“Mommy, why are you putting that stuff all over your face?”
The question comes from my daughter as she sits on the counter of the bathroom, watching me get ready for an evening out with my husband. I am applying foundation to the lines, wrinkles, and blemishes on my over-40-year-old face. I am expertly coloring in and around the lines of a face that no longer looks as youthful as it used to.
I am applying foundation and concealer, contour bronzer and pressed powder, eye primer and shadow. I’m outlining my eyes and my lips and pinking my cheeks to a youthful glow. I’m lengthening my lashes, glossing my lips, and adding sparkle and sheen to my forehead.
And all of the above happened after I’d cleansed and moisturized and plucked and waxed.
She is expectantly staring at me, waiting for an answer, and I realize that I don’t know what to say.
Why exactly am I applying this makeup? I mean, I like makeup. I like the way I feel when I get “made up.” But I have never really gone deeper than that with my introspection.
As I stand in my bathroom, struggling to come up with an answer that will preserve her burgeoning self-esteem, I am reminded of an incident from two summers ago. My then 7-year-old attended a birthday party in what I like to call the Pink and Black Third Ring of Hell. Others call it Sweet and Sassy. Potato/potahto.
As I dropped her off at the party, the host parent told me that the sassy party girls would be getting their hair done and spray-sparkled. They’d be changing into fun clothing (pink boas and sunglasses, of course) and that “light makeup would be applied.” Not to worry, though, the application would be age-appropriate. And while I would argue that “makeup” and “age-appropriate” do not mix with young faces, I was a good sport.
When I returned an hour and a half later, there was my little sassy girl, hairs all did and sparkly. She’d even been given a tiara to complete the look. And true to the host parent’s word, she was wearing light makeup — blush, eyeshadow, lip gloss, and a sparkle face tattoo. She looked like a little porcelain doll, and I had to admit, she looked very sassy.
When we arrived home, she bolted out of the car and ran to the bathroom to inspect in detail her sassification. She threw the light on, stood on the stool near the sink, and looked at her appearance.
And she got very quiet.
After a minute, her lips began to quiver, and she started to cry.
She turned to me and said, “Mommy, I don’t look like me anymore. I want to take this stuff off!! It’s not on my face forever, right?” She was rubbing at her cheeks.
I’m not going to lie: I did not see that coming.
As we gently scrubbed the makeup off her face, she told me that the makeup freaked her out a bit, that it made her feel like she was trying to be someone else. She liked the way she looked without it, she said, and wanted the rest of the world to see her real face.
Yes, she was only 7.
And so, as I stood in my bathroom with my daughter looking at me, waiting for an explanation as to why I smeared my face with chemicals, powders, and dyes, I felt a little sad.
When did I stop looking at myself with 7-year-old eyes? At what moment in my childhood did I look into the mirror and decide the world needed to see me behind a façade of concealer? When had I decided to hide the real me?
While I pondered these questions in my head, I was struck with another, more poignant one: When was that moment going to come for my daughter? My precious, sweet girl.
While I can’t remember the moment it happened for me, I know I will see the moment it happens for her. As I watch her grow, watch her body change and develop, I know that there is going to come a time when her bathroom will be littered with mascara tubes, blush palettes, and lipsticks galore. We will battle about her leaving the house looking like a clown, and I will yell at her for stealing my expensive, lip-rejuvenating, rehydrating, age-defying lipsticks.
But in this moment in the bathroom, she is still my little girl who looks in the mirror and sees her true self, unmasked by makeup. She is beautiful, she is strong, she is unencumbered by the weight of what society says she should look like, and she enjoys looking at her face, in all of its natural beauty, in the mirror.
I look into her clear, freckled face, and simply say, “I wear makeup because it tells the story of my face in color.”
And I hope my answer enough for now, and I pray that she can’t see the lie through my makeup.