Making the dead sublime: a new vocation


Once the idea of ​​doing this job entered her head, Dinh Thi Phuong Loan was beset with doubts, but she never hesitated to tell others what she did for a living.

Holding a cosmetic box, she walks into a room about 10 square meters wide without a window. She tilts her head, paying homage to the dead woman in front of her. Then, she bows to the relatives of the deceased before putting on a pair of gloves and getting down to work.

Carefully using moisturizer, primer, and foundation to use eyeliner and lipstick, she applies makeup as she would a living person. To style the hair, she asks family members to gently lift their heads to brush and use hairspray before filing their nails and applying nail polish, putting on earrings, and applying hairspray. ” remove excess makeup powder from clothing.

Dinh Thi Loan applies nail polish to a deceased woman. Photo by VnExpress / Thuy Quynh.

During the makeup process which lasts 1 to 2 hours, Loan is meticulous, not only to do his job well, but also to adhere to all taboos, not to pass any object over the corpse, not to move his head over the body. side and do not cut the hair or shave all the hair.

After finishing, she bows three times to the soul of the deceased person, packs her bags and leaves the room.

The 32-year-old from northern Phu Tho province regularly works as a mortuary makeup artist for the Hong Vien Lake Cemetery Park in the mountainous Hoa Binh province.

Less than a year ago, Loan switched to make-up for the deceased after four years working as a “normal” professional makeup artist. She said her current job was not a regular occupation in Vietnam, with the usual practice being to let the funeral home take care of things.

Loan’s career saw a few twists and turns before it got to where it is now. After obtaining a diploma in physical education pedagogy, she worked in several trades before becoming a professional makeup artist more than four years ago.

Then, as she attended the funeral of a close friend’s sister, she heard her friend complain, “It was so hard to find someone to catch up with my sister. The funeral home only applies a little lipstick. I’m not happy with it. All I wanted was to help my sister look good that day. “

Her friend’s words echoed in Loan’s mind for an entire month and sowed the seeds of an idea in her head. “Can I work as a makeup artist for corpses?” Why can’t I do this to make them look better? Will someone hire me? Will I be rejected by everyone if they know I’m doing this job? These questions buzzed incessantly in his thoughts.

A portrait of Dinh Thi Phuong Loan.  Photo by VnExpress / Thuy Quynh.

Loan from Dinh Thi Phuong to Hong Vien Lake Cemetery Park, Hoa Binh province. Photo by VnExpress / Thuy Quynh.

Finally, she decided to go ahead and put her idea into action. On the strength of her relationships, she has forged a partnership with the Hong Vien Lake Cemetery Park.

“At first, I was afraid people would think I’m crazy, and I didn’t expect to be allowed to take on this job. But now people can contact me directly or through Lac Hong Vien for my services. “

She knew before she started her new job that while she was already proficient in makeup, doing it for a deceased person was going to be different in many ways. So she started researching and learning about facial skin texture, contour and how to choose the right colors. She signed up for online video tutorials by strangers. She wrote down and learned the dos and don’ts of interacting with deceased people.

Loan says that a deceased person’s facial skin is usually very dry, wrinkled, and purplish because it is stored in the cold room, so choosing the right colors and shades is important to ensure the end result looks beautiful and natural. In particular, makeup should be done while maintaining the corpse posture and keeping the head still, which also makes this task a bit difficult.

Loan is quick to say that she was brave and not afraid of the dead once she decided to join the profession. She is also courageous not to follow too many superstitions. She thinks she shouldn’t be afraid when she does her job with a good heart.

For about a year in this profession, she has done make-up for hundreds of people, most of them dying of old age and illnesses.

She has not dared to accept the death cases caused by traffic accidents and deformed faces because she feels she is not competent enough.

Loan (R) and an apprentice put on gloves before applying make-up to the deceased.

Loan (R) and an apprentice put on gloves before starting to put on make-up on a deceased person. Photo by VnExpress / Thuy Quynh.

“I am not afraid, but I still feel tormented and agonized because a lot of people die very young.”

Among the hundreds of bodies for which she had made up herself, that of a 15-year-old girl who died from an illness still remains in her mind.

“I knew I was going to do a little girl’s makeup, but when I walked into the bedroom I found her lying on the bed like she was sleeping. It hurt so much … like I had lost a loved one. “

Looking at the elegant features of the little girl, she tried hard to concentrate on her work and not to get emotional, not to let her tears fall.

The girl’s face haunted her even after she got home. “I even dreamed of her. She smiled and looked up at me.”

The really scary part

Loan laughs as she talks about the hardships and fears she faced when choosing her current calling. “I was not afraid of the dead, only people who spoke behind my back, slandered me and ostracized me.

“But, even then, I laughed at such comments because I knew I was doing the right thing.”

The Loan team has three other young women, aged 22 to 30, who are apprentices. Wary of how people would judge them, the three don’t want to appear in public.

One of them, a 24-year-old girl from Phu Tho, has been studying the makeup of the deceased from Loan for almost a month. After graduating from college, she worked as a salesperson for several companies but felt that was not right for her and started looking for a new job.

Although she decided to pursue this career, she did not share it with her parents or tell other people because she is afraid of the opinions to which she would be subjected.

“Making up corpses is a new profession. Not many people know it and most people are afraid of these jobs. So I am reluctant to share this information,” said the apprentice.

She also admits that her choice was influenced by the low level of competition and sufficient remuneration.

The cost of this service varies from 1 to 10 million VND (43.15 to 431.47 $). People pay directly or through the cemetery, depending on who they go to for the service.

Despite the challenges, Loan and his apprentices are confident they will pursue this career in the future. They are encouraged by the continued positive feedback they receive from loved ones of the deceased.

Loan says, “I don’t hesitate to tell anyone what I do. Everyone has their own opinion, but no matter what people say I’m proud of what I do.

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