By Kathryn Streeter
My friend’s daughter perched stone-still on my barstool, a beautiful 12-year-old going on 17. She is attending a dance soon and wants to be ravishing. Would I do a trial makeover? she begged. With her mom’s consent, I now lightly moisturize her clear skin and proceed with some powders for countering, neutral tones on her lids and mascara. She chooses a pale pink lip color to finish her look. I had hardly done anything yet she is thrilled because normally she is not allowed to wear makeup.
Though I have a 17-year-old daughter, this experience is new for me. My girl doesn’t wear any makeup, except to attend her senior prom (where her girlfriends did makeup with her). Even as a little girl, makeup grossed her out.
“You smell stinky, mom! You look funny too.” She wrinkled her nose at my made-up face. Her posture hasn’t changed; she’s simply been slow to warm to makeup.
Time together with the young lady in front of me confirms she’s wired differently than my daughter. My friend’s daughter is pining to grow-up and feels this magical powdery, gooey stuff called makeup will help her get there. On Friday at the Father-Daughter dance, I know she will tingle with joy, feeling every bit a princess with traces of makeup on her face.
Her favorite line, the European cosmetic company Too Faced desires to change the story about makeup. They admonish, Own Your Pretty. She’s got this down. Makeup Is Power. She feels this energy in her gut. Order their Better Than Sex Mascara and they ship it free.
I’ve never heard of them, I confess, pouring coffee for us—yes, this young lady knows her coffee, too. We chat about makeup as I pull items out of my little bag of tricks. In reply, she presents her makeup bag, laying out unfamiliar bottles, powders, liners, mascaras and eye products and a gorgeous line of brushes, ta-da, across the kitchen bar. These products are in pristine condition, some unused, because they comprise a Hope Chest of sorts. She is amassing her arsenal for when her parents unleash her to freely wear makeup, a date I’m betting is marked on her calendar. The packaging itself oozes pink and girly, a picture of playful, if edgy, femininity. These are young companies targeting millennials, not Gen-Xers, and I feel Age encircling me as this candid girl unleashes every ounce of her youth.
She speaks effusively of her treasures, many of them bought over time with Christmas and birthday money. Her collection shames mine which appears spare, drug-store anemic compared to a time long ago when I, too, was flush with shiny designer products.
Twenty years ago I was a make-up artist, a member of a traveling team sent out to put on city-wide special events for Clinique and later, Guerlain. Visiting every major department store in the sprawling metro area, we hosted groups of women of all ages, putting on shows.
At the time, my husband was immersed in his Ph.D. program and financially, things were month-to-month. My authentic enjoyment of interacting with women helped me succeed at work. I remember brandishing $50 scarlet Guerlain lipstick, looking my client in the eyes after doing a complete lip application and closing the sale. I spoke boldly, a tone matching my swishing platinum bob. There was confidence. There was connection. Numerous times, I believe I was instrumental in strengthening a woman’s self-confidence, walking away with shoulders back, head high.
My words rang with authenticity because my truest instruction came first-hand from the textbook Life. A couple years before I trained to be a makeup artist, I was a different person, shunning makeup and letting my highlights go, giving way to my dish-water brown hair which grew long and straight. I wore the mousy look with pride, believing my asceticism made me better. Stronger. I believed sacrificing my personal luxuries helped improve my husband and my financial status and chances for a brighter future. Then, we were newlyweds, my young husband completing his master’s degree in a boring armpit college town in the middle of nowhere. Financially, we needed to tighten our belts in any way possible and out of a guilt-encrusted discipline, I put away nail polish, hair appliances, makeup and went au natural. The circumstances of our life at the time encouraged living in this realm of self-denial.
Good for you, you can do without that, see! After all, it’s what’s inside that counts! This is what I told myself, but my asceticism wasn’t doing me any good. I felt ugly and unhappy. My work as receptionist to an authoritarian chiropractor emptied me, drying up my soul. My life needed a makeover and when we moved across the country for my husband’s Ph.D. program, I used the transition to step into the world of cosmetics. The yucky internal unhappiness that had been festering began evaporating.
It isn’t that makeup makes you happy; it makes you happier. It establishes a bit of a personal signature announcing to the world, this is me. My friend’s young daughter doesn’t need makeup to bring her happiness, but sitting in front of me, eyes glowing as I swept a brush across her face where freckles danced, she felt her elegance and womanhood stirred, emboldened. I could tell.
Since the beginning of time women have been beautifying themselves, a fact as true today as ever. Whether it’s tattoos or toe-rings, piercings or makeup, we like to establish: this is who I am and I’m a little happier for having discovered it. At 12, this girl on my barstool hearts makeup and is barreling along at a fast clip.
In contrast, my daughter is taking her time and I’m thankful she feels no compulsion to be like me. I’m finding my look, she says, and sets aside unopened red lipstick to pack for college, just in case.
Neither approach is wrong. Both are figuring out who they are and how they wish to project themselves as women. Cosmetics may or may not be part of my daughter’s adult feminine world and that’s her business, not mine. My friend and I talk about our daughters blooming under our eyes, in their own way, in their own time. As I personally learned, makeup is not an end in itself but a means to an end. It’s optional, an available addition to the complicated whole called you. Confidence is strength and strength is beauty. Makeup is merely one way to get there.
Writer, mother, wife, Kathryn Streeter’s writing has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and Brain, Child Magazine. Highly mobile, she’s moved 22 times in 25 years of marriage. Find her at www.kathrynstreeter.com, on Facebook and Twitter @streeterkathryn.