Last weekend I spent $35 on what is basically a giant crayon formulated to make my face glow like a just-kissed schoolgirl, or a Swiss milkmaid schlepping pails of cream through the Alps.
This overpriced (but totally worth it -- Je t'adore, Francois Nars!) purchase, plus the search for an age-appropriate 15th birthday gift for my glossed-up sister, started me thinking about my relationship with makeup.
It starts with my mother. My mother without lacquered nails and a full face of makeup is like the Yeti -- evasive, almost fabled, occasionally glimpsed but never captured on film. Perhaps her vanity stems from her background in opera: Professionally trained, Mom was still performing regularly in local stage productions and fancy restaurants when my brother and I were children in the early 1980s. She was beautiful: petite; tanned to the color of honey; bright, clear eyes; teeth like peppermint Chiclets. By then she'd amassed enough costume jewelry, evening gowns, cosmetics and wigs to outfit an entire college theater department, and I was free to rummage through them whenever I pleased. My favorite was a blonde hairpiece which I would fasten to the back of my head and dream that my short, frizzy mop had grown into a curtain of silky ringlets. Then I'd fish a couple of rhinestone bracelets from the sparkly heap, hold them up against my teeth and pretend they were braces. I couldn't wait to be a teenager, with long hair and real braces. Nothing fancy -- I wasn't aiming too high -- I just wanted to be...pretty.
Sometimes I'd lure my little brother into the dress-up game when our mother wasn't home. He was indifferent about the turquoise taffeta gown, but he seemed to enjoy the Quiet Coral lipstick I would smear in a sloppy ring around his mouth. (It must have been the taste of wax that excited him; He'd only recently given up eating crayons.) One time Mom walked in on us and she scolded me, laughing, "If he turns out gay I'm coming after you." He's not gay, but he does go through a lot of ChapStick.
Around the 6th grade my mother became obsessed with keeping up my appearance. While other girls wept each morning over the mascaras and lip glosses they were not allowed to wear, she would chase me toward the school bus stop with a fluffy brush in her hand shouting, "You're so pale! Just let me put a little color on your cheeks!!!" I was mortified, both by the public spectacle and the dirty bronze stain across my face. I didn't look healthy, I looked like a neglected child.
Twenty years later my mother is still quite attractive. Considering all the hours she's baked in the sun, basted in Bain de Soleil from head to toe, she's very well preserved. But it must be said that the woman wears too much makeup -- spidery lashes, bright streaks of eye shadow, cheeks dusted with that same muddy bronzer. It's partly that she thinks the makeup makes her look younger, and partly that she's far-sighted and doesn't keep her glasses near the bathroom mirror. Once in a while I urge her to tone down the war paint, but usually I leave it alone. She's 56, she's not going to change now.
And on the other cheek there's me: I've always felt the purpose of makeup is to fine-tune what nature gave you, not to pave over it with the colors of the rainforest. I use a little makeup to smooth out my complexion, brighten my cheeks, darken my lashes. Once in a while I'll dress up my eyes with a dab of pink shadow. But to me "Doll Face" is a figure of speech, not something to strive for.
To be clear: I own a bucket of makeup. Been collecting it for years. I'm an artist; Pots of cream shadow and lipgloss are as alluring to me now as fingerpaints were in preschool, and I still prefer products I can apply with my hands over those that need a brush. Once in a while I'll get suckered into something hot-for-the-season, but invariably I look awkward wearing it -- either like a 5-year-old who got into Mommy's makeup drawer or an 85-year-old abusing the rouge. Call me a Plain Jane; I just think my mouth is pink enough already. To wear anything besides Vaseline feels like cheating.
So if anybody wants to play dress-up, come on over. I've got lots of fun stuff to share and plenty of practice painting faces -- both girls and boys. Just don't use up my Vaseline. And keep your bronzer to yourself.