Like a lot of girls who came of age, makeup-wise, at the turn of the 21st century, I believed that the best avenue for expressing my aesthetic self was through the artful application of eye shadow. That message was transmitted by virtually every beauty magazine and department-store display, and it never occurred to me to question it—even though my eyes (very round and very big) are just the sort that look profoundly terrible with eye shadow.
For years and years, I thought the problem lay with me: I hadn’t found the right shade yet, or bought the right brush, or deployed the right blending technique. And then in 2005, thanks to an impossibly glamorous coworker, I discovered liquid eyeliner and the incredibly flattering simplicity of the cat-eye. I threw away all my eye shadows, and everything changed.
The thing with the liquid cat-eye is that it's a look. It's a complete sentence. It plays well with the adornment of a bright cheek or a saturated lip, but it doesn’t require them. It's statement makeup for someone who wouldn't be caught dead in statement makeup, conveying a defined message of artistry (that precisely curving swoop!) and intentionality (that dark, unsubtle line!) while simultaneously avoiding fussiness. The cat-eye is graphic, it's minimalist, it offers no smudge or smoke to hide behind. It brooks no bullshit: Liquid liner on the eye is ink on paper, and it has no room for error.
It is also, however, really, really hard to apply. Or, at least, it was—some mornings, I'd spend a half-hour hunched against the bathroom mirror, stabilizing my elbow on a pile of books stacked on the back of the toilet, drawing and removing and redrawing and re-removing until I'd produced two sufficiently symmetrical wings. It was a blessing that the eyeliner obviated the need for other makeup, because I sure as hell didn't have any time to put any more on.
Which brings me to the point (as it were): stila stay all day® waterproof liquid eyeliner. For the wearer of cat-eyes, this is the secret of secrets, the holy of holies. In this tiny, magical tube a hundred perfect lines of perfect thickness lie in wait, a flick of the wrist drawing out a precisely pointed tail. Part of the allure of the cat-eye lies in its sprezzatura—that sexy quality of apparent effortlessness, that nevertheless requires an extraordinary amount of work behind the scenes. But with this liner pen (not any others—believe me, I've tried them) there really is no effort at all.
Helen Rosner is the executive digital editor of the food and travel magazine Saveur. Follow her on Twitter at @hels, and watch out for her (semi-regular) eyeliner humblebrag selfies on Instagram at @helenr.