My father took me to the Clinique counter when I turned 13. Not my mother. My father. He had been told by my grandmother that he should do this, that he needed to do this for me when I turned 13. That as a young lady I needed to know the correct way to wear makeup and care for my skin. I wasn’t privy to their conversation, but knowing my grandmother I’m guessing there was little discussion about the matter. She was telling him to do it and therefore it had to be done.
He made a weekend out of it. By that time, my parents had been divorced for close to four years so it was only my father and me who headed south to Ft. Worth for the weekend. I can’t remember much about what all we did, can’t remember all of the details (these are the moments I wish I had been better about keeping a diary), but I can remember the Clinique counter visit as clear as day.
With my father awkwardly hovering, I remember the lady showing me the three steps to clean my face: the big yellow cleansing bar that slid in and out of the mint green tunnel, the tall glass bottle filled with pink liquid that I was to put on fancy cotton pads, and finally the creamy jar of butter yellow moisturizer. She explained in detail how I was to follow this routine morning and night to keep my skin young and beautiful. I listened intently and vowed I would.
Then came the makeup. She showed me how to apply blush by drawing a C from my cheekbone to my temple and how to use my ring finger to apply a little foundation underneath my eyes for coverage. She allowed me to apply blue eyeshadow (it was the 80’s after all) followed by liquid eyeliner that was applied carefully with a tiny brush. Each product seemed so pretty and shiny and I loved all of it. The packaging was so pretty I remember not wanting the silver cases of the eyeshadow getting scratched. They were prized possessions.
I wish you could see the transition when you look at my middle school yearbooks but it’s just not there. There was no evidence of an ugly-duckling-into-a-swan type of transformation. If the pics weren’t black and white I’m sure you would see the sudden onset of blue eyeshadow but that would be about it. Next, to most of my yearbook photos I have words written like “ugly” and “gross” leaving no doubt about how I felt about myself during my middle school years. If you look closely enough at the above picture you can see a faint “X” that I had made over my own face. It makes me sad for the girl I was then.
I am confident enough now to share. I was the girl that wanted nothing more than to be pretty and popular and loved by all the boys but struggled to overcome her bad hair and nerdy book club participant status. I was a pitiful 80’s cliché. I believed that one day there would be a boy who would fight for my honor like in “Karate Kid” and find me in his red Porsche like in “Sixteen Candles.” I’m sure I’m not the only girl who had those dreams.
In truth, I think my father and grandmother had hoped that taking me to the Clinique counter would deliver me from my unpolished ways. But nerd genes run deep and I had an abundance. A three-step skin routine wasn’t making that disappear anytime soon. Throughout middle school, I had a combination of braces, glasses, a bad perm, and bangs that I had no idea what to do with. I wore trendy 80’s clothing that did nothing for me. I had no skills when it came to the beauty and was livin’ on a prayer that I would eventually grow out of the awkwardness.
Perhaps this is why I still love beauty products so much. Back in 1986, I put a lot of hope into those Clinique products. It was a lot of pressure to put on a big bar of yellow soap and some blue eyeshadow. Clinique did nothing more than teach me to have a good skincare routine, and for that I am grateful. Growing out of the rest of it required more time than I ever realized.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties, only over the last four years, that I finally feel like I have come into myself. 90% loving myself exactly the way I am and 10% not giving a shit. Some days those numbers are reversed, but either way it’s okay. I like me. My husband seems to like me although he showed up in an old white BMW instead of the red Porsche.
But sometimes, late at night after I’ve finished washing my face and take my contacts out and put on my glasses, that middle school girl reappears. Sometimes I see her in my own boys as they go through their early teen years. She occasionally shows up on bad hair days or in an unflattering picture that I didn’t know was being taken. No one else notices her but she’s there all the same. I think she always will be.