Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

In one of my clearest childhood memories, it is a humid Saturday afternoon in Calabar, Southern Nigeria. I am eight years old, getting dressed for a birthday party, thrilled that I can wear light makeup.

My sister is standing before me in our bedroom, lining my eyes with black kohl, her face frowning each time I blink.

“Stop shaking,” she says. “Why are you afraid?” I cannot reply, still startled at the realization that looking good is no painless, effortless thing. 

Long before that day, I adored makeup and beauty. I would try on my mother’s lipstick—muted reds and bright pinks— when she wasn’t in her room. I would spread my fingers apart, alive with delight, as my mother applied nail hardener on my bitten nails. The high-pitched song I sang whenever she squirted perfume on my neck became a family joke.

I began to experiment with makeup in my teens. It was the season of lips lined with pitch black eyeliner. I painted my lips a frosted beige to complement the harsh line at the border of my mouth. I bought eyebrow pencil two shades lighter than my eyebrows.

In university, I wore eyeshadow—jungle green on my lid, royal blue on my crease—but never wore eyeliner. If anything I regarded it, rather melodramatically, as a symbol of pain.

After graduation, I moved to Lagos and got a job in advertising. In those early months, I watched my new world, dazed by the color, the glamour. Here was a clutch of people unwilling to be anyone other than who they were. My boss, a woman I admired, wore bold red lipstick to work. She inspired me.

For the first time, I wore red lipstick—the kind described in fashion magazines as intense, blue-based red. And was stunned when it made me feel like the truest version of myself. My friends in banking and consulting told me I was fortunate to have a career where I could express myself through my appearance.

In search of a style aesthetic of my own, I turned to makeup blogs, vintage websites, beauty articles. My attachment to winged eyeliner, midway through my twenties, came as a surprise. After all I loathed eyeliner. Still, I tried everything—gels and liquids and pencils.

Somewhere, in some deep magical part of each stroke, I discovered again the wonder of grace, of courage, of listening to my rhythm. Only then did I realize that as a child, my love for makeup and beauty was truly a longing for the experience of being fully grown. 

Now I am 30 years old. I wear eyeliner in a jet black wing every other day. I line my eyes without blinking. My hands are not quite steady, my strokes are far from flawless, but I can live with that.

I am no longer afraid.


Image by Katherine Kenny via Flickr. 


About the Author: 

Portrait - UshieSuzanne Ushie grew up in Calabar, Nigeria. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several publications including Fiction Fix, Overtime, Conte Online, The Writing Disorder and Gambit: Newer African Writing. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she received the African Bursary for Creative Writing and made a Distinction. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.


Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

7 Responses to “Lipstick, Eyeliner & Everything in Between | By Suzanne Ushie | An African Fashion Essay” Subscribe

  1. vivian akp 2015/01/28 at 03:17 #

    short and interesting…i like

  2. olu ola 2015/01/28 at 05:30 #

    Its a lovely piece… I regard it as a deep subject that is simply and craftily expressed. You can get lost in the words, reading over and over in other to learn the deep message.
    More grease Suzanne.

  3. Fatima 2015/01/29 at 03:27 #

    Lovely write-up.

    It evokes memories of my childhood- the soft pad of my Mum’s Fragrant Avon powder and the perfume bottle shaped like a woman (which everyone’s Mum seemed to keep on their dressing table).

    Thanks for the memories.

  4. Queenie 2015/01/29 at 08:32 #

    I agree with @Olu Ola, it communicates deep feelings and the journey of self discovery.

    And of course, memories of wearing heels a million sizes too big and wanting to be grown up so much it hurt.

    Beautiful piece, Suzanne

  5. Ainehi Edoro 2015/01/30 at 12:59 #

    @Fatima. I feel you. Same with me. I can still see my mom’s Cymba lotion lying there on the dresser. I also like how the writer suggests that experience with make up marks a major coming-of-age moment in a woman’s life. Nothing could make me forget the first time I applied eye-pencil and lipstick. The feeling of transformation I felt was pretty epic. It’s important to know that there is nothing trivial about these feminine experiences.

  6. mariam sule 2015/02/02 at 13:21 #

    I love this piece, its so deep. The gentle path to self discovery.

  7. White Rabbit 2015/02/04 at 03:36 #

    Lovely piece. It made me grateful, that I can express my individuality in my chosen profession. #teamredlipstick
    You are a star mor mor keep shining.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."


On Confessional Schizo-Poetry and Finding Meaning: In Conversation with JK Anowe, Winner of the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Poetry

jk anowe - graph

JK Anowe, a Nigerian-born poet, holds a BA in French from the University of Benin, Nigeria, where he was awarded […]

Photos | Pages & Palette Hosts Reading of Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men in Abuja

Lives of Great Men - Frankie Edozien at Pages & Palette -- photo by Victor Adewale (9)

Last December, Abuja bookstore Pages & Palette hosted a reading of Chike Frankie Edozien’s memoir Lives of Great Men. Published […]

Mauritanian Blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir Has Now Been in Jail for 5 Years

mohamed mkhaitir

In December 2013, Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir wrote a blogpost criticizing his country’s government for using religion to discriminate against minorities. […]

Read Chapter One of Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities

an orchestra of minorities - graph

Chigozie Obioma’s second novel An Orchestra of Minorities was published this January. As part of The Summer Library’s “selected extracts from […]

Laila Lalami’s Fourth Novel, The Other Americans, Is a Family Saga, a Murder Mystery, and a Love Story

laila lalami - alchetron - graph

Laila Lalami’s new novel is forthcoming on 26 March 2019 from Pantheon, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The 320-page […]

Thursday’s Children: 11 Contributors to Forthcoming Anthology Discuss Experimentation and the Nature of Creative Nonfiction

thursday's children - graph

Thursday’s Children is a forthcoming anthology of personal essays. Co-edited by Adams Adeosun and Bello Damilare, it comes with an […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.