At age twelve I would sneak behind our apartment building every morning, pop open a green compact, and swipe mascara from a pink tube onto my eyelashes before running to the bus stop. If my mother passed me on her way to work, I’d wave and then quickly duck my head so she couldn’t see my Cleopatra eyes.
Soon after, my mom surrendered and allowed me to paint my face like Jackson Pollock with a fresh canvas. My grandmother told me I looked better without all that goop, but I just rolled my long-lashed eyes at her.
I have spent countless hours in front of the mirror, focused on my own image. I never looked quite right to myself, but I continued to comb and tease and buff and puff in the vain (extremely vain) hope that I might find the trick that would turn me into a “natural” beauty.
My efforts didn’t end at the makeup counter. I also starved myself for years so I could feel the false superiority of thinness. Hungry and cranky, I still believed I was better than my cheery, well-nourished colleagues.
Why did I seek validation of my self-worth on such a surface level? I’m not sure. Society gives a lot of credence to a youthful appearance and a body image increasingly hard to attain without surgical intervention. Also, I suspect a focus on the outside is a good distraction from the pain and longing within. By always trying to create a more attractive facade, I didn’t have to acknowledge the lonely child inside.
My life of late has been a journey backwards in time to my girlhood self. Through writing, and the subsequent blossoming of a simple faith, I’ve uncovered that little girl whose hopes and dreams somehow got supplanted by a desperate desire to be pretty, popular, and, most of all, loved.
Now, almost twenty-five years after I painted my face behind the bushes, I have finally taken off the mask. It began with a bout of pink eye which necessitated the disposal of all my eye makeup. I planned to replenish my supply, but I just never did. It still seems a little surreal, but I actually like my clean face better. The makeup never really hid my flaws and, increasingly, it seemed to cover up the emerging woman I want to be.
Seeing my own face in the mirror each morning, wrinkles and all, makes me happy. It’s as if I have a clean slate on which to write the next chapter of my life. I’ve let go of the job that wasn’t really me, along with habits and friends that seemed to separate me from my authentic self.
I still have a ways to go (my particular shade of blond isn’t exactly the one God granted me). But I’m forging a path in the right direction. And my load feels lighter. Maybe it’s because I no longer have to haul all that heavy makeup around with me.
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