The economic crisis in Cuba forced us to find substitutes for almost everything, including cosmetics. In the nineties, shoe polish was used to make the eyelashes stand out, dish soap became shampoo and vinegar a softener. A very humble friend was relieved when she discovered she could rub a handkerchief on the whitewashed walls and use it to powder her face. A laxative was left to sit for the mineral oil to separate, which was used as a sun tan lotion.
In a mute complicity men and women arranged to undress with the light off so they wouldn’t show the holes and mendings in their underwear, which would be washed at night and left to dry behind the fridge to wear the next day. The most humiliating was going back to our grandmother’s custom of washing out pads on the days you were menstruating and staying home—sitting in the bathroom—when the cycle of the moon came.
Beginning in the fall of 1993 those who wanted to look good had the opportunity to acquire new products and even to choose among various brands, but they had to carry the money of the “enemy” in their wallets. So at the price of many sacrifices, the women of this Island didn’t let themselves be defeated in their desire to look more beautiful. With their painted lips and their tight-fitting clothes, they laughed at those who—at moments of great extremism—defined the human goal to preen as “frivolous capitalism.” Dying your hair blue, getting a tattoo or attaching a ring to your navel is no longer seen as an ideological debility. Signs have begun to sprout on bodies, of seduction and change.