Yassmin Abdel-Magied: ‘Most people doing my makeup would make me look white’ – The Guardian

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2017

She’s a Muslim advocate, engineer, author and television and radio presenter, yet Yassmin Abdel-Magied met the woman who changed her life in Sephora. She also recalls the book series she loved even more than Harry Potter and why playing with lipstick is fun again.

What’s thrilling?

I’m a huge eyebrow person and the thing I’m most excited about is that I’ve found my perfect eyebrow pencil: Hourglass (from $49, mecca.com.au). It kills my eyebrows, it’s so good. I’m also unexpectedly getting into nude lips. For some reason I picked up Urban Decay lipsticks. Nudes are usually really pink not nude on my skin but I found a couple that were nude for me. It’s great to be playing with lipsticks in a way I haven’t played with [them] before.

I just bought a whole bunch of new books. The one I have in my bag right now is called March – like the month – but it’s actually a comic book about the civil rights movement. It’s a three-part series and I got it for my birthday; it’s by John Lewis and it talks through the whole thing but in comic book form. I’m actually a comic book tragic, I used to draw cartoons as a kid, I’m really into it. It’s cool to be able to delve into a topic I know a bit about and learn about it in an unexpected way.

What’s nostalgia-inducing?

The beauty product I have always used since I was maybe 15 or 17 is Chanel Chance fragrance. My family is not fancy or fashionable but my grandma’s sister is totally on point. She’s from the 1950s [and] she had her hair in curls all the time. I visited her in Egypt and, just as I was leaving, she said, ‘You’re a grown woman now, I’m going to give something really, really special.’

It’s the only perfume that I’ve ever worn. It’s probably been a decade but it has become my scent. I feel like I am cheating on it if I buy anything else. Sometimes I think I should try something else but I always go back to it. It’s attached to my growing up, the period of me going from girl to woman, as corny as that sounds. It reminds me of figuring out who I am. I’ve travelled to lots of different places and it’s a scent people will comment on and it’s a special kind of bonding.

I haven’t read it again in a really long time, but the Tamora Pierce series called The Song of the Lioness is very significant for me. I frothed on Harry Potter growing up but [the central character of The Song of the Lioness] Alanna pretended to be a bloke and became a knight and became powerful in her kingdom. She went on adventures and was a magician who has magical power. She was everything I wanted to be, she was powerful and none of the boys would mess with her and, even though she wasn’t classically pretty, all the boys were attracted to her strength and wit.

I was 12 and I fell in love with Tamora, she became my all-time favourite author as a teenager. Any time I pick up a book I want to read for nostalgia, it is one of hers. I don’t think there were many examples of characters that I could relate to or see myself in so it showed me what I really wanted to be. I began thinking it was possible to be that kind of person even though it was in a fantasy world.

What I keep going back to

If I’m going to leave the house and only wear one bit of makeup it is MAC red lipstick in Russian Red ($36, maccosmetics.com.au). It’s just like, ‘Boom, Yassmin’s in town.’

I was in the US for a trip with my university when I was 19 and I went into Sephora. I didn’t really wear a lot of makeup at that point and asked the lady for a makeover. Because she was a black chick, she knew how to do my makeup. When I had people in Australia do my makeup, they would just make me look white and I was always deeply disappointed. This chick knew how to bring out colour. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can look really nice.’

During that trip I went and bought $400 worth of makeup which was ridiculous, but I stocked up for years. It’s where I learned to do my eyebrows as well, all from the same chick, she literally changed my life.

It’s different now to when I was growing up. We are starting to see darker foundation come through. Ten years ago there wasn’t a chance, you literally couldn’t buy dark foundation in Australia, it was crazy.

The book I read a lot when I was younger was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. I remember reading it over and over and over again. The habits are essentially the same as the adult version but there were illustrations and it was written in a lovely and approachable way.

I often think of those lessons in my regular life. It’s the only self-help book I’ve ever read, my dad gave it to me and it was something that made a big difference to how I view the world. You focus on six things in yourself, such as you need to put things into your personal bank account and relationship account, you need to seek to understand and be understood. It’s basic things that you see in Instagram photos everywhere but I was taught them at a time that had a huge impact on me.

My other old faithful is one I can read a million times over and love; it’s called The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s probably one of the best written fantasy books I’ve ever read. There is a beautiful prologue, and there is a line that says there are three types of silences and the third is the silence of a man waiting to die. It was such an evocative phrase. I read that years ago, and you feel that. It’s an enormous book but it’s an incredibly written masterpiece.


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