Tooth blackening has continued in Vietnam, though it is in decline and mainly practiced by older women. Although it was often assumed that the black teeth of Vietnamese women were merely the result of chewing betel nut (a combination of betel leaf, areca nut, and lime), glossy, lacquered teeth were in fact a sign of beauty and marked a woman’s coming of age, just as in Japan. But there was spiritual significance to the practice of tooth dyeing, too: According to Professor Ngo Duc Thinh of the Vietnam Institute of Cultural Studies, black teeth are thought to ward off evil spirits, stemming from the belief that long white teeth belonged to underworld creatures, savages, and wild animals, and that painting the teeth black would protect the wearer from the evil spirits within them.
Georgia O’Keeffe once said, There’s something about black. You feel hidden away in it. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to black eye paint, which dramatically defines, styles, and emboldens a face. Black paint has been used to define eyes with numerous styles and designs throughout history, and although eyeliner is available in many vibrant shades today, black remains the primary color of choice.
Penelope Tree, 1967. Photographed by Richard Avedon. I have been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors was black Pierre-Auguste Renoir Like their Persian counterparts, Athenian women favored a combination of antimony, burnt cork, and soot to emphasize their eyes. Eyebrows were also darkened with a soot-based mixture (and, if they met above the nose in a Frida Kahlo esque fashion, then so much the better, as this was considered a sign of beauty; this was also the fashion for Roman women who used antimony, lead, or soot to color and fill in their brows). The addition of white powder to eye makeup was thought to cure eye disease in Greco-Roman times, most likely as it contained nitric oxide. However, the use of obvious eye makeup in Rome was considered to be the reserve of disreputable women, due to the belief that direct eye contact between a man and a woman was explicitly linked to sexuality and eroticism.
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