When I was a kid in high school, many, many moons ago, I lived in fear of anyone seeing me without my make up.
Every morning began with an elaborate routine that involved what we then called “base,” a thick liquid meant to act on your face as nylons are meant to act on women’s legs—covering and obscuring every so-called flaw and “elevating” the skin to a mannequin-like finish.
After the base came cover up, aka concealer, an even thicker flesh colored substance similar to glue, meant to hide zits, freckles, redness and undereye circles. I was an expert at applying concealer as I had a terrible problem with cystic acne—regular acne’s rabid cousin.
It began with a small lump under the skin and grew into a rock hard, bright red, painful, oozing cyst which took up to two months to heal. I’m sure I did not hasten it’s healing by layering chemicals onto what was essentially a festering, infected wound, but there was nothing that could’ve convinced me to do otherwise.
I also dotted concealer on my naturally full, red lips, believing them to be imbecilic in their lushness and wishing to transform them into something altogether more avant garde. My pale lips made me appear quite corpse-like—exactly the look I was going for.
My face literally concealed, I drew thick black outlines around both eyes. I exaggerated the inner and outer corners in the style of an Egyptian mummy, hoping against hope that my blonde fringed neither green nor blue eyes would adopt some aspect of exoticism.
Over the eyeliner, I layered piles of mascara and sometimes I even dotted on a fake “beauty mark” with the mascara brush just over my lip.
The final piece was my hair, a mass of bleached white split ends, which required an ozone’s worth of Aquanet to cement into the correct shape—extra large, with gravity defying bangs swooping over my forehead.
In my defense, I will only say that it was the 80’s and I was a deeply troubled child.
I’ve looked for pictures of myself to include here, but they all seem to have been mysteriously destroyed.
These days, I’ll often forget to look in the mirror until bedtime, when I realize I also forgot to brush my hair or wash my face. (I do remember to brush my teeth—most of the time.)
This is generally not a problem since, as a writer and a mom, I frequently don’t leave the house for days at a stretch, and if I do, it’s to drop off a child here or there or go to the grocery store. Admittedly, there have been several awkward almost-encounters at Trader Joe’s where I’ve spotted someone I know, and am forced to hide in the produce section because—though I haven’t seen my reflection lately—it’s a safe bet that I look a lot like the Bride of Frankenstein.
Despite what you may conclude, I do still care about my looks, I’m just tired of being a slave to them.
I’m tired of a culture that insists my value revolves around my sex appeal.
I’m tired of the lie that my exterior is more interesting than my interior.
I’m tired of worrying about what I look like when I want to simply be.
What I’ve discovered is that I can have it both ways. I can care about putting on a cute dress and heels because I’m in the mood to be pretty, or I can not care and use my time in other ways instead. Either way, I’m still me.
The last few steps to freedom lies in the produce section of that Trader Joe’s.
The day I pry my Bride of Frankenstein ass out of there and go say “hi” to whoever it was I was just hiding from, instead of pretending to examine bananas will be a big deal. I think I will focus on smiling a big sincere smile that will be so bright in it’s joyfulness it obscures (or enhances) every other fact about me.
People fear many things; death, heights, public speaking. But most of all, we fear being judged by others.
My mantra for today will be; don’t be afraid to be ugly—with the unspoken addendum (or maybe spoken, what the hell?
Don’t be afraid, because the only thing that makes us truly ugly—is fear.
I am beautiful if I believe myself to be; zits, crazy hair, ratty sweats and all.
Look for me in the back of the grocery store, waving a bunch of bananas frantically around as I try to catch your eye, and rest mine on your beautiful face.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Renée Picard