Yasmine Ziadat | March 8 2016
Intelligent, fierce, accomplished, boss ass, beautiful; just a handful of the traits that Cleopatra should be remembered for.
Cleopatra VII of the Ptolemaic dynasty was Queen of the Nile for just over two decades between 51 and 30 BC. During her reign as Queen of Egypt she also ruled numerous territories of the Roman Empire in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, created alliances with powerful leaders, led a naval fleet at the Battle of Actium, became a multilingual scholar and had four children. Despite all of this, Cleopatra has all too often been remembered as a beautiful seductress, an insignificant mistress, the subplot to the legendary tales of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The truth is, Cleopatra was a strong independent woman to whom both Caesar and Antony were dependent upon in some way or another. As a rich and pragmatic ruler, Cleopatra chose to form political alliances with certain rulers in order to expand her Queendom. Considering that both Caesar and Antony were said to have become immediately infatuated with her confidence and intellect, and were also periodically in shed loads of debt, Cleopatra knew that winning them over would be an easy feat. So, next time you stumble across an article which discusses whether Cleopatra had a hooked nose and/or child bearing hips, remind yourself that she was one of the most powerful women in history. Consider that her male counterparts’ intellectual and mental capabilities were never undermined by their physical characteristics or sexual activities. Revel in her glory.
Why have I made myself up, you ask? Here’s why.
I chose Cleopatra because she tends to be first person that comes to mind when people think of powerful Arab women (despite there being uncertainties with regards to her Macedonian/Egyptian descent). I suppose it’s also an ode to the Ancient Egyptians – after all, we do owe the invention of ‘kohl’ to them! Inspired by a statue of Cleopatra in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum it was also a personal decision for me, as a woman of Arab descent, to counter the sexualised and white washed depictions of Cleopatra in pop culture. From the fair skinned, blue eyed actress Elizabeth Taylor casted in the 1963 movie ‘Cleopatra’, to Katy Perry’s shameful cultural appropriation of Ancient Egyptian history in her music video for ‘Dark Horse’, Cleopatra’s strength and beauty has been misrepresented and undermined time and time again.
Whilst makeup is often relegated into this realm of feminine frivolity, and dismissed as a shield for people who are insecure about their physical appearance, I believe that it is an extremely powerful tool. For me, makeup is not about pandering to internalised patriarchal beauty standards, but rather, about being able present myself in whichever way I choose. Cleopatra was known for presenting herself in different ways. Even when her face was printed on coins, she chose to depict herself with an ornate crown, a stronger jaw line and a more prominent nose because she believed those features would make her appear more powerful. By doing this makeup tutorial I wanted to highlight how makeup can be used as a form of self empowerment, and not simply as a tool to make oneself ‘beautiful’. By emulating Cleopatra’s appearance, I felt like I was able to emulate her confidence, strength and general badassery, and that was incredibly empowering.
Yasmine Ziadat is an undergraduate history and politics student with an interest in current affairs and sassing the patriarchy. If she’s not taking selfies or watching cat videos, you can find her exploring London in search of coffee, music and museums. You can follow her on instagram, twitter, or read her dardishi articles here.