This post is written as part of a project called No Makeup Week, originated by Rachel Rabbit White. She’s encouraging bloggers to try going a week without makeup, and to write about their relationship with makeup. And to post photos of themselves without makeup. I’m all over it. It’s a great idea, and I hope you’ll check out her stuff.
I’m bad at makeup. Always have been. I’m scared of it. It’s powerful. Like a lightsaber. And when you haven’t trained as a Jedi Knight, then you really shouldn’t pick one of those things up. Another blade might pop out the back, like with Darth Maul’s. Maybe that’s part of the problem—too much Star Wars, not enough….Whatever little girls are supposed to like. I didn’t know what that was. I was homeschooled. I thought other little girls were cool for being good at math. I thought I was cool for thinking to get hockey skates instead of figure skates, so I could go as fast as the boys. And I never once defined myself as a tomboy, either. I was extremely feminine. But being feminine wasn’t based on what I did, it was based on how I felt. I felt like a pretty girl.
The first time I encountered makeup was when I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Florida when I was ten. My aunt had a lot of makeup, and every day she put a surprising amount of it on her face. I could understand why she was good at it, because she also painted pitchers and tabletops, with neat, perfect detail. It was like surgery- so many delicate tools. It was like those painters who have a brush of every size, and a palette that they clean after every painting is completed. Even as an art, it felt unfamiliar. I had about three brushes for when I painted, and the paint got everywhere.
“Would you like me to do your makeup?” She asked me.
Well, yes, of course! I was fascinated. The shade she picked for my lips was called “coral.” It was a beautiful color. Everything took a long time, but when she was done, I looked at my new face in the bulging makeup mirror, and thought I looked a little like a mermaid. We went out. I wore some stretchy black pants and a white vest. We went out to dinner, and when I jumped up from the table and ran off to the bathroom, I felt eyes on me. I looked around and a man was staring at me. He had been staring somewhere lower on my body, but now he looked at my face. He was old. He was sitting with his wife. And he wouldn’t stop staring at me.
I kept the coral lipstick. I couldn’t believe my aunt was willing to part with something so precious. But at home, I wasn’t very interested in applying it. I liked to take it out of the drawer once in a while and look at it. Roll it out of its secret tube and back. I knew there was some shared mysterious code of womanhood here. But learning it felt far away.
A few years later, my best friend Emily and I watched Valerie, my father’s new employee, walk out of the building from a window high up.
“She’s the most beautiful girl in the world,” I said.
“Yeah, she is,” Emily agreed.
For a few weeks, we weren’t sure what it was about her. And then we figured it out. Makeup. Valerie wore so much makeup. Layers and layers. And on her eyelashes! Even her eyebrows looked like they somehow had makeup on them. She had long nails, too. And her hair was permed. She looked like a doll. She was perfect. She was much, much older, and very mature—twenty-years-old—and she was engaged to be married! Her world was a fantastic, thrilling world of feminine allure and mastery. She had succeeded at being a woman in all of the ways we didn’t understand. But we knew that they were important.
I drew myself as I imagined I’d look at twenty. I had makeup on. My hair was permed. I was a doll. I had figured it all out.
But in real life, I never did. I never learned. I kept skating with hockey skates, and reading fantasy novels, and being generally nerdy and dorky. I went to college and was nerdy there, and cut all my hair off and wore the wrong clothes. I didn’t own any makeup, except for the coral lipstick from my aunt. I brought it with me. Just in case.
The first night of college, all of the girls were crowded around a mirror in the hall, putting on makeup, preparing to go to a frat party in their tiny, glittery outfits. I, the defective girl, felt not the slightest inclination to join them. I wouldn’t have known where to begin.
“Hey, girls. Puttin’ on some makeup? Yeah, me too. I do that all the time. You know how it is…being a girl. We wear a lot of the stuff. It’s pretty great. All the boys love it.”
So makeup was a club, almost a cult. And it was too late for me. As a child, I thought I’d pick up the skill naturally, as I grew, like learning how to drive at the appropriate time. But it passed me by. I never put in the practice hours. Other girls became virtuosic. Even Emily left me behind. She had a drawerful of makeup. Every time I opened it, I felt overwhelmed.
“What do you DO with all of this?”
She’d laugh at me.
I took out the coral lipstick one day. I stood in front of the mirror, and I slid it over my lip, and then the other one. Not bad. It felt kind of dry. It was so old, by then. I thought I looked alright, but it really was too late by then. I’d gotten so used to my face without makeup that I didn’t know how to recognize myself otherwise.
By the end of college, I hated my inability to wear makeup. Why was I so bad at being a woman? Why was I so bad at making myself pretty? Why couldn’t I use the basic tools of my kind? I was like a caveman who couldn’t use a club. A wilderness explorer who doesn’t understand the compass. A Jedi who never learned how to wield a lightsaber. It was pathetic.
And here I am. I’m twenty-four. I’m about to get married. And I still can’t. Not even close. Except for lip gloss, which I’m totally fine at. But my Jedi mind control is pretty good, as a result. I can do the force shove. And going a week without wearing makeup is nothing for me. Going a week with makeup, well…it might be a horrifying sight.
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Un-Roast: Today I love my torso. It’s long in the way that makes one-piece bathing suits too difficult. Which is why I just have to wear a bikini.