A Question of Balance: NARS Mata Hari

(Three questions of balance, actually.)

In my review of NARS Lhasa, I mentioned that I have several under-the-radar beauty staples, products I use so often I’ve stopped thinking about them. I thought I’d follow up on that post with a review of another product I use almost every day: NARS blush in Mata Hari, a cool-toned dusty pink with faint plum undertones. Mata Hari is not a cult favorite like Orgasm; in fact, Karen of Makeup and Beauty Blog has dubbed it an “Unsung Hero.” How fitting that a blush named after a spy should evade the notice of devoted NARS fans.

In shade, as spies prefer.

I suspect Mata Hari has kept such a low profile because it’s neither a fluorescent statement blush like Exhibit A nor a neutral blush like Douceur. Thinking about these two color categories makes me want to break out my long-dormant Japanese: Mata Hari walks the line between 地味 and 派手, between jimi (understated) and hade (showy). It belongs to a liminal category: bright enough to get noticed, subtle enough to go unremarked upon. And what is the word, English or Japanese, for that?

In direct sunlight.

Swatched on my ghostly inner arm, Mata Hari is a beautiful candy pink, slightly more hade than it looks in the pan:

The NARS powder blush formula has been reviewed so often and so positively that I feel silly adding my equally positive opinion to the chorus, but I will anyway. (Isn’t that the distinguishing characteristic of a literature scholar–the willingness to cover themes that hundreds of people have already exhausted?) Mata Hari is very pigmented, but it can be applied sheerly for a natural-looking flush; the swatch above is three passes, which is more built-up than I’d ever wear it. It blends beautifully, too. I can’t speak to longevity, because I tend to apply very little in the first place, so whether it fades or not is kind of an open question.

I swear I piled on far more blush than usual for my face swatch, but it barely shows up in the photo. Does anyone else have this problem? (Also on my face: NARS Habanera eyeshadow duo, NYX Butter Gloss in Peach Cobbler, spring freckles.)

Now for the second question of balance or, rather, imbalance: the wild imbalance of my makeup stash.

I own dozens of lip colors and nail polishes, over fifty of each. But the rest of my collection is small by normal-person standards, never mind beauty-blogger standards: four eyeliners (one black pencil, one black liquid, two colored pencils); a few single eyeshadows and one neutral eyeshadow palette; one mascara; three blushes, including Mata Hari. There are some product categories I haven’t even touched, like bronzer and highlighter. The built-in shelves in my bedroom tell a sad tale of favoritism (the green-and-blue boxes are for lipsticks, the jar to their right for glosses):

What I should have done long ago, of course, was stop buying lipstick and nail polish and use the money I saved to build up my shadow and blush collections. Instead, I used my relative restraint in those categories to justify buying yet more lipsticks and nail polishes. Logical, I am.

That’s my entire blush collection. The peach is my very first blush, the powdery-perfumey CoverGirl Rose Silk, which I almost never wear. The fluoro magenta is NARS Coeur Battant, a limited-edition blush from the 2013 holiday collection.

I’ve always understood other people’s obsession with eyeshadow: an infinite array of colors and finishes, and a whole world of geometric tricks for shaping and placing and blending. Until recently, though, I couldn’t see what motivated anyone to collect dozens of blushes. It didn’t seem to make sense: didn’t they all look the same sheered out on the cheeks? My bafflement originated in my greatest beauty fear: the fear of the “full face,” of looking too “done.” I like my makeup a little blurry and imprecise. I don’t want all the made-up bits of my face to be connected; I don’t want to look airbrushed. I want to see bare, imperfect skin between eyeshadow and blush, blush and lipstick. I want an archipelago of colors and textures in a sea of un-made-up epidermis. (Actually, that sounds creepy. Just bear with me.)

But my attitude toward blush has been changing, due partly to Kate the Driveller’s Japanese-inspired experiments with blush placement (e.g. here), and partly to my growing awareness of the variety of colors and textures and finishes available. I suspect I’m entering a blush period. Check back here in a few months.

One more view of Mata Hari, mostly to show off my Easterish earrings:

And one more question of balance: how do you make sure you’ve applied an equal amount of blush to both cheeks? Bilateral symmetry gets me every time.

13 thoughts on “A Question of Balance: NARS Mata Hari

  1. I think this is my favourite post of yours so far. Your writing is a joy to read. With regards to bilateral symmetry: yeah I dunno. It's like winged eyeliner, or sawing off the uneven legs of a table — I'll just add a bit here to even it out. And a bit more on the other side. And now I have scarlet fever cheeks.


  2. Thank you–that means a lot to me. I think this was one of my favorite posts to write! Blogging has been such a welcome respite from academic writing this year.Don't even get me started on winged eyeliner. I've pretty much given up liquid eyeliner, because it takes me about ten minutes to get it anywhere close to even.


  3. I've already noticed how much of a difference Mata Hari and Coeur Battant make! Now I'm eager to experiment with peaches and corals and reds. Coeur Battant would give me magnificent clown cheeks if I let it, but applied in my usual way, it looks a lot like Mata Hari. I suspected as much when I ordered it, but I just HAD to have that pan of blinding fuchsia…


  4. Long dormant Japanese …check!Blush doesn't really show up in photos at usual application levels …check!Has tried blush and now wants them in ALL THE COLOURS …check!Has a hoard of lipsticks but basically no blushes, never really tried bronzer or highlighter at all …check!Isn't sure if blush has faded or not because hard to see …check! (I have to go by peering at what I scrub off my face on a tissue in the evening…)Bilateral symmetry query …check!Your blog is awesome ^_^ I always feel, when reading it, like I'm talking to a sister – probably because our (eerie) similarities make things seem so familiar 🙂 I really have to stop commenting on this, because I suspect it probably won't stop…In other news: I am incredibly envious of Coeur Battant.Ganbatte!


  5. Wait, you know Japanese too? すごい! This really is getting uncanny. I would love an excuse to speak and read it more often, but the whole \”doctorate in 17th-century English literature\” thing isn't helping. 😛 At the moment I mostly use my Japanese to read websites about Kyoto geisha…And yeah, what is the deal with bronzer and highlighter? Are they really necessary? I've never had the desire to look tanner or more glowy than is natural for me. (Plus I suspect I'd screw it up somehow.)Your blog is awesome, too! ❤ And it's teaching me a lot about the wonderful world of RPGs. I had roleplaying friends in college, but my only direct experience involved a freezing empty warehouse in Belfast. Long story.


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