Those who know me personally know that I don’t like make-up on general principle. It feels itchy on my face, and I have to admit it’s an awfully powerful symbol of “the feminine ideal.” My mother gets upset when I arrive at her house “before she has her face on.” My continual reply to this complaint is, “gee, that looks like a face to me.” Cheezy and ineffective. My mother still feels uncomfortable un-made-up. But there’s more to this ball of twine.
High school is rough on anyone. I don’t know that there are any who survive it unscathed, with all of the world-ending nonsense going on, the gossip, the pettiness, the cover-ups for actual violence. It’s a sad mix of illusion, carrying-on and hiding painful truths. Some had it worse than others. At seventeen, geek grrl is what I’d call myself if asked now. At the time, I was terrified of everyone around me, somewhat spiky, a know-it-all, a dreamer and a shy shy corner-creature. I didn’t shave my legs because it was a hassle, but I knew the sharks would eat me if ever they found out. I hid my legs under a layer of denim, winter or summer. Make-up cost money, and I preferred to spend on books and video games. I didn’t want to spend my precious savings of time in front of the mirror putting it on every morning, with all the steps the magazines said you had to go through to be beautiful, either.
My mother was rarely awake when I left for the bus. Seventeen, and still riding the cheese-wagon. What a ridiculous reason to tease someone. Seventeen, and still a virgin, seventeen and never kissed anyone, boy or girl. In the kitchen that morning, I said something to my mother (oddly awake), I don’t know what, a silly wish for a someone, or some such flippant thing. A strike from on high, “Well, maybe you’d get a boyfriend if you wore some make-up, like everyone else!” I cried at school that day in an administrator’s arms.
Pair this, then, with my geek grrl tendencies toward fae creatures, the stuff of myth. No stranger to theater, I know make-up is a tool, a toy, medium to tinker with. I loved putting together Halloween costumes, Renaissance Faire costumes, because of the outrageous things you could cobble together and pretend to be. I’d been a gypsy, an elf, a spider, a warrior in armor, and this year for Faire, a proud nineteen, I wanted to be a water nymph. I bought a lot of make-up. I bought Goodwill rags in shades of aqua and seaweed. I started to brush my cheeks blue, laying eyeshadow down in place of blush, highlights on cheekbones in unearthly colors. Blue eyeliner with lip gloss in place of lipstick, because I needed just the right shade. Moss green decorated my eyes, over a bed of seafoam. I was bent over the sink, poking and fixing for once, and my mother walked in. “You look like a whore! I don’t care how old you are, you’re not going out like that!” I hid my anger as best I could and I went out like that, unhappily, small, shrunk seven sizes on the inside, all my work degraded.
A fine mess I’m left with. Writing is as much an artifice as applying make-up, isn’t it? The make-up artist and I are liars, both. When my mother lies with her lashes and lips, why does it sit so uneasily, then? Why does it feel so heavy in my hand, the eyeliner pencil instead of the pen? I don’t want it. I don’t want a doll mask for a face. I don’t want to pretend but on my own terms. Maybe I’ll paint on cat whiskers. But not a perfect smile.