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Home » Culture and Criticism

It's Not Maybelline

Submitted by on August 26, 2002 – 2:06 PMNo Comment

Before I got sidetracked last week, I'd started saying…what had I started saying? Oh, yeah, that I lack a chromosome critical to the proper application of make-up. I do, however, possess the chromosome that attracts little girls to the application of make-up like moths to the flame — or, to use a more accurate metaphor, like Eddie the Eagle to a ski slope, since I employed the same stubborn enthusiasm and met with roughly the same "success."

My mother didn't let me wear make-up except for recitals and on Halloween, and I couldn't even explain why I wanted to wear make-up. It's not like I wanted a boyfriend; I didn't even like washing my hair at that age. But when my mom or one of my grandmothers put on lipstick, everything around them stopped dead like a heart during a sneeze while they concentrated. And make-up had a scent, a sweet thick dusty bouquet. It smelled serious and official. I wanted in on it. I lobbied tirelessly for a Tinkerbell set. It completed the Christmas-and-birthday-list holy trinity, but like the Atari and the pony, I never got it, and had to settle for envying my friend Zee for getting one at Hanukkah. The Tinkerbell stuff didn't look quite like "real" make-up — a lot of garish Jon-Benet-ish pinks, and the "perfume" smelled like bourbon — but I still lusted after it, and I didn't see why I couldn't start wearing make-up. My parents let me baby-sit and take books out of the young-adult section, for heaven's sake. Bring on the eyeliner.

I'd spent dozens of Saturday nights curled up in my pajamas at the end of my parents' bed, watching her get ready so intently that I'd burnt the image into my neurons. I figured, nothing to it — a little powder, a little shadow, a little lipstick, and presto, I'd look twenty-five and bag me an Osmond brother. Ma wouldn't go for that, but I thought I could get around her by using "it's for dress-up" as an excuse. "Just one lipstick? To play with! I won't even go out of the house with it on!" Why I thought that would allay her suspicions instead of inflaming them, I have no idea, but my mother let me plead and whine for a few minutes, then surprised me by shrugging, "Okay." Wow, I thought, mentally rubbing my hands together. I can't believe she fell for it. Naturally, she hadn't fallen for squat. After a brief scrabble in the back of a drawer, she handed me my very own tube of lipstick. I peeked at the bottom; the label read "Rose Quartz." Now, I didn't know much gemology at nine years old, but Rose Quartz boded pale pink — very very pale. I opened the tube and took a split second to smell that faint, cakey, unfathomable scent of lipstick, then held my breath and wound the tube up, hoping that in the cosmetics marketing departments of the world the rose quartz glimmered darkly. No joy. Pinks do not get any paler than Rose Quartz. You know the part of a sunrise under the stars and the twilight blue, where the pink is verging into the yellow of the impending sun and the pink is so weak that it's almost white, but you call it "pink" anyway because your brain doesn't have a word for "not white but not a color either"? Rose Quartz. But I'd asked for one lipstick, that's just what I'd gotten, and it served me right for thinking I could dupe my mother into handing over a nice whorish red; she'd outfoxed me fair and square, so I thanked her and I tried it on like a good sport. Rose Quartz made me look like I had even less make-up on than I'd started out with, i.e. none. "Walked right into that, didn't I," I sighed. My mother whispered, "Checkmate, my young friend," muah-ha-ha-ha-ha'ed, and swept out of the room with a swirl of her long black cape. Okay, not really. She patted me on the head and went downstairs. I glared at my invisible lips in the mirror, tented my fingers, and murmured, "Well played, my arch-mom-esis, well played indeed. But this. Isn't. Over."

Fast-forward to seventh grade, when my mother had agreed to let me wear make-up — to school, even. I don't know how I pulled that off, but I suspect that it involved twanging the "but it's junior high" string until it, and my mother, snapped. In any case, my mother had the last laugh once again; I just didn't realize it until years later, as I leafed through photo albums, spotted myself in full regalia, and giggled, "Who's the clown-college gradu– OH MY GOD, you let me out of the HOUSE like that? WHY?" Because I mean to tell you, I didn't just "wear make-up." I wore all the make-up, and more importantly, it wore me, and most importantly of all, I looked fucking horrible. So, so ugly and wrong and bad.

See, even after all those Saturday nights I'd spent studying my mom, I'd missed a key piece of information, namely that my mother didn't, and doesn't, wear much make-up in the first place. She wears enough to acknowledge that it's a make-up-worthy event, and no more than that. Compare that to me at age thirteen. Liz Taylor could get ready and out of the bathroom faster than I could at that age, and let's leave aside for the moment the endless ritual of doing my hair in those days, saying only that it involved a center part, wings, a curling iron, and those barrettes with the ribbon braided into them. Let's concentrate instead on the building of the face.

The building of the face began every morning with the disguising of pimples, blemishes, blotches, and irregularities in the skin tone. I didn't have many pimples and blemishes as an adolescent, but I had a few, and like most girls, I employed a cover-up stick in order to fight them. I needn't have bothered, as the cover-up stick has never worked for any girl in the history of make-up. It's oily. It's grainy. It smells and feels like a strip of boiled cod dipped in clay. The only skin tone the cover-up stick has ever matched is that of a corpse weighted down with rocks in the pockets and pulled out of the Yukon after two weeks; furthermore, it clogs the pores, angering the current crop of zits even further while causing new ones to form. But it said "cover-up stick" right there on the package, and I wanted to believe, so I dotted my face with the cover-up stick.

