For years living in Cambodia I have been fascinated by the complex, loud and sense assaulting phenomena of Khmer weddings. Colourful loud affair that gets the whole neighbourhood involved, whether you are up for it or not. The act of weddings alone is a subject of many of my moans and on the top of my “whinge list”is no doubt Khmer wedding music. Let’s steer away from this for now and focus on something much more fun and closer to my heart – the art of make up.
Sunday afternoon seemed like a perfect day for a Khmer bride dress up. For mere US$12 per person all the fun in the world can be had. Lacking much seriousness, us seven women – all from different walks of life but all currently residing in Siem Reap, gathered upstairs of a well known photographic shop to undergo a change of a lifetime – luckily reversible with a few rubs of a wet wipe followed by a meticulous cleansing routine.
Two Sarahs (in the town of too many Annas, they are catching up), Caroline, Nicole, Vicky, Tamara and I. All ready to be beautiful. To hand, two dressing assistants, two make up artists and two stations, dressing room glittering with gems and sparkle fit for Rio festivities, jewellery of unknown beauty, gowns worthy many a princess – all such a feast for our eyes! And to our great relief – a working aircon unit on the wall. Phew.
Two by two, we flocked to the make-up stations. Dressed in communal pink PJ tops with buttons on the front – to prevent damage of the final product – we let the magic roll. I was smart and waited for my turn later on to fully take advantage of the Khmer brides being born under the skilled brush strokes and make up piling up. In between camera clicks and trying to find the best angle to appreciate the magic in the making, I admit I haven’t laughed this much in a very long time. Not only PJ tops were communal… So were the sponges, brushes, fake eyelashes and even the bright pink lipstick. Sarah B commented, with a snigger: “It’s like we all kissed, ladies!” There is nothing like sharing….
Sarah C, a make up artist by profession, had to apply – or so it seemed – several breathing techniques to overcome the fear of a fake eyelash and bright orange tone of her skin. Not exactly complimenting her red hair…. Caroline was not much better off when her eyebrows were turned into caterpillars, in her own words. Nicole, with her Thai roots, was the only true princess of us lot as we were all jealously pointing out throughout the exercise. Sarah B provided a hair challenge with the masses of her blond curly locks, which finally ended up being tied up in a messy knot and then casually propped to the side. By the time I was sitting in the death chair, from behind emerged Vicky, fully clad in sparkly red creation completed by pointy shoes, a dazzling beauty. I had the privilege to watch Miss America next to me – in former life known as Caroline, when Dolly Parton wig was secured to her existing locks and then glued to her scalp with few generous pumps of unknown brand of hair spray. One fake eyelash on, one off. My eyelids were getting a workout and I was slowly starting to look like Miss Russia 1985. Then on went the fake hair piece, my own hair got twisted and singed by hot irons and fixed into place by generous spray of product. It is designed, we were sure, to keep your hair in place in all weather conditions and also while whizzing to your wedding destination on the back of a moto. The eyelash glue is also of superior quality.
Tamara chose to become an Apsara dancer so her routine was slightly different to ours and we all enjoyed her getting padded with fake curves, looking like a clown – ballet dancer who escaped the scene in panic.
There was a moment of panic. While we were all in the studio, through a glass door I glimpsed a cluster of people gathering around the door leading into the dressing room. It was obvious there was something wrong with the lock, and all our belongings behind that door…. I had a terrible vision of forever being stuck in my Green Queen outfit, not being able to get out of it without at least two people helping, have fake eyelashes until the day I die – which would not take very long, let me tell you. Then, a sufficient level of force was applied and the lock popped, we were saved. Had I been able to, I would have breathed a sigh of relief….
The shoot was a blur. Four hand and feet twisting poses each. Bright lights and heat. Flashes. The photographer frustrated by our lack of flexibility in hand areas and inability to hold the required position long enough for him run back to his camera and press the shutter.
Finally the group shot. A rainbow display of glittering beauty. Dreaming of being free, fresh air and being able to sit or stand unsupported. Last few moments we even found time to be silly! Grabbed a few props and posed for a last group shot.
When the zip went rrrrrrrrrrrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzh the other way, I literally deflated and I am sure my stomach actually made a sound. It was like I was liberated. The best feeling ever.
Vicky had the brilliant idea of bringing wet wipes. It took three to take the most of the surface of my face off and what was left was then washed off under a shower at home.
It was a fun filled afternoon which I am well up for repeating. The choice of outfits is dazzling and next time I may opt for sky blue, purple or bright pink. Anything goes really.
The mystery of heavy make up remains. Sarah C, our make up specialist, has done some extensive research but can’t find the roots of this tradition. Locals shed no more light on it. We are grateful we could have experienced one day in a life of a Khmer bride and although we have taken this matter lightly and had more fun than any bride would, it should not be perceived as disrespect of local culture.
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.