“My mom says I can wear makeup when I’m fourteen,” my friend Charlotte whispered loudly, eyeing a classmate with heavily glossed lips. “She says girls who start earlier aren’t classy.” With that she sat back, content with having bestowed her seventh-grade wisdom upon our lunch circle.
To me this was precious information; my own mother rarely wore makeup, reserving it exclusively for special occasions. “When you get older,” she would say, carefully lining her eyes with kohl and dabbing each wrist with a drop of perfume. If I was close enough, I would get a tiny dab too, right behind my ear.
When I turned fourteen, four months later, I was allowed to enter the unattainable world of shimmering palettes and pristine lipsticks — that world which peeked through glossy Maybelline ads with a promise to unravel the complexities of female adulthood.
My friends and I eagerly started layering on strawberry flavored balms and turquoise eyeshadows, wiping most of our experiments away before our parents saw. Did we look older yet? Prettier? More mature? “Definitely,” we insisted.
Seven years later, I am twenty-one and have learned the difference between bronzing sticks and liquid highlighter. I have also learned, however, that neither is flattering. My makeup bag is crowded with soft gold tones, charcoal eyeliners, and rose-tinted cheek stains, all of which are tailored to my skin tone. My fourteen-year-old self would be in seventh heaven.
Somehow, though, things that we look forward to for so long don’t often materialize in the way we convince ourselves they will. Once I “figured out” makeup, once I learned how to bridge the gap between what existed and what could exist, everything else was supposed to fall into place.
In some ways, of course, makeup does accomplish its goals. On nights meant for too much dancing in too few layers, makeup offers tangible preparation for the intangible, each brush of eyeshadow somehow bringing us closer to what we cannot yet imagine.
One thing the magazines never advertise, however, makeup’s sheer versatility — just as often as makeup is used to enhance beauty, it is used to piece its wearers back together. College is full of curveballs, and for every night full of vivacity, there is a morning fragile enough that even the most solid things become rootless.
In such moments, I press concealer underneath each eye and brush my cheeks with color, hoping that even if these layers can’t promise me the world that they used to, maybe they will still do something, and maybe it will be enough.