One thing I love to do to relax is sneak away to a candlelit bubble bath with a good book. I adore soaking in all those glorious scented bubbles while indulging myself in a sexy romance or high-spirited romcom. I even enjoy action/adventure. And if I can’t have a bath, I enjoy curling onto a cushy sofa with a thick throw and warm cup of hot chocolate—unless, of course, it’s summer in which the throw must be ditched and the hot chocolate replaced with a cool Mimosa. Or if I’m feeling exceptionally frisky, I may substitute the mimosa for a cosmopolitan or a good ol’ Southern Hurricane. However, a winddown I recently rediscovered is makeup. Yep, cosmetics. To explain this, I have to recap briefly my high school days.
Like many little girls, I dabbled with glitter makeup and my mother’s lipstick when I was in grammar school. I didn’t try to apply it in any meaningful way until junior high—which actually was the beginning of high school. See, the school I attended consisted of an elementary school from kindergarten to sixth grade and high school from seventh grade to twelfth grade. No distinctions were made for middle school or junior high school. Although to an untrained visitor, the elementary school may have appeared as five buildings, it was actually one structure that expanded one city block and connected in a series of internal and external stairways and underground passages. That may sound bizarre or like an uncanny version of Hogwarts School of Magic, but the explanation is actually unremarkable. The school was built in the 1800s and run by an order of nuns. A section of the school (the convent) housed the nuns. To move around in inclement weather, the nuns used the tunnels to travel from the convent to the main areas of the school. Since the nuns spent much time in meditation and prayer, the tunnels, as well as the inner stairs, allowed for privacy from the public. More importantly, at its inception, the elementary school wasn’t “elementary”. It was an all-girls school for students in kindergarten to twelfth grade.
As you’ve probably guessed, this meant that the high school was the original all-boys school. It was several miles away and not as large, as it did not have a monastery. It was run by priests. When the schools were made coed, they were split into what is now designated the elementary and high schools—well, sort of. The original high school burned and was rebuilt on a different parcel of land, and the original elementary school was sold to the city as a cultural art building when the order nuns moved from the convent. Instead of being a three-story half-block, the new high school was one-story and a quarter of the size of the original. But I digress. (You know how us southerners are.)
My point is, as a tweenie, I was exposed to and traveled in a circle with the high schoolers. We shared the same hallways, bathrooms, classrooms, locker rooms, and teachers. Naturally, I wanted to emulate some of the more popular upperclassmen, who in my preteen mind were gorgeous. I remember when the homecoming queen, who lived up the street from me, visited a neighborhood playground. She never did this, and I don’t know why she did that day. It was a usual humid southern day, and I was seated on the merry-go-round and covered in dust. (Actually, I think the technical term for the equipment was roundabout, but we called it a merry-go-round.) There was a “baseball” game happening at the time. (They called it baseball but they were using both metal and wooden bats with a softball but pitching it like a baseball—playground shenanigans and kids who didn’t know any better.) I was too little (and lousy) to play, and the other kids shooed me away from the game. Honestly, I didn’t blame them, and my feelings weren’t hurt. I’d rather swing or teeter on a todder than embarrass myself striking out or being belittled for not being able to field a ground ball. I’d never had anyone to teach me to play, let alone play using their janky rules. In any case, I was covered in dirt and dust because it had not rained in weeks, and all the grass around the merry-go-round was worn from foot traffic. Anytime I stopped or started the merry-go-round bolls of dust would formulate and engulf me like a sandstorm. I will never forget that on that day I was wearing white sneakers, white shorts, and a white T-shirt (like an idiot). My nails were ragged and my pigtails windblown out of their scrunchies. Then here comes this goddess in a yellow sundress, French manicured nails, Egyptian lace-up sandals, flawless skin with even more flawless makeup, and perfectly sculpted hair. If there ever was a moment that cussing was appropriate, that was it.
