Where The Love Affair Began
So, I’m sure I’m not alone ladies, of once upon a time, being a little girl combing through her Mom’s trash for used lipsticks and mascara. I’d stick a pinky finger down into the bottom of the lipstick chamber to pull out the coral and red dregs to smear on my lips, the precursor to putting on Mom’s high heeled shoes and prancing around in front of the mirror to strike a pose. My Mom was a working Mom in the 60’s and not home a lot, so my sister and I, well, mostly me, spent time in her room, playing dress up, smelling her favorite perfume –L’aimant, trying to be like her. She was, perhaps, a traditionalist when it came to fragrance, as:
“L’Aimant (was) the first fragrance from Francois Coty, launched in 1927. L’Aimant means “magnet” in French. The composition is elegant, sophisticated and classic combination of flowers.” https://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Coty/L-Aimant-10934.html
It certainly was a magnet for us, as we entered into the world of womanly things.
I don’t know if it is my imagination or not, but I have a vague memory of putting on cake mascara in the girl’s room of my elementary school. I don’t remember other girls doing this and wonder what my teachers must have thought, looking at my unnaturally long, dark lashes.
I’m old enough to remember when mascara looked like this (and miss it a little, yep, cause you knew exactly how much you had left and when it would end, a certainty that the modern day tube just can’t provide):
Of course, once my older sister reached the teenage years, there were ample tubes of Revlon lying around the house to steal…..remember this commercial, when Revlon said, “Let it rain, you are wearing one mascara that won’t run”– https://youtu.be/3OG4jpuLJ-A. I could have watched her and my Mother put on makeup for hours. It fascinated me, their technique.
The Beauty of Natural Beauty
But, the struggle to look good in the teenage years wasn’t much of a struggle though. Keeping acne at bay was the primary challenge and one we frequently debated in our house. Don’t touch your face! Don’t pick your skin! Don’t use hot water. Not too cold either. Take a bar of soap and a wash cloth to school like I did (Mom said) and wash your face at lunch. Make an oatmeal mask, that’s what always worked for me.
If we could manage the sweet spot of skin care, so the acne stayed away, the plumpness of teenage skin, the lack of wrinkles and dark circles made a great canvas, for the slightest bits of color on cheeks, a drop of mascara and, of course, the pièce de résistance: Bubble Gum flavored Kissing Potion by Maybelline, which was a revelation in middle school!!! I believe you can still buy it here – https://www.tintecosmetics.com/products/bubble-gum-kissing-potion-®
I rocked the natural beauty look during college too. Lip balm on my chapped Boston winter-abused lips, maybe a little blush, again — a drop of mascara, though that wasn’t a daily to do. Embarrassingly, I think I also stopped shaving my legs and grew my hair uncommonly long, always either in a bun, or a long braid down my back. I majored in English and minored in being very stereotypical. I, of course, wore long Indian-made wrapped print skirts, lots of scarves around my neck and gauzy blouses that showed too much, carried volumes of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry in my knapsack, walked the musty halls of Boston University’s English Department (where they both once worked) and imagined my life to be more dramatic than it actually was.
The pursuit of natural beauty/style did not, however, cause me to succumb to the plague of Birkenstocks that took over Commonwealth Avenue and Harvard Square. Possibly, too many years walking around in Mom’s high heels lead me away from this obvious fall into the Hippysterverse. At last, upon graduation, I put my granola years behind me, left Boston, returning to my former identity of city girl, which felt a whole lot more natural to me.
My NYC Days Cemented my Love of Makeup
The truth is…..my NYC/NJ days were a glorification of un-natural beauty. It was a crazy time when my love affair with make-up, perfectly manicured nails and high hair bordered on an obsession, as my perfect canvas of 20-something skin led me to many “gifts with purchase offers” at Saks on Fifth. I threw away my English Major attire and donned a buttery, black leather jacket, leggings and black boots, so I could coltishly prance through the streets of Manhattan, with Madonna’s Vogue, Prince’s Purple Rain, Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit and Salt-n-Pepa’s Shoop playing on my Sony Walkman headphones. I pretended to be mature and tough, a true NYC girl, when I ordered a Bagel and a smear…. wit a cwaffee regulaaaah, like a local.
Music and makeup were a way to shut out the noise and chaos of New York life that honestly scared the crap out of me, giving me the veneer to disappear, an armor or sorts. My perfectly lined red lips, matte shadows and eyes conservatively-lined helped me to get through my days at stuffy temp jobs in midtown Manhattan, while purple lips and smokey eyes might be applied to go hang out in bars on the lower east side with friends, or see a concert at CBGB’s.
This was also a time when going to a girlfriend’s apartment for hours before going out, to sip white wine, listen to records, get a little tipsy and share makeup was a major ritual. It makes me pause to realize how much has changed in the time of COVID, compared to then….how girls shared lipsticks and mascara with abandon and sampled colors at the makeup counter, as if in a suicide pact. Of course, there seemed to be little risk in this to me at the time, as I grew up watching my Mom spit into her cake mascara, to liquify it enough to wand up and apply before going to work. Somehow, even though it’s a little gross, I miss those days. Will we ever lick our fingers after eating Cheetos on the subway ever again?