Next, I troweled on the foundation. Again, I didn't have problem skin, but I did have a ruddy complexion that tended toward the blotchy, and evening that out required massive amounts of base make-up. I should probably mention here that, while I understood the concept of matching my base to my skin tone in theory, I didn't do so well at it in practice, primarily because I didn't quite grasp the fact that many brunettes have fair skin and that the ones who do should avoid the darker base tones. So, not only did I have more foundation make-up on than the lead in a regional production of Annie, Get Your Gun, but the color of my made-up face and the color of my non-made-up neck clashed so severely that my parents surreptitiously checked my jawline for Frankenteen bolts on a number of occasions.

But I didn't stop with the foundation, oh no. I layered powder on top of that, using a flour sifter to stamp out whatever ruddiness might remain and putting myself squarely in Marquise de Merteuil territory, and then — oh, then — I applied blush. Yes, I had just spent the better part of fifteen minutes burying my natural red coloration under a nautical furlong of goop and gunk. No, I did not have the first clue how to apply blush correctly. Yes, I looked like Bozo The Courtesan. No, it did not do much to bring out my cheekbones, actually.

After the heaping of putty upon my beleaguered epidermis, I set about obscuring my eyes from view, starting with a thick black line of eye pencil and following that up with swaths of eye shadow that reached from the edge of my eyelids to the bottom of my eyebrows (no, really) and radiated out in the shape of an angry and irradiated fan. I coordinated the color to my outfit each day, naturally, although the purple produced by the fine folks at Wet 'n' Wild doesn't match anything, and I include "cancer-free living" in that statement. Amounts of mascara comparable to Madonna's look on the back cover of "The Immaculate Collection" completed the eye area.

Then I patted cover-up stick on my lips, and put lipstick on over that.

To go to SCHOOL.

Ask me if any boys went to my school.

NOPE.

What the hell?

Never mind that, by lunch period, I looked oilier than Joe Pantoliano, that the eye shadow had collected in an Andean hillock in the crease of my eyelid, or that I would react to these problems — and to the meltage resulting from gym class — by putting on another layer of make-up on top of the first one, make-up I carried around in my purse for exactly that contingency, or that I carried a purse…God, I hate remembering seventh grade…never mind all of that. What exactly did I hope to accomplish with all of that?

I mean, at least my colored-mascara phase in high school had a point, kind of. In high school, you want to have A Thing, a skill or a tic or a habit of wearing your hair — a little something that's Your Thing — and I settled on the colored mascara as mine. I'd read about it in Sassy and I thought it would work nicely as A Thing. Like, at a distance it's barely noticeable, but up close, hey! That Girl Has Light Blue Albino-y Eyelashes! That's cool! She's cool! It's not cool, of course; it's Smurfy, and I only did it to Do Something Different. But it's better than obscuring my face and painting a cruder, scarier one on over it.

I don't remember when in college exactly I stopped putting on make-up except for events of note; freshman year, I believe I still threw on at least a coat of mascara and a sort-of-matched-to-my-outfit lipstick for Spanish 108 at 10 AM. But eventually, I just stopped caring. For one thing, it takes time — not much for a stripped-down routine like that, but enough that I'd rather have spent it sleeping and still would. For another, it didn't appreciably change the way I look, and that's the main reason I don't wear much make-up now. Like my mom, I'll put it on when it's appropriate — dates and parties and dinners out — but every day? No. No point. I look how I look. It gets me where I need to go, whether my shine is "controlled" or not. Make-up doesn't do much to change the way I look; my lashes have these weird lead-singer-of-Berlin blonde tips, and black mascara brings them out, but black mascara also smears, and I enjoy a good eye-rub in the afternoon.

The less make-up I wear, the less chance I have of screwing it up. Women's magazines always act like it's a given that we all know the basics of make-up application, but I read these "change your make-up horoscope" articles and it's like trying to decipher a foreign language. Like, I went over to Squishy the other day and read Pamie's entry about bras and the make-up counter, and I got all excited because I actually knew that you put the powder on first to set the lipstick. Of course, then there's something after that about dusting through the Kleenex that I don't understand, but I seriously sat in my chair all, "Oh my god, I knew something! About make-up! That another girl didn't know!" On the other hand, that's literally the only thing I use powder for. I only put it on my lips. I never use it on my face, because it clogs my pores. I could learn all these things, I suppose, but I think it's too late, and the ins and outs of lip liner would take up a brain cell I might need for something else later.

It isn't a feminist issue, not for me. Sure, I can see patriarchal elements in the marketing of cosmetics, but I wear mostly MAC, and if that's P.C. enough for RuPaul, it's P.C. enough for me. And anyway, I don't see any harm in wearing as much make-up as you want whenever you want, as long as it's not sending you to the poorhouse or turning you into one of those girls who really cannot leave the house without "her face on," even to go running, because that's not living in my opinion. Make-up looks great on a lot of people, but I wore enough of it in junior high to last me the rest of my days, so unless I have to go on TV or get married, it's a little Great Lash and a little Color-Stay and that's it. It's better that way, for everyone.

August 26, 2002

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