projects and writings of Tracy Burkholder
There have been plenty of challenges over the past year that have made me uncomfortable. That’s largely the point. The nausea and nerves I get before stepping into the unknown come in varying degrees and qualities. Some are truly sickening because I know something important is about to be confronted. Some come with a smattering of curiosity and excitement. This week I stepped into a challenge that was a whole new kind of weird. That weird is called Sephora.
I’ve never been a makeup person. When I was twelve I probably dragged some blue shadow over my eyes. Over the years, I occasionally smeared on some red lipstick, or these days, some clear lip gloss. I dab concealer on my zits. That’s about it. I’m also not the kind of person involved in this strange ritual called a “skincare routine.” My makeup-free face gets washed in the shower along with the rest of me. That’s it.
I want to say this is all just personal preference and that I hold no judgement of those that are more intimately involved in the world of eyeliner and blush. But that’s not entirely true. While I admire those who have makeup skills and appreciate the transformations they can create with their bags of goodies, I also loathe the industry as a whole. If it was all just about fun, confidence and self expression, I’d be all for it. But I couldn’t walk into the mirrored maze of Sephora and see the rows and rows of really expensive tints, lotions, and “repair kits” and be all for it.
I knew Sephora was a place to buy makeup but that’s about it. I’d never been to one. I found out that they will do a 45 minute makeover on you for the price of buying some of the stuff afterwards. I hesitatingly signed up. One of the reasons that I never became a makeup person was because it seemed like such a complicated world and any time I got near it I distinctly felt bad about myself. I didn’t know what these potions did or how to apply them. I knew there was an expensive and involved system to it, which like any new skill would take time to learn. But I never wanted to learn because the first step in the system seemed to be accepting that how I looked wasn’t right.
The sad part of this, and the part I know I’m not alone in feeling, is that instead of refusing to wear makeup because I love the way I look without it, I have refused to wear makeup because I’m lazy and don’t want to spend the time and money on it. But the industry still gets its say, which is That’s all well and good, but you could really use something for that oily patch on your forehead and a little something to bring out your eyes.
This was brought home quite clearly as I entered the Sephora store and was instantly overwhelmed by the crowds and the shiny aisles. Up near the ceiling were a series of photos of beautiful made-up models, every single one of them with their mouths parted in either fake joy or fake lust or fake indifference. I was taken to a seat in front of a big mirror placed in the middle of the store. One very nice woman cleaned my face and didn’t seem too put off by my admission that I was not a makeup person and was just doing this for my curiosity and myblog. The next woman listened to how I didn’t want to go from 0 to 100 in the makeup game. She listened as I said the words I felt compelled to say in that environment: I want something simple to make me look better as I get older. Ugh. I heard the words come out of my mouth and wanted to slap myself. But she was also a very nice woman and went about her task.
The process of covering my face in the very subtle makeup in the pic above took three kinds of cleansers/toners, at least eight makeup products and three brushes. I leaned into the mirror afterwards and more or less liked how I looked. I looked “better.” And then I bought a few of the things, knowing full well that I would return most of them in the days to come.
I went home and took dozens of selfies because I may never have professionally done makeup on my face ever again and I wanted to see if there really was some difference. Did I actually look that much different? Did I feel any different? After about an hour or so, all I felt was the mask on my face. Despite it being light makeup it felt thick on my skin. I decided I liked the mascara and whatever weird shit went in my brows to tame those unruly beasts but then bemoaned the fact that I’d have to go to the store to buy yet another product to remove the stuff. The lipstick was okay, but at $30 a pop I didn’t see how it was so much better than the $1.99 gloss I buy.
Sean came home and didn’t notice the difference except to say that I “smelled like makeup.” Even when I showed him the before and after photos, he said he could only tell there was a change because I said there was one. With the makeup now washed off, I look at those pics and feel the differences shrink. So I’m back to where I was before, willing to spend a few bucks and a few minutes but nothing more. But I’m also a little more conscious, and more consciously defiant, of the ways a giant industry has defined “better” even for those of us who thought we weren’t listening.