Like all good things, those times came to an end. I got my nursing degree and left the NY area to return home to Washington, DC where family dotted and orbited the city in the surrounding burbs. My purple lipstick went into retirement, dried up and got discarded at some point, as I became a fresh-faced new nursing grad, orienting to life on the unit. We were governed then by certain rules of decorum, which may have long since become abandoned, in favor of personal identity politics.
Nails couldn’t be too long, tattoos had to be hidden (not that I was cool enough to have any), earrings had to be posts, or no more than smallish dangles, nothing that could interfere with patient care, or harbor infectious microbes. I’d go to work, sit at the nurse’s station and touch up my make up, putting my compact down intermittently to take notes during report (aka the good old days). Acrylic nails were still very much in fashion then….That is until the gray-haired, makeup-less Infection Control Nurse ambled uncomfortably onto our unit to announce the results of a new infection control study of fake vs. natural nails, thus putting the kibosh on our fun. In time, the fun largely went out of makeup for me. It became utilitarian past-time, though my peers kidded me still about my passion, saying that I wouldn’t even talk on the phone without makeup on.
The Little Powder (little paint makes a lady what she ain’t) Days
You get to a certain point in your life, when utility goes out the window even. The dark corners of your obsession take its place in the realm of your private life. Maybe it’s an effort to overcome the boredom of the everyday workaday world. Maybe it’s to pay homage to your once cool and youthful self. Maybe it’s because your perfect canvas is quickly disappearing and you will not go down without a fight!
Despite more conservative looks for work, your closeted obsession is building. Plus, having the scratch to buy what you want and a put together a serious collection, neh hoard starts to have an appeal. No more “gift with purchase” runs to the department store before they sell out. Adulting is boring. You are going to buy what you want. You may have to punch a clock, but playing at your five mood-light setting makeup mirror for hours, trying on this face or that, is fun, is as relaxing (and a lot healthier) then the two glasses of wine, in a rent-controlled apartment on the lower east side, before a Friday night of barhopping.
For me, playing at my makeup table became a meditative practice to see what I could create. Some people take up yoga, I took up a passionate relationship with my makeup drawer, which grew and grew and grew. Soon I didn’t just need an extra makeup bag, or two, or three. I needed a separate 5 drawer cabinet. Oh, how I took pleasure in organizing this cabinet. One drawer – mascara and liners. Second drawer – foundations and primers. Third drawer – Blushes and contours. Fourth drawer – Eye Shadows (this is a very big drawer because it houses the palettes). And, finally, Fifth drawer – the crazy lipstick and liner collection. And let’s be frank, lipstick is everything. It holds promise. It changes your mood. It’s an upper you just can’t put down, especially when paired with the perfect lip liner. Is it any wonder AT ALL that in the time of COVID and masking up, we are all so UTTERLY DEPRESSED!!!!! What is life about anyway, if you can’t throw on an amazing lipstick?
But, I digress…..While you feel that monkey on your back gripping tighter and tighter….and you know you’ve spent too much on the goods, you also see the tide turning as well. The minimalist movement. Ugh! The tiny house movement. More ugh! You start to ask yourself: “Isn’t all this stuff a lot to maintain. Isn’t it all overwhelming? Am I just too old for this shit?” And, just when you think it might be wise to check into rehab, the bottom drops out. Somewhere in your 40’s, or 50’s, you begin to realize that the way you are putting on makeup makes you look more and more like a drag queen….only a drag queen that sucks at putting on makeup, which is rare as a they come.
Today, my collection is just that. A collection. It’s something I don’t play in too much, because I have to apply it with the lightest of touch, because too much is just too aging. Less is more. If I do go crazy and binge out, I laugh at my creation and wash it off before heading out the door, before the crocodile appears in the rear view mirror that is my face staring back at me. My makeup obsession has become a story of, let’s face, unrequited love. I love it and it doesn’t love me back, sort of like a lot of things when you age (read: Ice cream, candy, gluten, carbs in general.)
What does a 50-something really want anyway? I don’t think it is to be someone else, to have a veneer, a protection from whatever. We are too old for that. What I really want is to run into that other aging Mom at Target and have her say, “Ooh, I love your eyes! They look amazing!” This is code for, “You look really good for your age,” lol. That’s all I really want, to look good for my age. And someday….someday….come to accept the lines and wrinkles staring back at me. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.
So, this is what I’ve come to my fellow makeup-obsessed people. My collection is like a closet full of clothes I used to fit in. Frankly, I’m at a loss, given COVID, as to what to do with all that makeup. You can’t really donate gently used makeup anymore. And, my daughter isn’t interested in inheriting my stash. She’s a natural beauty and only puts the stuff on for stage makeup, for school plays.
I admire her generation. How they seem to boldly go through life, fearless and unapologetic for being a woman in a man’s world….or I should say what was once a man’s world. (Holler to our VP Harris.) While I don’t always understand the non-binary world of today, I think I admire it, think it’s probably a very good thing. Society, is a lot like that makeup collection we still harbor. It’s something we are still a part of, that looks increasingly like something we no longer vibe with 100%, or are at the center of and that’s really a very good thing and a natural part of life.
As for me, I guess I’ll hold onto my makeup collection a little while longer, in the hopes that one day, we can be a little less obsessed with COVID prevention measures, a little more interested in playing with makeup again and throwing caution to the wind. If not, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to meet an impoverished drag queen to donate the lot too.
One can only hope. So, here’s to hoping, for the “Times They are A-Changing”:
Much love, peace and aloha, XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX,
Mrs. Sassy Pants