A Cultural History

Penguin Bks. Nov. 2023. 368p. ISBN 9780143137092. $26. HIST
Lebanese British journalist Hankir (editor, Our Women on the Ground) writes with boldness and care as she documents many stories regarding eyeliner, whether it’s about her mother’s ritualistic application of it or the power women found throughout history by using it to reveal details about themselves. Hankir explains eyeliner’s cultural symbolism and how for many women, especially people of color, the makeup is used to reflect one’s sense of self, power, spirituality, sexuality, rebellion, and resistance or to mark rites of passage. The book showcases Hankir’s research findings and insight into expressions of beauty across time and geography, with glimpses into the practice of eyeliner application in ancient Egypt, Chad, Jordan, Iran, India, and Japan. Hankir meticulously details commonalities in physical and aesthetic practices—eyeliner has consistently been used to precisely enlarge eyes and make them attractive, for example—without losing sight of cultural specificity or intersectionality. The book culminates with an analysis of social media influencers’ use of hashtags about eyeliner.
VERDICT A significant addition to cultural histories of self-expression. Hankir disrupts many deeply held assumptions about beauty, gender, and power.
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