The first time I had my face beat (in that RuPaul’s Drag Race kind of way), I was vacationing in Cancun with my friend Debora. Nary a liner touched my lids, nor rouge kissed my cheek before my early twenties. A tried-and-true tomboy, the most “makeup” I wore, regardless of the occasion, was cherry-flavored Lip Smackers. Debora, a self-taught makeup maven, had packed an arsenal of cosmetic spackle large enough to renovate the faces of an entire quinceañera.
It was our last night in Mexico, and she wanted it to be special. For forty-five minutes, she lathered me with creams and powders, transforming my bland, racially ambiguous face into that of an exotic woman who dances on tables and drinks bloodys bought for her by Mexican businessmen. As the glue dried on my fake lashes, my friendship with Debora and my newfound love of cosmetics solidified.
Ten years later, Debora and I are stumbling out of a local brunch spot passed Sephora. “Oh, let’s go in. I need to get a few things,” she slurred. I had never been in one. Most of my cosmetics came from CVS, but I wasn’t one to say no to drunken consumerism. As we walked through the doors, and I saw the teeny tiny tubes of mysterious black magic, I felt like Charlie walking into Wonka’s factory for the first time. In place of Augustus Gloop guzzling sweet liquid treasure out of a chocolate river fountain were young girls trying on eye shadow instead of an Ever Lasting Gobstopper, an entire section that promised longer, fuller lashes.
There were perfectly lined and stocked perfume shelves. There were lipsticks as far as the eye could see. Women of all ages trying on new shades, some too chola, some not chola enough, until they found the perfect lip color that was just the right amount of chola to satisfy their most burning beauty desires.
Before you can purchase anything, they insist you get a color match. A quick, painless procedure that will insure you a next-level shopping experience. Amethyst, a young woman with lots of eye shadow and a black pantsuit, meets us at the center of the store. She tells me I have beautiful skin and don’t need to wear any makeup. I see right through her, but her smile is as glittery as the type of quartz she’s named after, and I suddenly want to follow her into the depths of hell or, at the very least, purchase every item in the store she recommends I buy but insists I don’t need. She puts a gun-shaped apparatus up to my cheek and neck and calculates four numbers that will correspond to the perfect shade of whatever form of cover-up I decide on. She speaks quickly into a headset as if the President has arrived and then ushers us over to the powders.
That’s where I meet Samantha, a young woman with lots of eye shadow and a white pantsuit. I tell her I’m looking for new face powder, something that conceals but looks natural. She picks up two canisters of Bare Minerals and whips out a #56 brush from her utility belt. She begins painting tiny happy trees on my face with loose powder. She uses one product on one side and a second product on the other. She motioned to the mirror in front of me, “What do you think?” I looked at Debora, her eyes swelling with pride. She bit her knuckle and let out a “YAS GIRL.” I looked back in the mirror, unable to really tell the difference, and like the series finale of Six Feet Under, my entire life flashed before me.
I imagined getting married, having children, celebrating birthdays, and welcoming grandchildren, all there, on the floor of Sephora. I asked Samantha which she liked best, and she did that thing good salespeople do where they lower their voice and look around and then give you their real opinion. She said they were both good, but you couldn’t go wrong with the right side, and for a few dollars more, it was worth it. But the left side was good, too, because it had a little shimmer. So it was really up to me. “I’ll get both!” I exclaimed because life is short and the register lines are long. What’s $60 more dollars anyway?
Samantha smiles as if I’ve done everything right, “Is there anything else I can do?” ”What about a good foundation?” I asked gently. She whispered directives into her headset, and like an Aaron Sorkin TV drama, we were walking and talking toward the foundations. I picked up a bottle of CC cream I used once before. Samantha confirmed my choices and then insisted a good under-eye cream would pair nicely. $85 of foundation into my basket, and she was now dabbing me with a NARS under-eye solution that “works wonders.” I look in the mirror, and the large trash bags of life that used to sit under my eyes are reduced to small liquor store-sized paper bags. “See,” she says. I see, for what seems like the first time in my life, I see, and $35 goes into my basket.
Before Samantha let us go from her gentle, well-manicured grip, she asked, “How are you applying all of this?” “With my fingers,” I said like an animal. Debora gasped. Samantha whispered into her headset. A quick cut scene, and we were now at the brushes. Samantha was gone. Ariel, a beautiful blonde with green streaks, was our chosen brush shaman.
She showed us every possible combination of tools to apply the perfect face, each one numbered: #61 for flawless powder application, #57 for concealer, and #47 for foundation, all of which looked exactly the same. “Couldn’t I just use one brush for all the things?” I naively asked. “No, silly, they’re used for different things,” Debora confirmed this.
Perhaps it was the buzz of my fourteenth mimosa or the citrus scents of the Philosophy aisle, but I was high on the exhilarating powers of cosmetics, and I trusted Ariel because she was named after a mermaid. I grabbed three brushes, and just like that, $125 went into my basket, and I reminded myself to cancel my rent check when I got home.
From the dawn of time, women have been covering themselves in balms, salves, lotions, creams, ointments, and mineral pigments. Jezebel painted her eyelids in the Good Book. Geishas wore lipstick as they entertained their male customers. And any modern woman with a proclivity toward an elevated beauty routine is essentially walking around covered in fragrant goo in an attempt to satisfy the misguided inclinations of other people. Who was any of this really for? Men? Other women? Ourselves? Did make-up really have healing powers? Did powder and lipstick make me feel more confident, or was I subconsciously adhering to a western idea of beauty? Was I just satisfying my need to please the outside world in order to feel worthy of even existing?
As I carried my black-and-white striped, red-tissue-papered bag of stuff (because that is really all it is, stuff) out of the store, I couldn’t think of the answers to any of these more pressing questions. Instead, I applied lip-gloss and made a silent prayer to the beauty Gods that one day Sephora would offer a layaway plan.
Iskra Banović is our seasoned Editor-in-Chief at BlueFashion. She has been steering the website's content and editorial direction since 2013. With a rich background in fashion design, Iskra's expertise spans across fashion, interior design, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and culture.