With opportunities for foreign holidays being limited this year, our family sat down and made a wish list of travel destinations. My husband’s first choice was Iceland, twin one suggested any where to see the Northern Lights, twin two was quite specific with a visit to Santa, and, because I must always buck the trend, no one was surprised when my choice was revealed to be not an icy northern destination but instead the hot, desert sands of Egypt.
I think that my fascination with Egypt started with a primary school project about the pyramids but what I can still remember is writing about how eyeliner, kohl, was made by grinding soot and animal fat to a paste and applied with an ivory or metal stick, and I remember drawing the dark, lush boundaries of an almond-shaped eye, then filling in the greeny-blue shadow up to the eyebrow: Nefertiti or Cleopatra.
The ancient Egyptians were among the earliest peoples to use make up, and archaeology tells us that they took great care of their bodies with rituals involving moisturising, cleansing, scenting, and adorning themselves with natural, handmade products. Both men and woman used sea salt exfoliators, honey and milk masks, and scented oils made from flowers and herbs to soften and sooth their skin. Their reasons were partly practical - I imagine the heat was very drying - but also symbolic and ritualistic: pigments were ground on palettes shaped like an animal, goddess or young woman, symbols of regeneration and rebirth, and the outlining of the eye was thought to ward off the Evil Eye.
We are not so very modern, then, with our love of pampering and our belief in its powers to uplift, heal and protect us.
The act of preparing something, whether it is making a soap, mixing a face mask or simply
sharpening a pencil, that you will apply to your skin, to your body, with a delicate tool or your hands, cannot only reconnect you to your shape, to your texture, and to yourself, but can also be a source of strength and joy. The Egyptians understood this power, and the trend of ‘selfcare’ is not just a marketing strategy but something we need to be reminded of and make room in our lives for.
Do I feel like Cleopatra when I’m using a honey and oat soap bar to wash my hands at the kitchen sink or when I’m rushing through a shower with half a peppermint show steamer after a workout before getting the girls breakfast? Not really, but in those five minutes, if I close my eyes and breathe a little, I do feel more like myself.