Thanaka

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Beauty is relative, and the make-up we wear exemplifies this. During my last walk in the commercial centre of the town, it caught my attention how crowded the cosmetics & perfume shops were, and then I remembered the make-up that people in Myanmar wear.

In all likelihood, tourists will have already read about Thanaka before landing in Myanmar. It is a yellowish cosmetic paste made by grinding the bark, wood or roots of a Thanaka tree with a small amount of water on a circular slate slab which has a channel around the rim for the water to drain into.

The creamy paste has a fragrant scent and gives a cooling sensation; it is used as a cosmetic as well as sunblock. In this sense, contrary to our preference for tanned skin, they prefer to protect themselves from sun rays. A distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar for both women and girls, and to a lesser extent, men and boys, is the appliance of Thanaka to their faces in attractive designs. The most common form is a circular patch on each cheek, but sometimes they make stripes with fingers. On top of that, they are also fond of fashioning leaf-shaped golden masks.

Tourists, eager to take beautiful pictures, look for original Thanaka designs on the happy faces of the Burmese.  Likewise, the Burmese like to see tourists wearing the golden mask and we duly obliged on several occasions. We felt comfortable there, integrated and, I would even go so far as to say, beautiful; but I am sure we wouldn´t put Thanaka on our faces daily.

As a rule, we can agree that beauty is relative; we are busy trying to find the most enhancing eye shadow and the perfect eye liner, whereas in Myanmar women choose to care for their skin with a natural and native product. And although it is said that: “you can´t make a silk purse out of a sow´s ear”, everyone tries to look their best during Christmas celebrations, showing off their external beauty.

Do you wear special make-up at Christmas celebrations? Do you agree with the notion that beauty is relative?

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