I was 30 years old when my mother joined Mary Kay. She drank the pink Kool-Aid with gusto. She talked endlessly about it. For months, she tried to convince me to buy makeup. Every time she saw me, she examined my face up close and said sadly, “I wish you’d let me do a demo on you.” She told me Mary Kay was more about skin care than makeup, that her skin had never felt or looked so healthy. I bit my tongue and stopped myself from reminding her that it was probably because she’d never regularly washed or moisturized her face before. That anything would have seemed miraculous.
She finally convinced me to go to one of her meetings; she was up for some kind of recognition based on sales and wanted me to see. Little did I know, it was an ambush; all of the other “new” people and I were subjected to the full demo—skin care and makeup, complete with little brushes and towelettes and tiny mirrors. I couldn’t escape without causing a scene. My little sister had to help me with the eyeliner.
By the end, a handful of women had signed up to be Mary Kay consultants, visions of jewelry bonuses and pink cars flashing through their minds. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I looked like a hooker on her first day. Like I was hiding from the world beneath a beige and blue and black blanket. My mom and sister gave me cloyingly positive feedback in overly enthusiastic, syrupy voices, the way you talk to a toddler when it’s on the verge of a tantrum.
They’d finally shown me how beautiful I could be.
I bought foundation and lipstick that was about half a shade pinker than my natural lip color, with the hopes of getting my mom off my fucking back.
She asked me—very seriously, as if we were discussing nuclear weapons codes—to use the makeup every day for a week. To really give it a try and see what I thought. If I didn’t like it after that, she’d leave me alone. I agreed.
I did as she said; I didn’t want to look her in the eye and lie when she inevitably asked me if I really did it for a week. I put on foundation primer (I thought only walls needed a coat of primer), then foundation, then the lipstick, and even some mascara—the same tube I’d had for three years.
And dammit, I liked how I looked. I looked fresh and awake and new and clean. Shiny.
But then something happened. At about the fourth day in, I started not liking how I looked when I took the makeup off. I noticed how many freckles and spots I had. I noticed wrinkles I’d never noticed before. My eyes seemed dull. I looked old.
Standing there at the mirror, I knew where this train was headed. What started off as foundation and lipstick and mascara would turn into foundation and lipstick and mascara and eyeliner and blush and I can’t leave the house I don’t have my makeup on and I look like shit.
So I stopped wearing makeup. Right then and there. I lasted five days. I lied to my mom and told her I did it for the full week.
I know people who wear makeup religiously. People who are always perfectly done up and look fantastic. For them, makeup is fun, or a hobby, or quite simply, they just feel better with it on. More power to them. You do you. You’re fabulous and if I’m completely honest I’m a little jealous that you know how to make your face look like a work of art.
As for me, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn makeup in the last six months. Usually it’s just mascara and lip gloss; every now and then I put on some powder from the same Clinique compact I brought with me to the church when I got married seven years ago. I’ll wear makeup on date nights, or special occasions, or sometimes on a Tuesday when I just need a little pick-me-up.
But lately, makeup is slowly creeping into my daily routine. More often, I’m throwing on a quick coat of mascara before I run errands. My sparkly pink lip gloss seems to have found a permanent home in my purse.
Today, I wore lipstick. To the library.
And then it dawned on me: It’s the filters. Instagram. Beauty Plus. I can’t take a “good” picture without them anymore. Somehow, I’ve crossed the line from “Hey, that filter makes me look awesome” to “This is how I should look all the time.”
But I find myself reluctant to throw the filters and beauty apps into the back of the proverbial makeup drawer, next to the purple eye shadow I bought the same year that Friends went off the air. I don’t want to give them up. I look so pretty with them. And other people think I look pretty. And I want other people to think I look pretty. And I look like crap without them.
This is why I stopped wearing makeup in the first place.
I don’t want to post un-retouched pictures of myself. If I do, everyone will see the circles under my eyes and the freckles that don’t go away at the end of the summer anymore and the big dark spot that cropped up on my cheek last year. But I don’t want to be a slave to digital makeup, either.
My husband and I took a selfie (or as my friend calls multiple person selfies, “us-ie”) the other day, using Beauty Plus. He doesn’t look like my husband in that picture. He’s too smooth, too shiny. It’s not him. It’s just not him.
The scary part is, it’s not really me in that picture, either. But I didn’t notice right away because it’s how I see myself now. Which makes the real me, the mirror me, the post-shower, squeaky clean me feel like she’s not pretty enough.
Oh dear. I need a filter for my brain right about now.