On Makeup, Mirrors and Filters

I love watching people. It’s incredibly fascinating to observe folks in their natural habitat. 

The randomness of it all. The predictability. The way social interactions evolve from mundane everyday niceties into intense emotional outbursts. 

I’ve witnessed people run over by vehicles, scuffles that resulted in broken bottles, lots of blood and a lot of wounds. 

Watch long enough and you’ll witness the dynamics of a riot, as a sea of bodies and voices jumble together in outrage. 

Ah, my favorite is watching relationships end and new ones begin right before your very eyes. See the guy smile and talk animatedly even as he tries to convince the lady of whatever it is he wants her to believe. 

The daily grind of a 9 to 5 makes people watching a luxury but I was recently able to rediscover the thrill of it. 

Between June and July, I took a pretty intense round trip to 5 states in Nigeria – Abia, Imo, Delta, Ogun and Ondo. 

I found myself watching people a lot on my trip. It was a relief because: 

  • I spend way too much time on my phone 
  • This was my first time seeing Nigerians from other tribes living in their natural habitat (the female bike riders in the East were a major highlight cos there were surprisingly many of them). 

People watching is pretty helpful for me. It helps me understand people. Something I don’t say often is I’m a bit of a dunce when it comes to emotional intelligence. More often than I care to admit, I usually say the right thing in the wrong way, and this can often cause more friction than I wish with people I care about. 

People watching provides a vast catalogue of situations and possible ways to talk to people. 

People watching can also be occasionally boring, so you make up backstories. Facial expressions, what they’re doing, and the way they walk or sit, clothes they’re wearing, the jewelry they have on, and even the state of their shoes are all raw materials for backstory. 

Well, during my travels, I met and interviewed a lady who wore a LOT of makeup. I’m not talking about just the regular touch up etc. I mean, heavy duty, massive face altering territory here. It’s fascinating because I began to wonder, what is she hiding? A scar maybe?

Or maybe she just wants to feel good about herself. Or perhaps she’s just tired of feeling undesirable and wants to be admired. Every damn time. 

Who knows?

But then, my thoughts drifted home. And I began to think about human beings in general. How we wear masks. How we are one thing underneath but we never really get the chance to come face to face with that version of ourselves. 


Look in the mirror, is that all they see? Is that good enough?

Social media has made authenticity a bit more complicated. Everyone is in everyone’s face about their views so it’s hard to decipher where your own thoughts begin and where others’ end. But even without Facebook, twitter and co. we’ve always been lying to ourselves. 

We’re our own best PR machines.

We have an internal narrative we carry around that colors everything about our lives – our self esteem, our goals, the kind of love we desire, the kinds we permit ourselves to receive, or give. 

But we’re flawed. 

We regularly overestimate our flaws. 

Someone says (offhandedly) that you’ve added weight and suddenly, you believe your waist is too wide, you’re unattractive and need to get on a diet, pronto. 

Someone made a joke about your nose and now, you’ve started googling the plastic surgeons in your area. 

Our self image is so fragile, all it takes is a jab and we come tumbling down.

Truth is, we rarely see ourselves the right way; mostly the way the world sees us. 


Thank God for makeup! 

Remember that PR agent I mentioned earlier, he lives for makeup.  And not just the cosmetic kind. 

If it’s a flaw the world around us has identified, he’ll cook up a makeshift fix for it.

A receding hairline? Try hair growth creams or a toupee. 

Someone called you fat? We cant have that so get on a keto diet please. Or a new girdle. 

Your ex girlfriend thinks you’re a broke ass? Nah, spend your savings on new garbs and bling and show her who’s boss. 

We’re professional makeup artists. 

Even our personalities are cosmetic. 

We want to appear more interesting, more open minded, more intelligent. 

So we alter ourselves. We feel we’re selling out so we tag it personal branding. 

Eventually, you realise you don’t even recognise the stranger staring back at you in the mirror. But hey, at least you have retweets and likes to keep you cozy at night. 


Instagram may have made amateur photo editing a culture, but we’ve been adding filters to our personalities all our lives. 

No matter who you are, everything and everyone is trying to exert influence on you. 

And so we need filters. A discerning eye to keep us from embracing every thing the world throws at us. The one that sifts through opinions and fights to resist toxic ones. To keep me as me. And you as you. 

One of the best filters I’ve found are friends.

We subconsciously defer to them for opinions. The right compliment from a long time pal can change behaviors overnight. A strong rebuke by a mentor can kill bad decisions in 2 seconds. 

Eventually you realise that you only needed makeup because you were using wrong mirrors all along.

Maybe we should invest more in deliberate, healthy friendships.

That may be the best “touch-up” any of us could ever hope for.