The other day I mentioned that I rarely do my hair or makeup before work.
These things always go back to our parents, right? My mom never wore a lot of makeup. She did use skin products, and she bought them all from Mary Kay and Avon ladies. These ladies, who were always the same no matter where we lived, gave my mom lots of samples, which she passed on to me. So my earliest experiences with makeup were with soft smudges of eyeshadow and blush on little cardboard squares. Pastel, always pastel, and covered with a thin film that you had to peel back. I never peeled the film because I didn’t want to destroy, or use up, the perfect, pretty squares.
In 7th grade I wanted to start wearing the makeup my mom gave me, but I didn’t know if I was allowed, so I’d use my fingers to smear on eyeshadow and lipstick samples in the bathroom at school, and the rub my skin raw on the bus home, trying to erase the telltale signs of emerging adolescence. By the time my mom caught on and taught me that browns and pinks were most the most flattering to my small blue eyes and pale skin, I was already set in my ways and I painted my eyelids dark blue and rimmed them in teal for the next few years.
Right before 10th grade I moved from Ohio to Arizona and shed the shy, smart-girl skin that hadn’t served me particularly well in middle school. I started dressing like Avril Lavigne and dying my hair more daring shades of red. I met by best friend S, who had big boobs and big brown eyes and liked to rebel against her strict Muslim father by wearing tight t-shirts and lots of eye makeup. She taught me how to circle my own small blue eyes with black eyeliner and told me it looked good, even though my eyes were nothing like hers. My mom hated it, but I believed S, and in fact still do, which is why when I go out at night these days, I still pull out the black liquid liner and shimmery shadow and go to town.
In college, I realized the skipping the makeup meant I could sleep in for an extra ten minutes, and then I realized skipping a shower gave me twenty more, and when I went to my first music festival and realized that if so many other people could get away with looking like grungy hippies, then I could, too. I cleaned up my look a little bit when Husband and I started dating, but by and large refused to wear makeup or brush my hair for the next few years.
First year of law school, I knew I needed to look more presentable, but didn’t have time to put that much effort into it, and didn’t have anybody to impress, since I left Husband in Arizona to finish his degree. I learned to do makeup like a lazy girl: brown eyeshadow, a single coat of mascara, and maybe some lip gloss. You couldn’t even tell I was wearing any. As soon as I realized that, I quit again.
I didn’t learn how to make a lot of makeup look natural until a few days before my wedding, when a woman at the Nordstrom cosmetics counter used over $100 worth of product to make me look like a better version of myself. And better-looking I was. Walking around the mall later that day, I’d catch sight of myself in store windows and let my gaze linger. Who knew I could look so much like a pretty girl? So much like everybody else? Thanks to the girl at Nordstrom, my wedding photos are stunning. So are the photos from the first few days of our honeymoon. But only the first few days, because it wasn’t long before I chose lounging in bed with Husband and then rolling out of our apartment into one of five thousand cafes for croissants and chocolate over waking up half an hour early to hide my pores with powder and make my small blue eyes bigger with three different shades of brown shadow.
Now, for the first time in my life, I work in a professional, corporate environment. I wear heels, even though I’m 5 feet 10 inches. I wear a suit more often than not, even though most of my department sticks to sweaters. Sometimes I wear makeup. Sometimes I don’t. It’s not something I think twice about, unless I forget that it’s a makeup day and rub my eyes and come back with mascara on my hands. I am bewildered when I overhear other women apologize or express regret for not having time to fix their makeup before meeting somebody. Because I’m pretty sure nobody should care whether you chose to highlight some over your features over the others on a particular day.
It makes me sad to realize that this may affect me professionally. I scrutinize the women at my firm, studying them in an effort to find someone like myself, to figure out how I fit in. I look at the partners, and the senior associates, and the younger associates that everybody seems to know and admire. And they all look the same. Fit. Attractive. Well-dressed. Perfectly, carefully made-up. It’s not part of the dress code, and it’s not even an unspoken rule everywhere, but in a corporate setting, at least my corporate setting, wearing make-up is part of looking like a professional. I’m sure I’ll never get fired for choosing not to, but I’m equally sure that some people will notice that I don’t look the part of the well-connected, capable high-end attorney.
My attitude toward makeup changes all the time. As I become more comfortable with myself, I realize that it matters less and less what I do to my face in the morning. So maybe it’s not a betrayal of self to change the way I look to match my workplace. If that happens, the only thing I know for sure is that I’ll really miss those ten extra minutes of sleep.