Pretty Girl Broke

Pretty Girl Broke
Lauren Sauer
Mascara. A tube of black goop applied with a wand to exaggerate eyelashes. $8.99.
            “Lynne, she’s already obsessed with herself; she’s using your sunglasses as a mirror!” my dad says, shaking his head in disbelief as I stare at my own reflection in Mom’s tinted frames. In my three-year-old mind, I find pleasure in what I see; I like my pale toddler skin and the brown bug eyes in the middle of my face. My mom laughs as she watches me watch myself. In the coming years, coworkers, friends, and strangers will tell her I’m beautiful. She will learn to smile, then—as if by reflex—turn to me and say “it’s more important to be pretty on the inside.”
Powder blush. A light pink pan of dust used to add color to the cheeks. $4.49.
            It’s a miserably hot day in June, when school is still is session but the neighborhood swimming pool is open for business. My best friend Naana and I sit on my mother’s bathroom counter, rifling through the wicker basket in which she stores her makeup. We are giddy over lipsticks in silver tubes and pencils in shades of black and brown. In our third grade innocence, we decide we need to make ourselves up to impress the boys riding their bikes in the heat wave. My stubby fingers swipe shimmery pigment across Naana’s eyelids and dab lipstick to her full mouth. The products don’t quite suit her dark African skin, but neither of us notice or care. As I clamp my own eyelashes in the metal contraption we’ve deemed an eyelash curler (because we’d seen something similar in a magazine), my mom enters the bathroom, frustration washing over her face. She scolds me for not asking permission, and tells Naana it’s about time she heads home. As we hop off of the counter, our heads hung low, my mom laughs to herself.
            “You actually didn’t do a bad job, Lauren. That doesn’t mean you can use my makeup, though; you’re too young.”
Twelve eyeshadows in varying shades of brown. Made by a designer brand. $49.50.
            I am thirteen when my mother finally allows me to wear makeup to school. Even then it’s minimal: mascara previously worn for a school play and a shimmery white eyeshadow she bought for herself and never wore. I feel über mature the first morning I embark on my new beauty routine: I apply the eyeshadow diligently with a cheap brush also inherited from my mom and brush the mascara through my eyelashes with great concentration. I walk down the hallways of my middle school feeling pretty and a part of the norm, for once. I am convinced all the popular girls who had bullied me in months prior are eating their words as I enter science class. I take my usual seat next to my friend Erin, an equally gawky preteen with whom I bonded over the Jonas Brothers, and blink thoughtfully.
            “Do you have something in your eye?” she asks, exposing her metal braces.
            “No!” I scoff, “I’m wearing makeup, can’t you tell?” She shakes her head, shrugging.
“You don’t look any different than you usually do.”
Foundation. A thick liquid put on the face to mimic a second skin. $12.99.
            I bring a hefty makeup collection to college. I come prepared with a small Tupperware set of drawers in which I store creams, powders, and liquids all designed to change my appearance in some way. I keep an arsenal of brushes in a cup on my desk; the cosmetics are taking up space that should probably be dedicated to schoolbooks. I wake up earlier than most girls on my floor every morning, for the sole purpose of painting my face, of course with the ultimate intention being to look as though I spent no time at all doing so. One night early in my first semester, I am sitting in a circle of new friends, swapping stories of ex-boyfriends and current crushes. I don’t have much to contribute to the conversation. A girl who will soon thereafter become a close friend tells story after story about boys who have called her beautiful and asked her on dates. She has become a master of diplomatic rejection, as she’s had a lot of practice.
            “Literally that is such a non-problem to have,” I say, rolling my eyes and laughing in thinly veiled jealousy. She insists that, actually, having boys constantly pursuing you is stressful. In that instant, I take a good look at her face. She’s wearing no makeup and doesn’t feel the need to. She is called beautiful nearly every day, whether it be by friends or potential suitors, and every day I don’t understand why that isn’t me. In a very private petty part of my brain I deem it unfair, as I’m awake much earlier making myself over every morning. It’ll take a few months and a few shots of liquor before I finally admit to her how jealous I am of her natural beauty. She’ll be unsure how to manage my drunken tears and relay a cutting compliment.
            “You’re pretty, you just wear a lot of makeup when you don’t need to.”
Red lipstick. A shocking poppy-colored bullet in unassuming plastic casing. $7.99.
            I sit at my desk this morning, burning my tongue on coffee that is just a bit too hot. I drag my magnifying mirror over to my face and admire that same pale skin and those same brown eyes that I grew into a bit more, though admittedly they’re still slightly buggy. I reach for my makeup and find solace in the next twenty minutes. I create a more confident version of myself. She isn’t necessarily prettier, but she’s ready to take on the day. She’s wearing her war paint. I flick out my eyeliner not for the cute boy that lives upstairs, but for me, because I like how I look with a thick black line hugging my eyelashes. I color my lips a mid-tone pink not for the judgmental girl who I always see in Starbucks, but for me, because I genuinely love leaving lipstick marks on my coffee cups. I leave my bedroom loving the face I’m presenting to the world today; I’m not too concerned about who won’t tell me I’m pretty or who won’t like how I look. Because I like how I look. After spending years trying to overcome my effortlessly beautiful peers, I finally stumbled into good self-esteem along the way. I was not immediately given a pass “because you’re pretty"; I instead spent time cultivating more dynamic traits to compensate. I added talents and interesting anecdotes to my arsenal. I learned to make jokes that incite laughter and statements that inspire deep thought. Sure, I feel myself falling behind the naked-faced beauty queens on occasion, but that’s just an opportunity to bow out for a second to learn something new or buy a new lipstick. And that’s not to say I’ve never thought of myself as pretty or made villains of the beautiful women that I’m lucky to have in my life; it’s not a competitive thing. It took a long time, but somewhere between the first time I got drunk and the last time I hated myself, I fell into the habit of self-love. Makeup and all, because anyone who’s ever tried to use liquid eyeliner will admit it takes an artist’s hand to perfect matching wings, and I, friends, am a Picasso of cosmetics.

Mascara, powder blush, twelve eyeshadows, foundation, red lipstick, plus a few other odds and ends. Upwards of eighty dollars. Maybe that’s negligent; I see it as an investment in myself. Personally I think I’m worth at least that much, so I’m willing to pay the price.


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