cover image Eyeliner: A Cultural History

Eyeliner: A Cultural History

Zahra Hankir. Penguin, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-143-13709-2

Lebanese-British journalist Hankir (editor of Our Women on the Ground) explores in this creative study how a ubiquitous cosmetic has been used over the millennia as a way to both connect to a sense of tradition and to express individuality. Historically, kohl and similar sources of eyeliner protected both men and women from dust, sun, water, bacteria, and other irritants in the deserts of Africa and the Middle East. It has since imbued wearers with a sense of empowerment, according to Hankir, who notes that Iranian women assert their limited freedom with eyeliner, balancing their “desire for self-expression against [their] assessment of risk.” As makeup brand founder Regina Merson says of the Mexican-American Chola subculture, “a Mexican woman in eyeliner is a woman in power.” Hankir packs her reader-friendly narrative with relatable examples of cultural and geographic significance, spotlighting notable figures who used eyeliner to define themselves, including Egyptian queen Nefertiti and singer Amy Winehouse, whose thick 1960s-inspired winged eyeliner extended toward her hairline as her discomfort with her chaotic life of fame grew. As one precocious 12-year-old remarks, “Eyeliner shows your personality.” Throughout, Hankir maintains an appealing sense of intimacy as she recounts her own experience of expressing her Lebanese and Egyptian heritage by perfecting the eyeliner essential to her style. This captivating account reveals the complex significance of a seemingly simple adornment. (Nov.)