She glided across the field and measured the rusting metal picnic table with contention. She found a towel or something to spread across the bench before sitting with her legs crossed, back straight, and her foot effortlessly arched to point towards the ground. Every move she made was fluid and precise. Truthfully, that was the first time I ever considered my appearance, and I wanted to melt into that dirt. There was no way that I could clean myself up to look marginally presentable. Insert the Peanuts/Charlie Brown character Pig-Pen here, and that’s pretty accurate to the look I was achieving. And when my brother called me over, she eyed me with nothing but disdain. It hurt. I mean, it really hurt. I went home, and no one had to tell me to take a bath that night. But even after getting out of the tub, I didn’t feel pretty.
Some months later, I began experimenting … with cosmetics. (Yeah, I know some people’s mind went far left there for a second.) The problem was, my father, who I loved and adored dearly, was old-fashioned and didn’t think I should ever wear makeup. I know he was not intentionally being hateful, but his words about my application and color choices were harsh. This may have been offset if my mother had been willing to give me makeup advice, but she didn’t consider it to be important. Therefore, I plundered into the beauty world alone, making many drastic mistakes. But one does learn from mistakes, and I learned from mine. And I also learned by watching the upper-class girls in the restroom between classes, and especially after lunch. Now, I never became a connoisseur MUA, but I did alright over time. Problem was, by the time I really knew what I was doing, I graduated.
I continued with makeup during my college years, but college was drastically different from my high school. There were more people in my college algebra class than there had been in my entire high school including the teachers, janitors, and kitchen staff. Preppy/trendy clothes were thrown aside for comfort wear. Curve-hugging designer jeans were tossed for baggy shorts suitable for trekking across campus with the southern sun blaring down. Makeup was a waste of time, seeing how it was sweated off before I even arrived to my first class. By the end of my first semester, my everyday ritual of a full-face was reduced to lip balm—colored balm, if I was feeling frisky.
Skip forward to my first job. After graduating from college, I was hired in a “professional” position. No shade, but the dress code was ridiculous. No, it was stupid. I’m just going to put it out there. See, there were no uniforms, but we were instructed to dress professionally, which essentially meant no jeans. Don’t ask me what they had against denim because I’ve seen some jeans look better and cost more than suits. It also meant no T-shirts. Now, I know what many people reading this are thinking that’s standard policy and many workplaces. And I would agree. But… Yeah, there’s always a catch. See, women couldn’t wear heels, opened-toe or open heel, slick-bottomed, or sneakers and had to be appropriate for running. The dress code also included no dangly jewelry not form-fitting clothes, no-body hugging clothes, no leggings or jeggings, no crop tops, halters, spaghetti straps, sleeveless, sheer (even with a shirt beneath it), no logos, no short skirts, no shorts, no sweats, no jogging suits, no scrubs, and nothing expensive. The duties of this “professional” job included tasks that on any given day could cause one’s clothes to be stained, torn/ripped, soiled, or otherwise ruined with no reimbursement from the employer if damage occurred. Now, go shopping for that. Who wants to invest in a nice work wardrobe with odds of it being destroyed within weeks? Furthermore, fingernails had to be kept clipped very short, and hair had to be styled in a manner to minimize loss if pulled. Add to that low pay, being underappreciated, frequently belittled, and many times being in hostile/aggressive situations. I remember frequently joking (with little humor), if my home life was like my work environment, it would be a case of domestic violence/abuse. With these limitations and dress restrictions, I did not feel motivated to do my makeup daily, weekly, or even monthly. Only on special occasions would I doll up, which meant going years without makeup.
Looking back, I realize for a long while I had reverted to that dusty kid on the playground sensitivity. I didn’t feel pretty. I know. I know. Inner beauty, blah, blah, blah. I do appreciate intrinsic worth. But makeup made me feel appealing. Maybe it had a lot to do with media portrayals or social images of beauty. However, I think the real appeal was because it was fun for me to do. I enjoyed creating new looks and playing with colors. The makeup wasn’t about how others perceived me but how I perceived myself. It reflected my moods and made nonverbal statements.
