My father was a pharmacist. The store which he co-owned sold cosmetics as well as pharmaceuticals. Since his partner only had sons, as a teenage girl, I was recruited to attend cosmetic workshops designed to show cosmeticians the newest products and to experience how to use them.
I disliked using makeup—even lipstick. My nails were a mess. Although I didn’t bite them, the nail cutter snipped them unevenly and I didn’t bother to smooth edges with an emery board. Nothing my mother said or threatened changed me from a tomboy to a girly girl. While my disinterest in makeup was perfectly obvious, neither my father nor his partner thought this a reason for me not to attend the cosmetic workshop. They used the generous gifts cosmetic companies gave attendees to learn what was new and widely advertised. Why they didn’t send the cosmetician they employed, or my mother who worked part-time in the store as a cosmetician, I never understood. Maybe my mother thought the cosmeticians’ attention would make me want to use the stuff. She was wrong. Although my mother liked attention from men, I didn’t. I preferred to play ball with guys, not date them. But, my father told me to go. I went.
The workshop convenors made no attempt to hide their displeasure at my appearance. Since they didn’t ask why I was attending, I could shrug off their comments knowing that selling makeup was their livelihood, not mine. Besides, I didn’t find the women particularly attractive. To me they looked like painted dolls.
The agenda was clear. Participants used the new products on themselves in order to be able to sell them to customers. My lack of proficiency led one of the convenors to intervene. In a patronizing tone she said, “You look like you’re having trouble, dear. Let me help you.” Without waiting for my consent, she proceeded to apply makeup on my face and polish on my nails.
I endured the process, more amused than annoyed. When she finished, she cooed. “You look so lovely. What a difference from before and after. We should have taken photos.” I tried to smile a fake appreciation but it wasn’t easy. My facial muscles felt encased in gunk.
She handed me a mirror looking extremely pleased. I tried not to gasp. All I could think was: Who is this person? Ignoring the various admiring oohs and aahs, the face I saw in the mirror belonged to a stranger. In the process of putting makeup on me, she had obliterated my sense of self. How could creams and gels and coloring make me unrecognizable to myself? I watched the woman; her pride in her work, obvious—my discomfort, unnoticed. As the women made suggestions about the best use of the products, the best way to sell them, all I could think about was how soon I could clean my face.
I left the workshop with hundreds of dollars’ worth of makeup and headed for the nearest bathroom where I did my best to wash off the makeup. To get rid of the alien in the mirror. To recognize my face. To be the person I was—someone who didn’t like to wear makeup or dress up, who preferred to play sports not flirty games. I couldn’t ignore the red nails that looked like drops of blood so on my way home I bought nail polish remover, sat on a park bench, and used most of the bottle to restore my nails to their normal color.
When I came home, I gave the cosmetic kit to my father who looked pleased to have it. My mother asked how the workshop went. “Great, if you enjoy looking like a painted doll.” She sighed. I sighed. I was not the daughter my mother wanted me to be.
How do you decide how you want to look? What do you do if how you look is not acceptable to others?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.