Why I Wear Winged Eyeliner

Sometimes, a cat eye is more than just a cat eye.

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When I was about 13 years old, I read that Ancient Egyptians wore eyeliner to ward off evil spirits. I was immediately entranced. Suddenly, makeup wasn't just a tool for pure aesthetic purposes. It was protection against something greater—everyday life.

My obsession with eyeliner started this way.

The ultimate eyeliner inspiration: Audrey Hepburn. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images
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I began wearing makeup on a daily basis when I started the seventh grade. Equipped with a few drugstore picks—a brown eyeliner marketed toward people with blue eyes, a mascara, and a bevy of assorted pink lip glosses—I shifted from kid to teenager with a few touches of eye-enhancing cosmetics each morning. But it wasn't until I started doing stage makeup for my ballet performances that I was introduced to a much more dramatic staple: liquid liner.

Smokey eye + liquid liner = a foolproof night look.
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Preparing for a performance in The Nutcracker, I first traced my lash line with a straight black line, sweeping it outwards at the end in a long flick. I looked into the mirror. I looked older, decidedly more glamorous, and altogether someone greater than the preteen I was. I wanted to always look like this.

Legendary dancer Margot Fonteyn: master of classical ballet, and also, eyeliner. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

But I didn't always look like that—at least, not for a few years. From middle school through high school, a cat eye became my secret weapon in helping me adopt an imaginary alter-ego. The people I saw wearing winged liner were dancers on stage and actresses in old movies—not anyone that I saw in my small town. A woman with winged liner always seemed important, like she had important places to go and important people to see. When I found myself feeling low, I would grab an eyeliner. Two quick, imprecise sweeps later and suddenly I felt elegant and interesting, even if my technique wasn't quite perfect.

The purrrfect cat eye.
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For years, I kept my eyeliner secret stowed away for special occasions and bad days, but eventually, I found myself unable to stop wearing it. When going through a cycle of ever-changing hair colors, I used eyeliner to standardize my look throughout all of the different transformations. I had found and established my own personal style, while still giving myself room for experimentation. Now, I'll change my hair and change my lipstick—but my eyeliner has become a way for me to find stability in each and every day.

Different hair color, same liner.

When describing my beauty routine to people, I'll often say that I feel naked without my eyeliner—but that feeling of vulnerability isn't something that's rooted in insecurity about my appearance or a reliance on cosmetics for my self-esteem. It's because eyeliner has allowed me to secure my own agency in creating my own image—something that can be said of any cosmetic, by anyone who has embraced their own signature look, whether it be a bold lip or a bushy brow or a defined cat eye.

Line your lids, look instantly cool. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

Every morning, I sit in front of my mirror and artfully draw on my wings. Sometimes I'll mess up and have to start over. Sometimes I'll draw them unevenly. Sometimes they're thicker or thinner than usual, and more or less winged. But my mistakes and variations don't bother me—eventually I put myself together, wings sharp but not always perfect, ready to embrace the day with a face that I've chosen. Not even evil spirits could get in my way.

Do you you have a signature beauty look? Show me at @rebeccadecz!

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