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I have one brother but no sisters, two sons but no daughters, and a mother whose makeup routine involves crimson lipstick and a swipe of mascara for special occasions only. Add to that the fact that I came of age in the "back-to-nature" '60s, and maybe you'll understand why I managed to live a makeup-free existence until I was, incredibly, 50.
As a teen I wanted to look like Joni Mitchell or Mary (of Peter, Paul &...), not Dolly Parton. Did my musical heroines use artificial ingredients to enhance their gorgeous faces? Absolutely not! (Or so I believed.) I went barefaced, just as they did. Later, when I became the mother of two bouncing baby boys, I was too busy applying to preschools and soccer camps to even think about applying stuff to my face.
And then, boom, I was middle-aged. Suddenly even my organic-broccoli-eating, let-it-all-hang-out friends began showing up at parties looking unusually bright-eyed, smooth-skinned, and rosy-lipped. In scrutinizing their faces, I saw traces of decidedly inorganic matter: rich colors on their eyes, pale pink powders on their cheeks, shimmery glosses on their lips. When I asked one friend what, exactly, she was doing -- and how she'd learned to do it -- she offered to let me in on her secrets. I was tempted, but saw two possible outcomes of joining the makeup gang, both less than desirable. Either makeup would improve my appearance, in which case I'd end up wasting precious time "doing my face" before every grocery run, or I'd look no better. And the latter would disable my secret fallback plan: that as time passed, and my features crumpled and my skin creases deepened, I could bring out the big guns -- makeup -- to recapture at least a hint of my lost youth. I never considered Outcome Three until the night of my 50th birthday. I was at my niece Josie's house, primping for my family birthday dinner, when she staged a one-woman cosmetic intervention. And who better to do the deed? My niece, Josie Maran, is a former supermodel, Maybelline Girl, and founder of an eponymous natural cosmetics line.
"Here, let me put a little makeup on you, Mer," she said. Before I could protest she had assembled various bottles, tubes, and compacts in front of me. Then she was spreading something cool onto my face, telling me to look down and brushing something soft onto my eyes.
As Josie worked her magic, her touch soothed and pampered me. Her gentle brushes felt like butterfly kisses on my cheeks. Despite my trepidation, I experienced a brief flutter of hope. What if makeup could make me look better? Even feel better? The thought made me surrender to the pleasure, and the possibility, of the moment.
"Open your eyes!" she commanded a few minutes later, holding a mirror up to my face. "Look how beautiful you are!"
"Oh, my God!" I gasped. I stared at my reflection, stunned. My skin looked smoother, fresher, more even-toned. My eyes were bigger, brighter, and more prominent. The age spots, wrinkles, and various other imperfections of unknown origin -- all proof of my time on the planet -- were still there, telling their stories, but in whispers now, not screams.
I yanked my gaze away from the mirror to give Josie a mama-bear hug. "Do you think I could learn to do this to myself?" I asked. Beaming with pride, she nodded as she handed me a scribbled-on index card. "I wrote it all down for you, step by step," she said.
I couldn't help but return to the mirror. Or was it a time machine? Peeking through the mask of that 50-year-old face, I caught a glimpse of a younger, prettier me.
"You look great!" several family members said when I got to the restaurant. "Not a day over 49," my brother joked. "He means 39," Josie corrected. As the celebration unfolded, I felt myself sitting taller, smiling more broadly, speaking more confidently. Later, looking at that evening's photos, I was pleased by what I saw. A 50-year-old woman, yes, but one who looked, and clearly felt, great. That's how my makeup-free life ended and my New Life With Makeup began.
Soon I realized that my fear of cosmetic dependency had come true. Once I'd seen my face smoothed and evened out, baring the blemishes that lurked below felt downright masochistic. And once I'd learned to pinken my cheeks with cream blush and draw my mouth into sharp definition with liner, I saw no good reason not to. I was heading down the Don't-Leave-Home-Without-It Highway with no brakes.
But as I grew more skilled with the tools of Josie's trade, I realized that a three-minute mirror session in the morning yielded a day's worth of self-assurance -- and saved hours spent wishing, as Cher sings, that I could turn back time. Catching a glimpse of myself is no longer the terrible shock it was in the years B.C. (Before Cosmetics) but actually a pleasant surprise. The more I notice myself sparkling on the outside, the more I notice myself sparkling on the inside. And even I can't find anything wrong with that.
Perfect products for those who fear makeup or simply couldn't be bothered with it till now.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, October 2011.