Selfies in red

Selfies in red

Amaal Said
Photographer and poet

I was changed by the discovery that I could put makeup on and feel braver than I was. The head wrap and lipstick didn’t leave my bedroom though. It was something secret I did for myself. Going out in red lipstick was a myth. Standing at the foot of our dining table, a family friend said, ‘only promiscuous girls wear red on their lips.’ I went to my bedroom without saying a word back. I put the red lipstick away, losing it eventually.

There’s so much colour in the selfies I go back to. But I’ve never taken it seriously as any kind of photography. I was sad or anxious and I played with makeup to combat those feelings. It was a distraction when I needed one. There’s the getting ready, and before that, there’s the mental note-taking of which hijab to wear this time, what lipsticks I wanted to experiment with.

There’s so much colour in the selfies I go back to.

I remember telling someone that I enjoy watching the women I photograph recognise themselves in the picture. It’s the moment they say something like, ‘ahh, I look so beautiful!’ It’s a huge joy because I didn’t see myself. It felt like I was looking at someone else but I kept doing it. And it’s also a joy because the earliest conversations around photography were about imagining ourselves in galleries, on the walls, taking space.

It was a performance in some way. That’s how I describe it to myself. It saved me. For however long the makeup-doing took, the hijab-fixing, the lipstick-applying, it felt good. I can’t call it radical in any way. Photos of my face don’t change a single thing in the world. It doesn’t lessen anyone’s suffering. I know that. But I can go back and see how I survived moments of sadness, how my bedroom became a space to figure out what made me feel beautiful. I take that as a blessing, however small.

#themakingofme

I’m wearing a combination of Mio Lanza necklaces in this self-portrait that made me feel so glamorous. I remember telling someone that I enjoyed watching the women I’ve photographed recognise themselves in the picture. It’s the moment they say something like, ‘ahh, I look so beautiful!’ It’s a huge joy because I didn’t see myself. It felt like I was looking at someone else but I kept doing it. And it’s a joy because the earliest conversations around photography were about imagining ourselves in galleries, on the walls, taking space, and being glamorous while doing so.

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