Brown Eyed Girl: My life-long search for the perfect purple eyeliner
What eyeliner taught me about my identity.
By Nicole Horowitz, Contributor
When I was a teenager, I developed a fondness for magazines. Beauty, fashion. Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Cosmo. You name it, I was interested. One particular quirk some of these magazines had was a penchant for prescribing things to their readers. Have acne? Try benzoyl peroxide. For “pear-shaped” people, there were one piece swimsuits.
For brown-eyed girls like me? Purple eyeliner.
I don’t know where this editorial obsession with purple eyeliner came from, or why it was so persistent. But I do know that in the late 2000’s, there was little you could do to escape it. I remember the pages of the magazines, cut into neat squares, separating eye colors out — blue, green, hazel, and brown — each detailing which colors would look “flattering” on which iris shades. Flattering. A word whose pursuit could launch a thousand makeup obsessions.
Absent from this discussion? Any mention of eye shape, in-depth application techniques, single vs. double lids, or even the ridiculousness of giving equal space for four arbitrary eye colors when there are seven billion people in the world. Those with eyes somewhere in the realm of brown make up about 90% of us. There wasn’t even a separate column for eyes darker than a medium shade of brown.
Because in those days, on those pages, we brown-eyed people were a monolith.
And our eyes were universally going to be “flattered” by whatever brand had debuted their version of purple that month.
photo credit: Time inc.
My teenage self really took things at face value.
— No pun intended. So, I ripped the relevant page out of my magazine, and carried it with me on a trip to the local drug store where I could pick out a shade that matched the one that supposedly looked good on me.
I brought it home and squinted in front of my bathroom mirror as I applied a thin purple strip in a neat rim along my eyes. And it looked...bad. Pasty. Artificial. The opposite of a “new neutral” as advertised, it drew attention to itself in a way that was unflattering verging on concerning. I didn’t know much about makeup then — certainly not enough to know that the application shown in the magazine wouldn’t translate perfectly well to my slightly almond shaped eyes. But I did know that I looked very different from the look I was attempting to copy.
Thinking the problem was either my face, or the particular shade I bought (and hoping it was the latter), I spent most of my middle teen years in an embarrassed search for the perfect purple liner: bringing home drugstore shades from eggplant to nearly maroon, always with the same lackluster results. After years of searching, I gave up.
I realized that the things they tell people in magazines aren’t always true for everyone.
My skin tone was more warm-toned than the models that always seemed to appear, and my irises were a hint darker. And they had just simply not taken these things into consideration. So, I moved on. I discovered a love for a black felt-tipped eyeliner and wing-tipped cat eyes — a look that seemed to suit my eyes better. I decided that colored liners were just not the way.
I was content like this for a long time.
Until brands like NYX and Glossier Play (R.I.P.) came onto the scene with their lustrous hues and diverse models pulling off painter’s palettes of blossoming pops of color. Inspired, I took the plunge on some dark coppers, sparkly moss greens — even a light, robin’s egg blue. But I couldn't quite bring myself to pull the trigger on Glossier’s purple Magic Carpet shade, too reminded of failed experiments from my teen years.
In the end, it was Kulfi’s Underlined Kajal in Purply Pataka that made me brave enough to try out a purple liner again. The Glossier liners had made me unafraid of color, but I was particularly drawn to Kulfi’s. Although advertised as a “purple” shade,
Purply Pataka seems to have a dimension to its color very much lacking in my original purple Wet'n'Wild picks of the past.
photo credit: Badal Patel
Back living with my parents in the pandemic, I stood in the same bathroom where I had first applied those early shades, and self-consciously swiped Purply Pataka over my right lid. And lo and behold! What emerged was a slightly purple, slightly coppery shifting, lightweight, thin line. More an accent than a statement. Something understated, and what was the word? Flattering.
It was actually flattering on me.
So, there I was, fourteen years later. With the knowledge that brown-eyed people are not a monolith. With an understanding that the world is a big and nuanced place, and
Makeup is a reflection of the beautiful complexity that goes into individual identity.
And with the knowledge that somehow, there was a flattering purple shade out there for me after all.
photo credit: Nicole Horowitz
About — Nicole Horowitz is a writer and content marketer who is passionate about the intersection of beauty and culture. She writes about topics ranging from makeup to old movies, identity to Monopoly, and everything in between. She has a B.A. from New York University and M.A. from Oregon State University. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California and is co-creative director of Bad Asta Vintage @badastavintage.
Cover photo sourced from: Badal Patel (@bybadal) & People Magazine 2021