Presently, I’m rediscovering the world of beauty, which has changed so much. I’m back to making mistakes. I find myself looking at products and thinking, “what the fudge is this?” Makeup brushes now have numbers. Did they always have numbers? I don’t recall it. There are all sorts of primers. The only primers I was familiar with as a teen was exterior paints and stains for homes. And there’s bronzers, highlighters, finishing sprays, setting sprays, in the middle sprays… you get the point. A positive is that YouTube has lots of resources—only be careful. They can be overwhelming, not to mention the editing and lighting making looks and products to appear to be something they are not. Buying products can also break the bank if one isn’t careful. I used to think department store makeup was the good stuff, only to learn there are cosmetics more high-end than those.
In the last four months, I have purchased more makeup than I have for the last ten years. I created a bucket list of brands I wanted to try, based on YouTube influencers’ recommendations. I found myself relying on influencers for several reasons. The first and most prominent reason is that most of the shades and products that I’d used in the past had been discontinued or rebranded in a way that I could not locate. My foundation shades in Cover Girl, Almay, Mary Kay, and Clinique, all poof! Also, the beauty industry has been inundated with new brands and products, and I was clueless about their function or how to use them. Another heavy hitter was that many of the formulas changed, and the products I purchased on my own did not perform well in application or pigmentation. I’m not kidding when I say boasted a “where is it now look.” My eye palettes looked like chalky messes with more product on my clothes and cheeks than on my lids. Yet, it is unfair of me to blame everything on the brands. With changes in my skin, some products no longer performed the same on me. Additionally, I was used to purchasing most of my makeup from drugstores back in the days when choices were limited. And while that may have seemed a negative on the surface, it made finding a suitable color or shade easier. The drugstores I frequent do not have testers, and packaging sometimes obscures the true color. Or sometimes, the product dried down differently from the bottle or tube.
So, what is the point of all this rambling? It’s to stress to find what makes you happy. It’s to emphasis never let anyone steal your joy or twist what you find enjoyable into something not worth doing or feeling trivial. It means revisiting and rediscovering thing in your past that brought you comfort and contentment. It means just because something has changed does not mean it does not deserve a second chance. It may seem silly, but many times before seating myself in front of my computer to hammer out that next chapter, I treat myself to a facial or apply a favorite lipstick. (Not sponsored but hello Miss Becca. You’ve completely transformed my life and lips.)
Before ending, I must admit, my rediscovery of makeup hasn’t been all peaches and creams. For example, many influencers recommended using undereye cream. I ended up with a chemical burn. Another recommendation was to use a blurring facial primer. All that did for me was create craterous pores. Many influencers discussed “baking”, a technique that when I used made me look forty years older. And don’t always trust the makeup consultants in the stores. They are there to sell products, and not all will be truthful at the risk of losing a sale. I purchased one product that is absolutely useless to me because the consultant stated it was a best-selling product that would moisturize my skin and even out my tone. What it actually did was make me look like I fried chicken on my face. But in fairness, I’ve met some awesome beauty consultants. The ones at my local Ulta store are fabulous and will give you the real lowdown. If your face look like two busted trains collided and then a dump truck came along, they will not hesitate to tell you.
The last time I recalled seeing homecoming queen was shortly before her graduation. I do not know what happened to her if she went to college, got a job, or got married and had twelve babies. I didn’t talk to her that day or any day after. I’m positive that she has no idea the impact her presence that day had on my life, how it transformed me from not caring about my appearance to desiring to be a someone with self-pride. At first, I did attempt to emulate her look, which I couldn’t. In time, I came to realize what I had admired so much that day wasn’t her physical beauty but the confidence that shone through it all. Makeup can be quite empowering if one allows it. I know for me it can cause me to feel more feminine or ballsy or confident.
Makeup isn’t something needed or required. Some may view it as an antiquated, sexist throwback. It isn’t for everyone, but it works for me. Plus, at the end of the day, it all wipes off. Find what makes you beautiful and go for it.
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